Egos, the Students, and The Greater Good

What do we want as teachers? All of us want our students to be successful in their endeavours. That success can take many forms and it doesn’t necessarily mean music as a career path.

Do we want our students to appear successful so that we come across as being a great teacher? Or are we genuinely interested in their learning and the bumpy interstate highway that comprises true education?

Short term ‘wins’ can make you feel good now. But what about the long term effects. Did we mold tension in our young players just to hurry up and get some sort of vibrato quickly? Did we force a new position into their left hands at the expense of intonation and shifting skills?

But at what cost? If the student continues in music, will a future teacher have to fix something you did? Will they need to take the wrecking ball to their bow technique and start from scratch?

I’ll be the first to admit that this has become an issue with me in recent years. I’m not sure why and I’m not proud of it.

Emotion Drives Attention Drives Learning

If emotions are at the core of learning, why do music educators and ensemble directors consistently ignore the student’s emotions? Nearsightedness? The director’s emotions and ego? Because it’s easier to teach to our tests (performances)? The quick rush of a win?

It’s easier to look just a month or two down the road. It’s easier to view your own short road rather than the long highway in front of each student. putting yourself in the students place ten years from now. And of course it feels good to win.

Bringing home the gold ‘proves’ that you’re a great teacher. Or does it? Is it really about how ‘good’ your ensemble is? Is it about how many gold medals you win? How many competitions you attend? Those are events to experience and targets to shoot for but not the end goal. It’s about the students and their experience. It’s about them having a positive experience. It’s about them walking away with positive emotions. Think about the kid in the back of the section. He’s a mediocre player. Not always in tune and sometimes comes in at the wrong time. Do you cut him or put soap on his bow so he can’t make a sound? Of course not. But down the road, what is really going to matter? Not the fact that the group received a lower rating because of him.

No, what will matter is that he participated. When he looks back, the fact that he was in the group will make the difference and in turn affect how he interacts with people, groups, and situations. What do you remember about your school music experience? I don’t remember what score I received at contests but I can tell you how teachers treated me and what kind of experience I had. I remember my baseball coach not putting me in the game because…well because I sucked at baseball! It was a freshman league and all he cared about was winning. Does it really matter? How do you think I feel about that experience and how does that affect me now? Will your students want to attend a musical event as an adult or will it cause negative emotions to reverberate with them?

Taking the longview is difficult. Especially when we’re under pressure to put on performanes every 6 – 8 weeks. We struggle with enough rehearsal time. We wrestle with attendance. We battle to get our students to practice; or even to take their instrument home. It’s not easy. It never will be. But thinking of that student in a lesson 10 years from now will help. And the student will be better for it.

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