I’ve learned that it doesn’t help to dance around the problem at hand.
Over the past week, I’ve been in the middle of some hard conversations. Two of these conversations were about the “fit” between student and teacher. In one case, I was the teacher, and in the other, I was the student.
Some people can take me, and some can’t. I’m an intensively laid-back person, if that makes any sense: I come across as intense, but when it comes down to it, not much frazzles me or frustrates me. The best thing you can bring into a relationship with me is honesty. With honesty, we can get a lot done.
So while most of my students over the years have “stuck” for considerable amount of time, and others have fallen away because of financial reasons or just life changes, there are situations where I have students that just don’t feel we “click”. Generally speaking, I detect this in the glazed-over expression on their face while we’re talking. And at that point, it’s not really worth it for me to try to convince them that we are a good fit. So seeing the look on the face (I can’t remember a time the “talk” was not preceded by the look, but it might have happened), I am completely ready for the talk to come.
Back in the day, I would take it personally when a student would stop study with me to find another teacher. I wondered what I did wrong. But more often than not, I didn’t do anything wrong, they just needed someone with a different style. Sort of like when you get turned down for the part because they’re looking for a different “type”. Nothing wrong with your singing, it’s just not a good “fit”.
So these days, I generally apologize if there was any misunderstanding or the student felt offended, but other than that, I leave it to, “That’s excellent that you know what you’re looking for in a teacher. I’m glad we had a chance to work together, even for a lesson or two, and I wish you the best of luck. Keep in touch.” And they often do. It’s not like we’re breaking up. They are finding themselves.
Having been on the flip side of that when I’ve had teachers who did not click with me, I know how frustrating it can be when you’reassigned a teacher who you don’t feel respects you or “gets” you. This happened a couple of times in my undergrad studies, but it also helped to make me a stronger person and a better communicator as I sought to communicate with people who I didn’t really understand or who didn’t understand me.
On the flip side, I recently had a talk with my current teacher at McNally. As I’ve gushed in the past, she is a fantastic teacher and I’ve learned an incredible amount from her. However, due the closeness of our ages, it puts an interesting dynamic into our student-teaching relationship. The way that I communicate is something that has to be taken at face-value, because if you try to interpret it, things get confused. So we talked this week about me starting with another teacher in the fall. That is a different kind of hard, when a teacher tells you that it’s time for you to move on. I’ve never done that with any students of mine, other than once when the student was just too young to be taking lessons. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not sometimes necessary. It is about everyone working well together, and I’m thrilled that Jen is able to give me the recommendation to study with one of the other fantastic McNally faculty members.
It all comes down to being humble and letting it go. There is no need to know why someone doesn’t think we’re a good fit. The fact that they think that is valid, and good enough. If the conversation ends with that understanding, then respect is likely maintained, and a working relationship can be fostered in the future. But offense will blind both sides. Defensiveness will make everything seem like an attack, even when that’s not the intention. Sometimes using few words is the best way to communicate. I’m still learning that.