Today I had work like any other Tuesday. I teach violin, viola, and cello to kids at a music store called Naperville Music. I love my students and I really do look forward to seeing them every week. I love hearing them talk and just how comfortable they are around me. There are times I feel like they just want to tell me everything that’s happening in their life but they can’t because they only have 30 minutes with me each week. It does lead for awkward conversation topic transitions, or lack thereof. For example, today one of my students barely finished her F major scale; the note really had not even ended, and she looked at me and said “Guess what? I got three teeth pulled yesterday”. I barely had time to process what she said before she pointed to her mouth and showed me each tooth they had pulled out and said “see!” Usually most lessons are like this, with students random outbursts of their life. Today though, I had the blessing to enter into one of my students’ life beyond loose teeth, fun playdates, and birthday parties.
My student today came in like normal, I asked her how her week went, etc. I didn’t really notice anything different until I wanted her to play these two pieces that she’s been on for a few weeks. She forgot to practice them this week, so I told her I wanted her to go through it in the lesson and then I want her to practice it throughout this week so next week we could move on. I had my reasons for this, but she was insistent on playing it for me in the lesson and then not having to practice it for the rest of the week. I told her “Anna, I really want you to work on it this week because I want to make sure that you know it and understand it before we move on, ok?” She looked at me and said “That’s not even my name!”
Seriously, I was taken aback by this.
I looked at her and said “Wait, it isn’t?”
She said “No.”
“What is it then? I’m sorry! I have your name down as Anna!”
“My name is Anna (pronounced ‘Ah-nuh’ not ‘An-uh’).”
I was seriously embarrassed that I had been pronouncing this girls name wrong in my head this entire time. To ease the embarrassment I attempted to crack a joke about how one of my friends whose name is ‘Ah-nuh’ would be very disappointed in me, but she didn’t think it was funny. I continued with the lesson and I had her play the next song because she said she liked it. But, she was really off. She continually got more and more frustrated with herself, angrily restarting after she messed up once, pressing the strings really hard with the bow in frustration, etc. I told her to stop and just slow down a little bit. She looked at me and tears were welling up in her eyes. My immediate reaction was “great. I just made another student cry.”
She looked down at the ground and said “I just hate this piece! I hate it! I can never get it right and I just I don’t want to do this piece anymore.”
I looked at her concerned because she’s never had an outburst like this before.
I said “Anna (this time pronouncing her name correctly), what’s happening? What’s going on? You’ve never been like this before. Did something happen?”
Anna took a moment, as if she were debating what to tell me. “It’s just the people in my class are so mean to me.” She responded
She continued to tell me about how this one boy in her class has been making fun of her for something she did a year ago. She told me that every time she sees him he always tells her about this one time (she didn’t tell me what she did). The rest of the lesson we talked about people she could talk to about these feelings she was bottling up inside of herself. I told her she needs to tell someone about it because that’s painful that have to go through that every time that she sees him. I didn’t push her any further to talk to me about it but she made me realize something about my students.
Sometimes as a teacher, I forget that my students are more than just students, just like students forget that teachers are more than just teachers. It’s funny because when I was a Music Ed major, we were always told that we need to build relationships with our students. Building relationships with our students is the key to their success. Once they realize that we as their teacher want to help them and we are there for them, they will begin to succeed.
I agree with this fully, but I think sometimes as teachers we forget that our students are more than just students. This is what Anna taught me today. Anna isn’t emotionally unstable, she’s not needy, she’s not an angry young child, she was hurting today. She taught me that Anna has a life outside of my studio, she has interactions at school, she has people who say things to her that cut her deep and wound her. She has a 30 minute violin lesson with me every week, but what makes up her life is so much more than me teaching her violin. I am so thankful that she felt comfortable enough to tell me what’s happening, and I am so thankful that she is able to open up to me. As a teacher, I’m not naive enough to think that I was her life, but there is a tendency to put my students into a box that I call my studio. I only see them a certain way because that’s the way they are when they come to lessons. But they are so much more than that.
Anna taught me that I care about my students beyond their “success” or “failure” playing the violin, viola, or cello. I care about them as people. Ya, playing the violin, viola, and cello can be fun and rewarding, but I want them to learn life lessons while playing an instrument. Learning to play an instrument isn’t about sounding good, it’s about being able to express yourself, taking on something you enjoy, teaching yourself discipline, and realizing that life is hard and mistakes happen all the time. I realized my end goal for teaching kids music is NOT for them to be professional violinists, violists, or cellists. It’s for them to have a place to be; to be themselves, to be real, to be open, to be failures, to be successful, to be hurting, to be artists, to be frustrated, to be who they were created to be…
I’m so thankful for Anna and this beautiful lesson she taught me today.