The teacher has a bad day...

July 28, 2018, 3:43 PM · Yesterday I was both tired and distracted by a lot of life-stuff and simply could neither focus nor concentrate. My student showed up for his lesson as planned and I was having a very hard time focusing. When we tried playing a duet he was preparing, I fumbled, made a lot of mistakes, and generally did a lousy job. Usually, I can put stuff aside and focus but yesterday I just couldn't.

I ended the lesson, apologizing for my having a bad day and making his lesson less than successful.

My guess is that many (if not) all of you have had a similar experience either as the student or the teacher. How did you handle it?

Replies (11)

July 28, 2018, 4:39 PM · I’m an amateur (adult learner) who suffers from migraines:

1. I always play with a plug in my left ear, which reduces the probability of getting a headache after playing.

2. There are days in which I’m in the previous stage of a migraine. I can stand the violin, but I feel clumsy and with low reflexes in my left hand. I just keep playing the best I can.

3. Some of these days, I get an aura (visual alteration previous to the headache). I inform the teacher of it, as it usually interferes with my ability to read music.

4. Some other days, I get to the class in the peak of a headache. I inform the teacher and we usually play things in the G and D strings, as I can’t stand high frequencies on that state. I usually take more breaks during the class.

5. And, if the headache is just unbearable, I inform the teacher (again) so he can use my hour with another student and I just skip the class and get into my bed.

I’ve been following these “rules” and so far, and we’ve been both satisfied. I’ve got a very sensible and comprehensive teacher.

July 28, 2018, 5:48 PM · George, you just have to put it behind you. We've all been there. It was good that you apologized instead of making excuses. If your student has a good heart they'll forgive you.
Edited: July 28, 2018, 8:02 PM · I quit teaching (violin and cello) about 8 years ago when I was 75 because I felt I could no longer demonstrate as I felt I should - anyhow 45 years was enough!

But my real teacher collapse story involves my cello teacher. Barney was an alcoholic and came to our town looking for cello students. I was approaching my 15th birthday and my father thought it would be nice to have a backup cellist for his string quartet - so I was started on cello lessons to add to the more than 10 years of violin playing I had behind me by then. (It turns out I was a natural on cello, not so on violin!)

We knew Barney had been kicked out of some fine orchestras because of his alcohol habit (he told us), but it was only in the past decade (50 years later) that I tracked him down on line and found he had played with the Minneapolis, Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlanta symphonies. Also he had played cello in the U.S. Army Band during WW-I (just to set a time frame). Barney was a really wonderful cellist and in addition to getting a few students in our small city he also served as principal cellist of our community orchestra on the Monday evenings, that followed his teaching hours teaching. He also played some amazing cello concerto concerts with our orchestra - but an adult male would take off from work that day to keep Barney sober for the concert.
CUTTING TO THE CHASE: I took lessons from Barney for about 28 months during which time with hard work I became a pretty decent cellist. (He was sober at every lesson!) At my final lesson (I had just turned 17), just before Christmas 1951, Barney was drunk - drunk enough to offer me (a minor) a drink of vodka from the Vitalis (hair tonic) bottle that contained his booze that day (I refused it). We proceeded to our usual lesson approach and to my great disappointment I was playing better than my teacher - obviously Barney knew it too, because he never came back to our town after that to give me another lesson nor to play with our orchestra. So I missed out on the potential 6 additional months of cello lessons I might have had before leaving for college.

However I cared enough about him to finally track him down on the internet a few years ago and learn his fate and more of his history. He is buried at the U.S. Military Cemetery at Gettysburg, PA.

I did not mean for this to be an "object lesson" for you, George!

July 30, 2018, 3:50 PM · All teachers have bad days (some have REALLY bad ones). We are just human.

July 30, 2018, 4:03 PM · I've got my bad days as a student... Really bad days...
July 31, 2018, 12:27 AM · You are a gifted storyteller, Mr. Andrew.
August 1, 2018, 11:57 AM · Not much to add here other than to say don't over analyze it. Don't beat yourself up over it. Life happens. I would venture to say that your student was probably less affected than you think. Things are usually not as bad as we think they were.
August 1, 2018, 1:12 PM · George, if you're as generous and warmhearted toward your students as you are toward the total strangers that you interact with on this website, then I am thinking all will be soon forgiven and even forgotten.
August 1, 2018, 2:06 PM · George,

This happens from time to time, in both teaching and performing. Sometimes things happen in our lives that are hard to compartmentalize, as much as we try to. As musicians we are usually very good at putting our feeling in compartments and doing what is needed.

I remember a concert where my stand partner had put her golden retriever to sleep the previous day. I don't recall the piece we were playing, but I remember looking over at her and as she played, tears were streaming down her cheeks. It nearly made me do the same.

It is ok to be human and it is ok to have a bad moment. Forgive yourself and move on.

August 2, 2018, 9:10 AM · I've had my share of bad days when teaching. I'll guess, Mr. Wells, that you've had some pretty good days when the students get more than they bargain for that make up for it. :)
August 2, 2018, 9:59 AM · I have bad days.

Usually my students are having worse days...

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