The Stories of Josh and Sarah: To Quit or Not to Quit

Sarah* has been a student with me since she was seven. Her musicality is incredible, and she has blossomed into a marvelous young musician who loves to sing and write her own songs, as well as play classical guitar. She spent several years in my ensemble, too, leading the group as one of the best players. I always looked forward to teaching her each week, knowing that she would absorb everything and practice diligently.

This week, out of the blue, she quit lessons.

I should have seen it coming. Her priorities over the past year have been with sports, even though she never neglected playing guitar, and she is getting to the point where she would need to dedicate more time to music in order to continue advancing. Her reason for quitting was that she will be entering high school this fall and didn’t want to spread herself too thin. I respect that kind of decision (she’s always been a straight-A student), but at the same time am still a little disappointed that she chose an all-or-nothing approach.

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Josh* has been an up and down student ever since he began lessons with me almost six years ago. Sometimes making great leaps in musical advancement, sometimes dragging his feet (literally) to his lessons, I never know if we will have a good week or a bad week. He has just enough moments of brilliance to keep me hoping for the breakthrough of potential that I and other teachers saw in him. However, for the past year or two, we had bad weeks more often than not. As a seventeen year old who is heavily involved in sports and an academically-rigorous school, his priorities were obviously not with music, yet he still continued to play guitar, even when I wondered why he bothered to show up to lessons unprepared again and again.

Several weeks ago, right before a vacation break in our lesson schedule, I delivered the ultimatum: Josh had to decide whether he truly wanted to continue lessons, which meant that he would have to dedicate time to practicing and progressing, or decide that he wanted to discontinue lessons. I told him that I cannot teach someone who does not want to be taught or put any kind of effort into their playing. Honestly, I believed that he would quit. I met him at the studio tonight for what I thought was going to be his final lesson.

He surprised me.

His solo that we had been working on for several weeks was memorized and sounding better. He admitted that he had been reviewing old repertoire, sight-reading pieces, and playing pop tunes for fun. Even his demeanor was different; he sat up straighter, looking at me with determination in every muscle. After discussing several options, we made a detailed plan to prepare for a senior recital in the springtime, with solos and a duet or two, possibly in conjunction with any other graduating senior students as well.

By the end of the lesson, I was shaking my head in amazement. What happened to him was something that I could not have predicted.

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Josh and Sarah taught me a lesson that I keep learning over and over: you can never tell which students will connect with music and stick with it, and which will leave it before the teacher thinks they should. The student themselves is the one ultimately in control of what they choose to learn; the parents can push, and the teacher can urge, but each child chooses his or her own path in the end. Yet, thankfully, each student is affected in some kind of way by their interactions with their teachers and their experience with music, which can influence them in positive ways for the rest of their lives.

*Students names have been changed.

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