Not Good Enough

Okay, this is getting a little ridiculous.  Two more crying spells about 4 hours apart:  one from an English student whose computer wouldn't work (and she was tired, and she was trying to take an essay exam, and she had a fractured vertebra but had come to school anyway.)  And one from a piano student who was also tired and sick (bronchitis triggered by asthma) but also discouraged.  In the middle of his piece, as I tried to gently guide him into a staccato technique, his head sunk down to his chest and tears began to slide down his cheeks.

Part of me wanted to run to the mirror and check to see if I had a "CRY AT ME" sign taped to my backside.  Part of me wanted to lock myself in the bathroom with a bottle of L'Occitane and another of Firefly.  But that's not how it works.  I'm a teacher.  I put my hand on his arm and leaned a little closer.  "Brian, what's wrong?  Are you upset about piano, or about something else?"

It's an old psychologist's trick: if you put the answer you want at the end, the child will almost always take it.  I was looking to escape responsibility for this outburst.  But he sniffled and gulped and said, "Piano."  Surprised, I responded, "What's frustrating you about piano?"

His tears turned into genuine sobs, and he covered his face with both hands as he wailed, "I'm not good!  I'm just not good enough!"

Oh.  Oh.  And whatever resentment and frustration and cynicism were locked within me melted away.  This poor child, who was judging himself by an impossible standard at just six years of age.  I broke my own rule (No Touching During Tear Time) to rub his back gently as I asked what he meant.  He had apparently heard some of my other students playing and was overwhelmed by the distance he had to go.  "But Brian," I said, "Don't you realize how far you've come?  You know a whole piece.  You can play it with your right hand and with your left hand.  When you started last fall, you couldn't even find C, and now you know a whole piece!"

Slowly, he began to calm down.  I used it as a teachable moment to plug the Holy Trinity of my music program -- practice, recording, Music Mind Games -- and explained that all of those things would help him be a finer musician.  And then I thought of my mentor Carole Bigler and her definition of perfect.  "Really, Brian, you only have one job to do.  Know what it is?"  He shook his head.  "You have to let me teach you.  You have to come in here and let me help you learn.  If you do that, you're doing exactly what a student is supposed to do.  You're doing a perfect job."

At that superlative, he brightened a little, and we worked on the piece until full sun was restored on his countenance.  I earned my paycheck today.