Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Believe You Can or Act As If

image It’s funny how our self-perceptions can have nothing to do with reality.

This last year, I let a parent totally demoralize me. They didn’t even say stuff that was true, but still, it got under my skin, real deep. And so in the days and hours leading up to this recital, deep inside and hidden from the students, I sort of felt defeated inside.

In fact, for the first time ever, I cried on the way to the recital. Part of it is that my seniors are leaving, and they’ve been the “leaders” for ten years. My studio will be different now, completely different. So it’s the end of an era.

The other part was the demoralized part. I knew I’d be able to get through the recital because you can always miraculously “pony up” when you have to, but I was a little afraid I wouldn’t be able to work up the energy I needed in order to exude the confidence that some students may need to feed on, you know? LOL!

But the recital was actually awesome. I acted confident and relaxed because I had to for the kids, and I was somewhat surprised, halfway through, to actually be feeling confident and relaxed.

image The students rocked. I have one student who asked me, at the beginning of the year, if he’d “really” be able to play his piece “that fast.” Of course I replied without hesitation and complete confidence that “of course he would.” But still, I was pretty shocked and thrilled he actually did.

There’s a point, in learning piano, where your fingers must go faster than your ears can hear each individual note. A lot of students get stuck at the speed they can hear (around 110-130, sixteenth notes), and it’s a struggle to break through that. He got up to 160-170 because he believed me when I told him he could. Phew! And nothing really goes much faster than that, LOL.

Then the little boys acted as if they were on the top of the world with all their grinning. And the older ones were great, too. When I gave one award, he went, “Yes!” Another boy, who I’ve spent all year on relaxing and breathing and feeling confident and having fun when he plays, has been walking around this past month like he knows exactly how good he is, which makes me really happy.

The girls were so lovely. Girls are so different to teach. It’s more like they NEED something from the music. All my girls are like that, like they need emotional support from their music-making, rather than using their music-making to express themselves. I don’t know. I can’t explain it.

Boys have a tendency to believe what you say, while girls have to prove it to themselves. So a lot of the girls don’t automatically practice the way I tell them to, and this leads to problems.

image But the girls who’ve been struggling with performing as well as they practice this year, listened to me when I told them how to peak at the recital. And those girls NAILED it. I was so thrilled for them, because they both really wanted that badly.

The kids are playing so musically, it was fun just to sit back and listen to the music. It was all enjoyable, even for me, the teacher! And they’re all so poised and comfortable and seemingly relaxed on stage, it’s amazing.

There were a ton of smiles, so that’s cool.

Personally, I was shocked at how far my students have come this year. We’ve taken our studio to a whole new level. The kids all played music from a place of true, mature understanding of the language.

So I guess, at the end of this year where I’ve felt more demoralized than any other year, I have to say that we learned more this year and came farther this year than any other year before. What’s sort of ironic is that it has been more inconvenient to the parents than any other year, and I don’t know how to reconcile that. Should I really become a worse teacher and give the students less of an education so that my parents (the majority of whom really don’t know the difference and don’t have the foundation to even see the difference or understand the difference) are happier?

Bit of a self-indulgent post today. :-) Sorry about that. I’m just so pleased and proud of them.

So have you ever found reality and your self-perception to be at odds? To be getting leaps and bounds better when you feel worse inside?

19 bonus scribbles:

Mark Terry 5/20/2009 01:06:00 PM  

I just had a similar conversation with my guitar teacher yesterday. He's also one of the band directors at the high school and my wife is now the president of the band boosters and I'm the secretary (apparently for life; sort of like being a Supreme Court Judge without the pay, benefits, staff, or robe). Since this was the first year I was actively involved, I commented, with 50+ seniors leaving, how they must get used to having the whole personality of the band change every year. He said it did, often, because the seniors mostly and some juniors pretty much set the tone.

Edie Ramer 5/20/2009 01:56:00 PM  

So have you ever found reality and your self-perception to be at odds?All the time. I'm surprised when people tell me how they think I'm confident and outgoing, when I don't see myself that way.

To be getting leaps and bounds better when you feel worse inside?This is a tough one. I feel like I am getting leaps and bounds better, but then I have days where I doubt myself.

Eric Mayer,  5/20/2009 02:25:00 PM  

As someone who has zilch musical ability I can't comment intelligently but it was an interesting glimpse into something I now nothing about. You need to play faster than you can hear the notes. Amazing!

Anonymous,  5/20/2009 03:24:00 PM  

You need to teach how you teach. The results you had this year proved it. Don't dumb things down (or whatever) because parents complain. Trust me when I tell you that parents ALWAYS can find something to complain about, and they'll be smiling and cooing in the audience over how "wonderfully little Johnny plays" then turn around and cut you--the person who taught little Johnny to play so wonderfully--to ribbons without batting an eye. Be true to yourself and what you know.

And blah blah, on and on, etc. etc. etc... Okay, I'll quit now.

Aimless Writer 5/20/2009 05:08:00 PM  

Congrats on a great concert! Way to go Spy!

mom2brie,  5/20/2009 05:51:00 PM  

This was such a lovely post to read, and such a testament to you and your ability to communicate with your students!!

I've often felt that reality and my self-perception are at odds. For instance, people comment that I always seem to be happy and in a good mood, I've been called a pollyanna more than once, but if they only knew the conversations that I have with myself, they would NEVER say that!

Thanks for sharing your wonderful recital! :-)

spyscribbler 5/20/2009 07:31:00 PM  

Oh, I bet, Mark! That would be disconcerting. These two have been the leaders of the studio for all ten years, pretty much, even when they were little. They started when I started this new studio, and they've always been the best ones, you know? So they've set the tone for all ten years, pretty much. They really helped me make the studio what it is.

spyscribbler 5/20/2009 07:33:00 PM  

I think you're confident and outgoing with words, Edie. :-) I've noticed that writing tends to alter others' interpretations of us, in a way. I think. I don't know, LOL! But strong writing can sometimes make you sound confident or arrogant or whatever, even when the person is not like that.

spyscribbler 5/20/2009 07:36:00 PM  

Eric, it is sort of freaky when you think about it. I mean, it's something even I struggle with.

spyscribbler 5/20/2009 07:39:00 PM  

LOL, Writenow. It's tough. Glenn generally tells me just to make the parents happy. Inside, I'm a stubborn idealist, and I too often put their long-term growth/happiness/success in front of the now. Oh well! Just keep on keeping on, I guess.

spyscribbler 5/20/2009 07:40:00 PM  

Thanks, Aimless! You know, honestly, I'm all too ready to accept their mistakes or whatever as my failure, but I have difficulty accepting their successes as anything to do with me, LOL.

spyscribbler 5/20/2009 07:42:00 PM  

Aww, Mom2brie. I love you so much. I almost called you before, but I figured you'd be working, LOL.

I can totally see that. :-) You sometimes put other people in front of yourself. I can't WAIT to see you and Brie!

Robin 5/20/2009 08:32:00 PM  

Congratulations, Spy! That sounds like it was incredibly successful.

This might sound weird, but I find that at work, when people compliment me, it makes me feel good for a second and then quickly dissipates. But when someone is mean to me, or criticizes me, it lasts forever!

writtenwyrdd 5/21/2009 11:03:00 AM  

I'm so glad it went well for all concerned! It's important to realise that just telling kids you believe in them and not letting them see doubt can allow them to surpass your expectations. We limit kids when we tell them they are limited, and if we don't do that, they surprise us.

They did a study years ago, telling teachers that an above-average group was below average, and telling the teachers (same classes I believe) that the below average kids were above average. At the end of the school year, guess what? The below average kids were much improved and the above average kids were rated worse!

Now the thing is there are probably two things at work here. The expectation of the teacher colored his/her perception of work done, and also the believe and encouragement of the teacher apparently differed toward the supposed below average versus supposed above average students.

The conclusion was something like "the teachers' expectations of excellence caused the below average kids to excel or improve and lower expectations caused the above average kids to be less successful." But grades were no doubt also affected by the teacher's expectations (read: biased).

spyscribbler 5/21/2009 11:27:00 AM  

Robin, that's me to a T! So how do you reverse that, LOL?

PS: I love that word: "dissipates."

spyscribbler 5/21/2009 11:32:00 AM  

Written, that is SO true. That's probably my number one belief. My big problem this year was with a parent who continually laughed and told her daughter and her friend's daughter that they "just can't memorize." It was SO untrue; I disproved her statement every week, and yet the girls took to that statement as part of their identity. I resented that I had to work against her and that she insisted on making my job harder.

I learned early on not to allow my own limitations or my thoughts of their limitations color my statements. They seriously can do anything. They'll start imposing self-limitations on themselves soon enough. I don't think parents realize how they impose limitations on their kids. But what can you do? You can't fight it. You can't even fix it. Once the damage is done, it's very nearly irreversible. They truly take to that stuff like it's part of their identity.

Melanie Avila 5/21/2009 12:25:00 PM  

Spy, I think it's simply WONDERFUL that after all the crappy things that have happened this year, your students proved what a great teacher you are. It must have felt so good to be able to witness your hard work up there on stage.

Well done!!

spyscribbler 5/22/2009 08:32:00 AM  

Melanie, yeah. It was inspiring. They're all making "real" music. It was fantastic. :-)

Barbara Martin 5/30/2009 09:48:00 PM  

Spy, when your students succeed, you do too. Congrats.