Sunday, February 13, 2022

We are not magicians

What do you do with a pen that doesn't write? Do you scribble in long spirals to encourage the ink to flow? Do you shake it and tap it? Do you look for another piece of paper that isn't as ink-resistant? After all of those failed attempts, do you throw it away?

Seriously, do you throw it away? Or, like me, do you put it back in the pencil holder with the hope that somehow it will be rejuvenated amidst its cohort of non-writing implements?


I don't know why I do this. It makes no sense. 

After all, I have no magic powers. I'm a humble piano teacher. I scribble in my students' assignment books daily and make notes to myself on what we accomplished. My pens are nothing special, usually black ink sold in packs for the best price. They write for a reasonably long time until they don't. I need to let them go when they go dry.

At some point I must have confused being a teacher with being a magician. The more I learned about aspects of piano playing and student learning styles, the more assumptions I made about what I could change. Presto, change-o! This student can now sight-read like a whiz, thanks to me! That student can now find the practice time to learn a major piano sonata, thanks to me! All families will provide the best learning environments for their children, thanks to me! Students with learning challenges will overcome them, thanks to me!

Ridiculous, right? Yet, as I share challenges with other teachers, I find that we tend to consider ourselves able to overcome so many things that are out of our control. The sheer wanting to do so must be enough, right? And we struggle with the letting go part.

At this point in the timeline of pandemic teaching, we are still struggling with this form of self-care. Yes, I said self-care. When things aren't working well with a student, we keep hanging on. We put even more of ourselves into the project of saving a student from whatever obstacles are present. Sometimes it works. Sometimes we bleed out our own ink to no avail.

Reframing this part of our teaching relationships as self-care is worth considering. Sit right down and write yourself letter about it. Make sure you have a working pen.