Published: Feb 2, 2018 | Category: Insights Learned from Students
I teach group string instruction at various schools during the week. Each week I learn something new about my students and about myself. Every encounter opens my eyes to just how important my job is. It has also caused me to look at my own character and teaching style with fresh eyes.
Today (Feb 1, 2018), I taught a group of beginning 4th grade violin and viola students. These particular students started instruction in Oct 2017. After doing a warm-up activity that consisted of a theme-based improv story to a beat, a rhythmic exercise in 4/4 time, and finally, playing their story on their instruments, we ended the warm-up activity playing the Twinkle Variations.
Then, I decided to do something a little different and have a masterclass. This was the first time I did this type of instruction at this school. I explained to them what a masterclass is. I also explained their role - to play for me; and mine - to critique each student in an effort to provide intentional insights and practice tips for them to apply daily at home. I told them I would pick just one thing about their playing or posture to focus on, even if there are two or three things that need to be critiqued. I encouraged them to allow me to correct them, and not resist whatever needs to be corrected. They were listening so intently. Such mature 4th graders! But, no sooner than I said, “Don’t resist my correction,” one girl jumped up and said, “But I can’t do that...” I stopped her and said, “This is exactly what I’m talking about. ‘I can’t’ is an example of resisting me.” Other examples of resistance that I shared with the students include phrases like these:
I’m afraid or I'm scared
I don’t want to because...
But I’m not good enough
I’m not going to do well
The phrase, “I’m self-conscious” was one that I uttered in response to a student’s question. Somehow during our masterclass overview discussion, the subject of my glasses came up. I can’t remember exactly how the conversation turned to my glasses - which I rarely wear as I’m always in contacts, and on this day I had on my glasses - but I mentioned that I don’t wear them a lot. A student asked why and I responded, “Because I’m self-conscious in them.” Ding! Ding! I stopped myself and said, “You guys, see, that’s another example of resistance. Even I need to practice not giving in and allowing those resistance phrases to distract me from getting better. Because attitude is everything. And, if you allow a bad or unhealthy attitude to get in the way because you have fallen into the trap of saying ‘I can’t’ or ‘I’m self-conscious,’ we are stopping ourselves from growing and experiencing all that there is to learn. So, be like a sponge, and allow me to pour into you words that will help you grow to be a better string player.”
It was an amazing 50 minutes. Not only did the kids react favorably to the masterclass-style of instruction, they participated in critiquing each other. And, I learned a valuable lesson for myself. Often times our perceptions of self can be so way off. I don't know why I dislike wearing glasses so much but my students complimented me in them. I think this was a lesson God taught/reinforce for me, as I taught my students.
God wants us to trust in Him in every step of our lives. In the same way I encourage my students to trust me in shaping them musically, which the majority of times involves correction, God says, "Don't resist me; allow me to correct you when you are wrong." Being corrected can be hard to take, but when we are soft and pliable, like a sponge or clay, we can be poured into or molded. And what beauty awaits on the other side.