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Rehearsing with the ARC Orchestra
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A Teacher’s Tale: On Being Bad

As a teacher, most public schools ask for hours of continuing education to maintain credentials. Sometimes, what is allowed seems odd to people. I, for instance, teach English and my time volunteering as a violinist in the American River College Orchestra counts for continuing education.

But, here is why it should: I’m really bad at it.

I cannot count. I have no ear. I do not really understand key signatures. But I am trying. I’m trying because my fellow musicians are kind. They always answer questions I have about notation, even if I have asked before. They do not judge. They are just happy that I am in there giving it my best effort.

This can happen in the classroom too. Students can love and support one another and they usually do if the environment allows it. The most important thing to me is respect and somehow, I have to grow that respect in the classroom as that environment is my job. The only way I have figured how to do that is to model it myself. That is easy when the students are brilliant, and many of them are. It is when they are in need of remediation that it gets hard.

In the orchestra, the conductor faces the same problem. They control the culture and can be a prima dona, flapping around and squawking at the musicians. Conductors can also be patient, kind and generous, allowing the love of the music hold the ensemble together. When you go crying into their office, because your pride is broken, the music is hard and your fingers are old, you aren’t getting any younger, you don’t really get how all the B’s can be flat and they accept you for who you are – you learn something.

I learn that my students, too, are trying. That love of the words can be sustaining. I learn that it is now, and always has been about love. I learn that the greatest gift I can give them is patience.

I can give myself that gift too. When I have just come from a rehearsal where we are playing Brahms Symphony No. 1. and I can hit 139 of the 28 million notes, there is a lot of awkward faking going on. Those are the times when I feel exposed in my inability.

I often remind myself that this is what it feels like to have difficulties with English. There are reminders everywhere that you are not getting it and you can see everyone around you happily discussing the underlying metaphors in Camus’ The Stranger. You know if you open your mouth, you will be discovered.  Like when I pull my bow across the string, the guy in front of me will realize that I am flat.

Pulling the bow, asking questions in class and offering an opinion take individual courage, which have taught me to honor the grit of  “bad” students.

And I learn how to be a better teacher.

 

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About the author

Kate Wells

Kate Wells

Kate Wells has been studying violin for the last ten years and loves the variety of classical music that Sacramento area offers. She has worked as a river guide, lighting specialist, martial arts instructor, and is currently teaching English at Charter University Prep in Placerville.

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