November 29, 2008 at 9:55 AM
Beginnings tend to leave a stain if improperly treated. That's why I wanted so badly to win her over at the very first lesson. We sat down at the piano, 88 keys presenting themselves like question marks, all waiting to be answered. She played and I watched, hoping to find some clues about her past teacher, hoping to guess what was on the slate and what was yet to be slated. Besides technical foundation, there was also the subject of personal taste. What did she like? "Do you like classical music? Do you know Mozart? Like Beethoven? Recognise this little bit of Bach?" I played for her and waited for a response.
"How about we get on with the lesson?"
The curtness of her remark slapped the question mark from the bubble over my head, which quickly filled with a scumble of steam. "Okay then, turn to page 13." Hoping she wouldn't notice if my face was pink, I grilled her mercilessly on the rhythms, lashing at every last flaw until the piece she had prepared for me lay in shambles, much to my satisfaction.
So much for first impressions.
Every lesson after that filled me with anxiety as I anticipated the expectations she had of me, wondering if she wasn't that impressed with me after all. She showed up at my door, and I was in fourth grade all over again. I didn't know whether to snub her with authority or roll over and show her my soft underside. I ushered her to the bench and assumed my wheeled chair by the desk, observing:
You have no grasp of your rhythms. You aren't stopping to listen--why can you not hear the sound you make, how it differs from what lies on the page? ...Though, I like your whimsies, the way you flip a phrase like it was a fishing line--as though care never existed for you--light and pink, like your notebook and your shoes and your polka-dotted tights. You like horses, and so do I. I'll let you pick the next sticker; you earned it. I like frog stickers, do you?
She came to me this week, and we sat down again in the studio. I penciled November 26th into her notebook and shuffled through her books, dropping one or two on the floor in the usual routine. I didn't notice she was digging into her bag for something.
She was handing me a Thanksgiving card, one that she'd drawn herself, lettered in crayon, signed with care. "Oh, how nice of you! What a beautiful card. Thank you!" She began the first notes of her lesson, oblivious to the fact that I was still lost in the thought of her unexpected act of friendship.
It was silly the way I tried to hide the fact that I cared so much about what she though of me. It hadn't even occurred to me that she felt the same way I did.
First lessons are always difficult. You have to psyche out your new student quickly and make a good guess at what approach will work best. It's a matter of intuition combined with knowledge gleaned from past experiences. If the student comes back for more lessons, you can refine your approach. Your first lesson with her must have gone well, or she would not have come back. You deserve praise for being a good teacher. I'm sure your working relationship with her will continue to improve.
Actually, I don't give trial lessons; we committed to the entire semester beforehand. I figured that was the best way to give us both a good chance at impressing each other.
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