Over the years, I have come across many quotes that have caused me to stop and reflect. For some reason, the quotes that hit me with the most impact are the ones that speak to me as a teacher. In this blog, I wish to share a few of those quotes, beginning with a quote by Mark Twain.
I can live for two months on a good compliment.
I have taught in the same band room for the past 35 years and the preceding Mark Twain quote has been taped to my conductor stand for at least three decades. I keep it there to remind me of the power of a good compliment. A similar message, attributed to legendary basketball coach Don Meyer, is as follows: “Shout praise and whisper criticism.”
The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?
This quote, found in Ecclesiastes 6:11 (NIV), is also taped to my conductor stand. In my early years of teaching, I read an online criticism that a student had written about me. The student said that I talked too much in rehearsal and that I was too infatuated with my composing career. While the criticism hurt, it was accurate. From that point on, I rededicated myself to an efficient, student-centered teaching style. Instead of explaining musical concepts, I began to demonstrate them on my trumpet. Through demonstration, there is direct import of ideas. Often in music, words get in the way.
Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.
These saintly words by the late Mother Teresa, put more gospel into teaching than anything else I have ever read. In essence, they are the ultimate social and emotional instruction manual. Over the years, I have learned that the best way to unite students (especially when conducting an honor band), is to share these words with them. I tell the musicians that their job is to play and behave in a way that makes their stand partner a better and happier musician. Indeed, when each one of us focuses on the welfare of our neighbor, our performance as a group improves and we are blessed in the process.
How far your go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.
These words, spoken by George Washington Carver, are probably more applicable today than at any other time in human history. Sadly, there is a growing trend in our nation to divide people. As music teachers, our subject matter bucks that trend and is the perfect vehicle to unite people. In the tender, compassionate, sympathetic, and tolerant classroom, there are no oppressors and no victims. There are simply people who need to be treated the way each one of us wishes to be treated. And, music is the humanly shaped material that expressively binds us together.
The last two quotes in this blog come from the mottos of my alma maters, Illinois State University and Northwestern University.
Gladly we Learn and Teach.
Illinois State University’s motto is based on a line from Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. The original line, written in Middle English, reads as follows: “And gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche.” Chaucer, referring to the thin, poor, book-loving Clerk, states in no uncertain terms what the clerk has to offer in spite of his poverty – glad instruction and happiness. (I am not sure if Mother Teresa read Chaucer, but like her message above, Chaucer reminds us to leave our students better and happier.)
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
This quote, found in Philippians 4:18 (NIV), is the basis of Northwestern University’s motto: “Quaecumque Sunt Vera” (“Whatsoever Things Are True”). If we take the Apostle Paul's advice, then our teaching should orbit around that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. In return, we leave our students with an excellent and praiseworthy education.
As you ponder your favorite quotes, I hope that you have time to reflect on how they impact your teaching. And, whatever your circumstances might be, remember that you have been called to serve your students, and that is a noble calling. Thanks for being a music teacher. You matter more than you could ever know.