They say you can’t teach a dog new tricks. But I have a 12 year old lab, and let me tell you, she will do just about anything for a piece of pepperoni. This phrase is a cop out - something to say instead of “that person isn’t willing to try something new,” or, if someone is referring to his or herself, “I’m set in my ways and just don’t want to learn,”....because let’s be honest...that’s what it really means.
My first job was a long term sub position that included 7th grade general music. I was only supposed to fill in the position for 3 weeks, but 3 weeks turned into 5, and then right before winter break I was asked to stay on for the rest of the year. The classroom was equipped with a full set of guitars, but they were never used during general music class. For years they sat collecting dust. The students begged to give the guitar a try when we came back after break. At that point I had only picked up a guitar once in my classroom instruments class in college but I knew I needed to do this for my kids. So, I took a guitar home with me over break, taught myself how to play and made sure I was at least a day ahead of the students throughout the rest of the year.
Back at school I felt so uncomfortable. I thought I was supposed to be the expert in the classroom, but I was learning right along with them. I was insecure and knew that they would eventually find me out as a fraud - I really didn’t know how to play! What if I messed up my fingers for the C chord? What if I couldn’t change chords fast enough during the song? Feelings of self doubt and failure filled my head during the first few lessons. But, eventually I started to own the idea that I was learning the guitar with them, which actually felt pretty liberating. I reminded myself that I had a solid foundation in teaching music and it didn’t matter that I didn’t play the guitar like Joni Mitchell. The fact that I wasn’t a guitar hero wasn’t the point. The students got to see me learning right alongside them, and looking back, I know we helped each other improve.
I didn’t realize it then, but this was a great example of lifelong learning right in the classroom. As a teacher it can be hard at first to embrace the fact that you don’t know everything. You can’t know everything...but that’s the beauty of learning! It is always an incredible journey of constant discovery. Your students need to see you as a learner who isn’t set in your ways and who is not afraid of failure. Failure is just an opportunity to learn and try again. We ask this of our students, don’t we?
I am a proud Type-A personality, and order and predictability are kinda my jam. But as a teacher (especially a middle school teacher) I needed to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Teachers always need to be open to try something new without necessarily knowing the outcome; A cool lesson, a new song, a new way of teaching, new warm up, classroom setup, movement exercise…..whatever! Maybe this will work….maybe it won’t. And if it doesn’t, it’s OKAY...you get to try again tomorrow.