It always hurts when a guitar student quits.
No matter how much I prepare myself, knowing that eventually every single student will move on, there is still a sting when they have their final lesson.
Some students are so full of relief that they will be done with the music lessons which they never connected with that you can see the “thank goodness I’m free!” look in their eyes. These are the children whose parents were urging them to play guitar even though the child had no interest in it. No matter how hard a teacher tries to engage them, guitar is just not what they want to play.
Other students are downcast when they leave. Several students have been teary-eyed as they packed up their guitars for the last time. The reasons for ending their lessons with me are many: moving out of state, graduating high school, busy schedule forcing them to choose a new teacher at a different time, etc. Many will still continue to play guitar in some way. Yet they are still disappointed to be leaving.
Whether they are happy or sad to be finishing their time studying music with me, I feel regret. Not egoic regret, where I am only thinking about having one less paycheck per month, or one less student on my roster, but regret that I will no longer see their lovely faces every week; regret that I will not have the privilege of watching them grow; regret that I will no longer be part of their musical experiences.
What lessens the sting of parting is the hope that they have taken something away from their time with me that will benefit them in the future, even if I never see exactly what it might be or how what they learned will affect them. It may not even be music-related. It may be that they never pick up their guitar again. They might use what they learned to branch out and play another instrument, or a different genre of music. Or they might pick up their guitar in sixty years and fondly remember “When the Saints Go Marching In” or pick out the notes to “Silent Night” at Christmas time, surrounded by grandchildren.
At the beginning of this month one of my students had her last lesson. I cried. I think she did too, a little. She will continue to play guitar, so I look forward to hearing her again at some point, and I know that music will always be part of her life. She gave me a beautiful piece of art that she made based on her own beloved guitar. It is hanging on the wall in my home now as a remembrance of the love we share for music.
This week one of my students had his last lesson. He was quiet, as usual, among the rest of his louder classmates, so nobody else noticed any difference in him, but at the end he looked up at me and his expression tore at my heart. He did not want to leave and was not embarrassed to show it. We had to say goodbye anyway. He will be continuing to study guitar elsewhere, and I wished him the best with a smile as he departed even though on the inside I was sad.
Last night one of my students had his last lesson. As we talked, I could see how much he has grown; he has been my student for six years and is now old enough to drive. Our time together has been full of ups and downs, but through the moments of frustration we have found ways to come back to the music. Right before he left, he said, “You told me a while ago: ‘you can be a terrible guitar student, but you are a great person’. I appreciate that, and I’ll always remember it.” It surprised me that of all the things we discussed and studied for six years, that was what he chose to focus on most of all. Maybe that’s what he needed to learn, that no matter what his ability or lack of ability in something was, that it would not change his worth as a person.
When a student walks into their first guitar lesson I have to begin preparing myself for the time when they will walk out of their last. It’s not easy. But it’s beautiful to be part, even in a small of way, of these children’s lives and musical development. No matter how many students I end up teaching over the years, I hope to always see each child as an individual, special person, and look forward to seeing them become not just a skilled musician, but a wonderful person as they grow and change.