Monday, February 7, 2011

My Own Worst Enemy

Maybe other teachers out there can identify, but I often find that in my role as a private instructor I am my own worst enemy. I tend toward the Type-A, self-critical, OCD side of the spectrum, and I often find myself in a paralysis of over-analysis if a lesson goes less than perfect. I get stymied in the "what if I'd done this instead..." or "I should have handled it this way..." and rather than maintaining a positive outlook find myself focusing solely on the negative and what went WRONG. I interpret no news as bad news and beat myself up over hypothetical complaints that students must be harboring against me, their inept teacher.

Funny thing is, I've been realizing in the past year that so much of this is only a product of my imagination. There have been countless instances where I have found my own worst fears- situations that have caused me to be frustrated and irritated for days- to be completely unfounded, blown way out of proportion, and ridiculous in light of the perception of the other person(s) involved.

Take this past week for example. I have had the privilege of starting two new students in the past three weeks. They are good friends and in the same class at school. One of the girls came for her second lesson this past week and informed me that her friend had reported being "a bit disappointed" after her first lesson. I immediately started the downward spiral of self-criticism. What had I done wrong? How could I have structured things differently in the lesson to better meet her expectations? I spent the better part of an entire day worrying about the issue and agonizing over the fact that I had somehow failed with my newest student. Then this morning I received the first-lesson followup email response on my newest student in my inbox. The mother wrote how her daughter was practicing every night, loving everything, and especially enjoying the rote song I had taught her in the lesson. My fears evaporated in an instant. My worries and agonizings had been completely groundless and unfounded.

I write all this in a spirit of humiliation, but more than that as a reminder to myself and to all those teachers out there who are like me. If you tend to focus only on the negative, start to understand that your perceptions usually are much different from those of the student or the parent. What you perceive as a failure, they might not even have acknowledged. As my own worst enemy, I need to take a step back and try to see from the other side. If I did this more often, and worried less about all the unknowns, I would be a much happier teacher :)


  1. You are so accurate. I am especially hard on myself when I have prepared well and it does not go as planned. How silly is that?

  2. I've had to learn over the years that as much as we (the teachers) plan, we can NEVER predict how the student will react and that I can't control that. I just need to do the best I can do and not beat myself up when it doesn't go exactly according to plan.

  3. WOW Sarah, thank you for this post. It is such a reflection of myself. Definitely some lessons to learn here for me, I really appreciate your thoughts

  4. Wendy,

    Thank you so much for your kind words. As musicians, I think we often tend to be too hard on ourselves since so much of who we are is wrapped up in how we perform- whether as soloists in public or in our private studios giving lessons. It can be easy to allow one negative to outweigh dozens of positives.

    I'm learning as time goes on that there's only so much I can control, and that accepting what's happened, learning from it, and moving on is MUCH more beneficial that allowing myself to indulge in paralyzing self-criticism.

    There's a balance of course, as some self-evaluation is healthy, but I'm trying to find a correct balance that will allow me to grow as a musician without living my life comparing myself to others.