Friday, September 7, 2012


I was reading a friend’s blog post this morning and in it was a description feedback the friend had received on a paper from a teacher. Understand that I do not know if this friend is male or female, or if the teacher is male or female. To me, this is beside the point. As I understood the post, on the bottom of the paper, was this: :) :) :). The poster then asked if this was creepy or not, and was making light of the fact that rather than letter grades, emoticons were now being handed out. I have to mention here that this is a wonder blog and I adore it and the posters, whoever they are. They are the famous The Anon Bloggers. I’m sure they love the added notoriety.

Anyway, all sorts of alarm began going off in my head. Will Robinson’s robot started shouting, “Warning! Warning, Will Robinson!” and waving his floppy accordion arms and his salad tong hands. The 20-second “Nostromo” system blow up sequence went to full alert. Under no circumstances EVER should ANY person in a position of being a teacher, mentor, docent, pædagogue, or coach, cross the line to the familiar and that just crossed it.

Teachers are a special breed. My mother originally taught and when she did and I was little, I thought it was the most boring thing on earth. I found out later, both as a private violin and viola teacher and as a software instructor in a classroom setting that I am a born teacher. I soar in a classroom. But, you know what? I respect my students. I give them the room to learn and the room to fail. I’m not there to fall in love and I know and hold dear the position. I’ve taught children and adults and there is a specific language for each. I love it. And I would never, ever abuse that trust.

It is most apparent in the kids. I’ve had kids who would rather be camping. Fair enough. Let’s play “Cotton-Eyed Joe” and make your mom happy; I’ll keep it painless. I’ve had kids who wanted to learn the Bartok Viola Concerto. I’m screwed and one week ahead of them each lesson. They’re all great. But never, anywhere do we cross that forbidden boundary; that boundary that says it’s okay for me to steal your innocence because I’m more powerful than you. Because, I’m in a position of leverage.

How awful is Jerry Sandusky? Joe Paterno? These men deliberately took those young men who trusted them and who were poor and wanting and who thought they had a chance at a better and decent life. These young men with talent, probably have mommas and siblings who could use a champion like Warren Dunn who did take care of his family when given a tiny chance. Not only were these other young men’s lives ruined, but the scars they must bear will never heal. Doing anything for them now is so after the fact, I’m sure the cynicism and pain runs deep. Buggered in a men’s shower with other people around, and NO ONE says or does anything for 11 years? Until someone finally blows the whistle? These men were supposed to be teachers, at the heart of it. TEACHERS.

So? Emoticons?

“No... No. No. Just stop, teacher, really. I have taught since I was 19. Granted it was violin, and I've been teaching since then. Private lessons, because I never had any intention of teaching as a career. I always wanted to play professionally and I did. When I began to teach at age 19, as a freshman in college, I can't say that what i did was teaching. I mostly just took vast sums of parents' money for occupying little Susie or Billy's time for 1/2 hour blocks. But I learned how to teach the violin and viola. I do a bit of demonstrating of technique and mostly, I inspire and soar rhapsodically about the wonder of music; everything from Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto to "Zelda, the Ocarina of Time."  Color me :0 :0 :0.

One of my very favorite teachers wouldn’t let me call her my “teacher” as we gigged together. Hah. She said she was my “coach.” What she really was, was my co-bullshitter. I’d go for ½ hour “coaching” session, and spend 3 hours at her house laughing it up. She is an awesome, awesome violist. She told me something years ago. We were noodling around with the Walton Viola Concerto, which to me is beyond heaven, the 1st movement especially. I love the shifts and double-stops in it. It’s very slow and passionate and dramatic and seems to have been written for me. I have made it my own. She and I were playing a game of “Can you do this?” and ripping through our favorite passages. That had degenerated into our usual game of “Birds and Trains” where we make our very expensive violas do unnatural things. She stopped and said quite seriously after I said something about violinist Joseph Silverstein who has the best bow arm in the business, “We teach ourselves you know. Oh, we can teach, but we’re all self-taught. All you and I do is inspire our students.” I had never thought of it that way before, but she’s right. And keep our hands to ourselves.

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