Learning to play a new piece of music on the guitar. A piece that is really beyond my level, but I’m trying it. Making progress, bit by bit , but it seems ever so slowly. Trying to be accurate and get every note right. Trying to play faster and more fluently. When I go faster, I make more mistakes and end up frustrated. When I go more slowly, I feel I’m always going to be a beginner.
Yesterday I could play this part, my fingers easily moved among the strings. Today my fingers feel like lead, heavy and awkward, hitting every wrong note. Why is that?
I’ve been practicing this forever, but I don’t seem to be getting anywhere. I want to be perfect, just like a professional guitar player, but I don’t think I’ll ever reach my goal. So I feel inferior and constantly look up to real guitar players, always comparing myself to them. When people compliment my playing, I say no, I really can’t play at all, I always make mistakes.
I know how this is supposed to go, I’ve memorized it, test me and I will be able to tell you. It’s just that when I actually try to play it in front of people, I find it so difficult. Performance anxiety kicks in, I become embarrassed, my heart beats faster, my face contorts, I’m ashamed to even try. Even if you tell me you like it, I feel you’re just being nice.
Sometimes…sometimes though, my fingers just seem to dance on the strings, I go faster, I can feel myself doing it, finally getting somewhere, feeling as though I really can play the guitar. These moments spur me on, encourage me to keep going, even though the road is long and slow-going.
Learning any skill enables us to empathize with our students as they struggle to master their foreign language. Some language teachers choose to learn a language themselves to put themselves in their students’ position, but learning any skill puts us in touch with our students’ challenges, frustrations, aspirations, and successes, as they try out new language, make mistakes, compare themselves to native speakers, and slowly, slowly progress.
It is a very difficult time for our field. Many colleagues have lost their jobs, either temporarily or permanently. I think most will find their way back, one way or another, as the virus is defeated and students begin to return to our programs. While Netflix is entertaining (until you have watched everything), now is a good time to pick up a new skill or develop an existing one, and reflect on our students’ learning experience. It is a time for us to renew our understanding of – our empathy with – their struggle and their challenge. This will make us more effective educators when our students return again.