Are you ever faced with an impossibly long teaching day and don’t know how you will get through it? Well, don’t despair; this happens to most if not all of us, I suspect. The other day a young violin teacher called me with exactly this problem. She asked me to say something, ANYTHING, that could help her. So I told her one of my favorite stories (number 55) that I also tell my students when needed. It goes like this:
My mother gave birth to me when she was very young and, being a spoiled only child, completely inexperienced. So the two grandmothers wisely decided to get a nurse to come and help my mother for a week when we came home from the hospital. At the end of that week, my mother tried to change my diaper by herself. Those were the days of bulky cloth diapers and unwieldy (and potentially lethal) diaper pins. She just couldn’t get it right, got very upset, then started thinking about how many diapers she was going to have to change before I could manage things on my own and got hysterical. My father had to put her to bed and the nurse called the grandmothers to tell them she thought it would be a good idea if she were to stay another week. What happened? My mother did learn to change diapers and went on to have four more babies without ever batting an eye again at diapers, glass bottles, rubber nipples (you had to sterilize them back then after every use) and other technical problems of baby management.
The fact that my mother continued to have babies meant either she wasn’t too bright* or that she had learned something important from this diaper changing episode: you take one diaper at a time. Well, we teachers don’t change diapers but we do change students every so many minutes and, as I told my young friend, we should take one student at a time and must certainly never think about how many lessons we have to give before the end of the day, not to mention how many we have to give before we can take a vacation. There are three reasons for this:
- If you think this way, you will get depressed and will certainly not do your best work which is what people are paying you for (and which we should try to be grateful for in this job market, if nothing else).
- More importantly, with this attitude, you are making yourself miserable and are certainly not enjoying yourself.
- Above all, you are thinking about yourself and therefore not concentrating on your student or the issues at hand – a lethal blow to the teaching process. Lose – lose, everyone unhappy.
Not to equate diaper changing with lesson giving, but you can view changing your baby’s diaper as a chance to talk to her, tickle her tummy and enjoy her. Or you can pull a long face and be miserable which isn’t good for either of you. You still have to change the diaper either way. The same thing with teaching. If you forget to enjoy yourself, you are depriving both you and your student of the opportunity to have a pleasant and profitable learning experience. And it is always possible to teach something worthwhile to even the most unpracticed or annoying student, if you choose not to let your more negative reactions to the situation rule you. On the occasions that it is truly difficult to enjoy the lesson process (and this happens to everyone) you can at least, if all else fails, remember to enjoy your student as a human being – and his parents, too.
Now before you think I have never had the same problem as this young teacher, I had to be sharply reminded of the above advice some years ago. In those days I had a lot of students, well over 60 if my memory serves me right. I was working 7 days a week and was beginning to feel oppressed. A friend, on listening to me talk about my work, said something I have never forgotten: “You have broken your neck all these years to get where you are and you are not even enjoying it!” That was an eye-opener. I didn’t cut down on my student load or change anything except my attitude. The result? I not only started having a lot more fun but everything got easier. So whenever I begin to feel a little burdened or find myself thinking about how many hours of teaching I have to do before the end of the day, I remind myself of the above two stories and what I also told my young teacher friend in conclusion:
“Remember, above all, enjoy your work! And in the inevitably less enjoyable moments, be creative and find a way to enjoy them. You will not only be happier and more energized, but you will be a better teacher.”
Post author: Eloise Hellyer
* She most certainly was – she left us this summer after a long and productive (biologically and otherwise) life, years after retiring at age 80. I had the privilege of writing her obituary which took up a full page in the local newspaper. It took me two days on the phone to get a list of all her accomplishments and then I was later informed that I had unknowingly left a few things out! She was also my editor – her advice was and still is invaluable to me. We had a lot of fun arguing over words or phrases: she would take them out and I would sometimes put them back. At least every now and then in our long life together, I would occasionally get the last word.