Teacher vs. Parent? They’re not so different!

Last night I worked late. The reason I worked late was because I had organised a concert so that about 30 students from my school could perform a piece of music to an audience, made up primarily of their nearest and dearest, with a few supportive teachers thrown into the mix as well. These students had all chosen to study music as one of their options, so none of the students were hand picked. It wasn’t a display of the most talented musicians, just, I guess it’s fair to say the most enthusiastic ones, as they had chosen the subject.

While the majority of students who choose music as an option, do so because they have a particular flair in that area, it’s not the case with all. Some will choose it because it is the only subject they don’t hate, some will choose it because of the teacher, or because they think it will involve less writing or avoid essays. If you’ve been through the options process with your own children, I’m sure you’d be able to give me a whole host of other reasons why a child might choose a particular subject, and if you haven’t, just you wait!

The reason for my writing this post comes down to a dilemma I had a few weeks back. I booked the concert into our school calendar nearly a year ago, pretty much as soon as I returned from maternity leave, but as we drew closer to the date, it occurred to me that the standard of some of the pieces was a lot lower than I would have expected. Having been away from the school for a year, I had perhaps over anticipated the standards at which some of the students would be working, and I was faced with a dilemma. Most of the students in my classes had not received instrumental lessons, were not accustomed to the concept of practicing outside of their school music lessons, and had never in their lives performed in front of an audience, something they were petrified of doing.

So I had to decide what would be best for the students. Most of these students were working very hard during their lessons, and were able to see progress, and I could see and respect this, but I was worried as to whether an audience of strangers, and more experienced peers would recognise the individual achievements by students under these circumstances. So I did what I thought was the best thing to do. I decided to downscale the concert, and instead of having it in the school hall in front of parents, to have it in my large music classroom, just in front of each other. I felt this would make for a far less daunting experience for those students who were complete beginners. I was confident as I began to explain this to one of my classes, that I would see a relieved expression pass across each of their faces.

Instead, the expression that I saw pass each and all of their faces was a crestfallen one. Despite being absolutely petrifed, the fact that they had been given a challenge, even though a lot of them felt it was an impossible one, gave them a sense of purpose in their lessons, unbeknown to me, they had all been talking about it at home, and in a sense, looking forward to it with a sense of enthusiasm that I had never seen.

Looking back, I think perhaps I was being a bit too preoccupied with the standard of what was to be shown with my own sense of professional pride at the  forefront, rather than that of the students. What would people think of me if the standard of the music wasn’t at a recognised level? However, it’s not about me, so I never finished that conversation. I blagged something about still having baby brain, and apologising that I’d mixed them up with a different class, and decided no matter what, the show must go on!

Although I was still a bit worried in the back of my mind as to how some of the more experienced students and audience would react to the less experienced ones, I shouldn’t have been. Those students were an inspiration yesterday. The maternal part of me was worried that they may feel or look silly, but as another teacher who was watching the show pointed out, every single student who performed was glowing with pride at what they had done, for some, standing up on the stage in front of 100+ people, let alone performing was the bravest thing they had ever done at school, and from someone who wouldn’t even read out loud during English at school for fear of being laughed at I can totally empathise with that.

I think all too often we do underestimate what our children are capable of, and also what we want them to be capable of. These students thought I had set them an impossible goal, but I persisted and believed in them (ok so I wavered half way through a little bit, but they don’t know that!), and when you achieve ‘the impossible’ it really is a magical moment, and for a lot of them, it will be a moment from school that they will remember – ‘the time I got up on stage and sang in front of 100 people.’ And it has to be said, the buzz from the parents was unbelievable too, you’d think each and every one of them had just witnessed their offspring winning the X Factor!

However, as a parent, did I do the right thing? I made those students feel scared, nervous, and completely out of their depth. How would you feel if I’d made your child feel like that? Obviously I did it with the best of intentions, because I believed in them, and ultimately I made them feel proud, and more confident, but should I have just gone with my change of plan idea and saved them this or is that just wrapping them up in unnecessary cotton wool? I’d never have thought like this before I had children, but all of the students I teach are somebody else’s children!

And you’ll be pleased to know that I also got to see a sense of relief cross all of their faces too, the second they got to the end of their pieces and realised they were still alive! They may not be my children, but I definitely felt proud of them last night in a way I hope I will get to feel about my own children in 10 years time!

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. TheBoyandMe
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 18:58:05

    I’m a teacher (albeit primary) and a mum. If you don’t set challenges then they will never strive to achieve or know what hard work is! You were completely right to stick with the original plan!


  2. ghostwritermummy
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 20:13:10

    I think this post makes you sound like a wonderful teacher and mother. I teach primary and I think that you have to have high expectations of your children, even at a young age. The way they feel when they achieve something they never knew they could is one to cherish forever. I have a boy in my class who has a limited grasp of the english language, writing and reading are apalling and behaviour is a hge issue. We recently did a poetry unit and all of a sudden he was coming out with the most amazing similes and writing poems full of imagery that I was blown away. I admit I never expected him to be capable and I regret that now. As a parent you want to keep your kids safe but I think that urging them on a little is fine, they need someone else to believe they can do it too. What a lovely post, will definitely be reading more!


  3. @Laura_987
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 20:13:29

    What a lovely story. Sometimes we have to do things in life where me might feel scared or nervous beforehand but that sense of achievement afterwards is worth it. The children won’t remember you for making them do something they didn’t want to, they’ll remember you for enabling them to feel proud of themselves.


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