Thoughts on Self-Doubt

This cold has really knocked me out. I’m assuming it’s a cold because it’s all been in my head, but I’ve been dealing with it now for weeks (unless part of it still was allergies, I’m not a doctor…) and am finally (I hope) on the mend. However, this past week has been tough, and then the weekend too, especially on Sunday when I suffered from a terrible cough all day. And then at night and in the mornings it’s tough too. ANYWAY.

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So that’s why I haven’t been doing a whole lot of interesting stuff, mostly, wake up, try to clear up a bit, maybe do a tiny bit of practice, teach as much as possible, go to bed. But finally, the sun is out, and I’m moving into the “get other things done too” part of it.

Over the weekend some of my students were playing for the Music Club Federation Festival. For that they had to memorize two pieces (in some cases only one, but those were concertos) to play with a pianist in front of a judge for a score and comments. You can get up to 5 points for the highest score, and if, over the course of several years, you accumulate 15 points you can get a trophy…for the next 15 you get a bigger trophy, and so on. In high school there are ways to get more than 5 points per year. In any case, I ended up getting completely stressed out over this (the night before) and basically having a total freak-out over a minor detail I had messed up (which ended up not mattering at all) and I am thankful for Louie for talking me down and telling me that no, I am not a terrible teacher if my students haven’t practiced enough and that no one is judging me on how they play. Sometimes I get these moments of self-doubt where I think of how this wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing, this isn’t why I went to conservatory, and that I am a total failure as a musician.

As it turned out all my students played quite well, and I’m waiting to get all the comments back later today and find out everything, but I look forward to convincing even more students to play next year and hope the same ones will do again, and by golly, the way to ruin everything is to worry about what you were supposed to be doing rather than just focus on where you are now and where you are going. I am not a failure, and just because I’m on a different path than many I went to school with…I’m not a failure. In all honesty, I’m on the same path as many others I went to school with and I don’t consider them failures ever! I think being sick for a few weeks now really started to make me feel useless, and taking cold medicine really can mess with your brain and make you forgetful.

So much of what I read about teaching is from confident people who always write as if they know everything and if you just do it their way it will work. I’m here to say that sometimes I try a million things and none of them work, and sometimes I think none of them work and suddenly something works, and sometimes I feel like I’m the worst teacher ever, and other days I think that all my students are amazing and I must be the best. But I usually feel like everybody knows more than me and I have a lot to learn…and I’d honestly rather be like me than overly confident and acting like I know everything! I’m constantly trying to improve and figure out how to do things better, and since every student is a unique individual, there are no “one-size-fits-all” solutions! Maybe in twenty years I’ll feel differently, but I’ve been teaching for 20 years already…

I think music lessons are important, I think that one on one attention for the kids can be so important, and I think that I need to remember that my students don’t have to play like child prodigies to do a great job, they just have to try to be the best version of themselves, at that time, in that room, and that is good enough. I learned a lot about myself and my teaching over the weekend, and I’m proud of all the students who participated (so so proud, for their hard work for months, for doing something that scared them—their nervous faces beforehand, the relief afterwards, the glee when they found out their scores—for doing something that scared them and finding out they could and that they were stronger for it) and we’ll be doing it again next year. Oh, and I found out that several students didn’t hear me say “the judge” and assumed there would be a panel of judges, perhaps three, I’m thinking, like American Idol or something. One said that it was much less scary than it was in her head.

It was much less scary for me too. I’m stronger for having my students play, and I think that maybe I’m doing some things right. Either way, it was all worth it—the best part so far was seeing one of my students at his lesson yesterday. I’d found out he got the highest score and when I told him, he got the biggest grin on his face, and I don’t think it went away for over 5 minutes.

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