I watched my mom pour every ounce of what energy she had left after taking care of her two sarcastic, trumpet-playing, too-close-in-age-to-do-anything-but-fight-like-cats-and-dogs kids into grading papers, writing lesson plans, and pulling extra duty in concession stands until the day she retired. I knew she worked hard, but it’s hard to completely understand any job until you’ve done it yourself.
I have been a teacher for over seven years now. Once you actually take on that role, you instantly develop a deeper appreciation for those who walked down that path before you.
You also develop a deep appreciation for those teachers who had you as a student.
I have many, MANY teachers and mentors whose lessons have stayed with me well beyond the classroom door. They could see the best in me…usually during the times that I couldn’t see it in myself. On my first day of kindergarten, I was so excited about getting to go to school like the “big kids” did. I was ready to learn about big words, big numbers, and big ideas. My teachers were incredible, incredible people who fueled my enthusiasm for learning in a big way.
“Thank you” will never be enough. I could say “thank you” a million times and it still wouldn’t be enough. However, I hope you will accept my thanks and know how much you were and still are valued.
Oh, and for the record…
I promise that I didn’t mean to paint part of the floor red working on a class project. I didn’t mean to bump my head on the bars at recess trying to do my best Mary Lou Retton dismount. And…I’m sorry I made a last-minute visit to a restroom while I was on a high school field trip about 180 miles from home. I left that restroom thinking I’d been left behind because NO ONE was in the lobby of the hotel…turns out the chaperones were going crazy trying to find me and the entire bus full of kids was parked in plain sight. (Yeah. Sorry. Again…I have to say it…THANK YOU!)
That’s the point I was trying to make to one of my classes recently. When you teach music, one of the most challenging parts is getting kids to realize that practicing on your own is what moves you forward as a musician. Time, effort, and patience are virtues.
I’ve been knitting for a while. I cringe when I think of the first scarf I finished and gave away as a gift, because it was evidence of my lack of experience and skill at the time. I kept working at it, though, and–as long as whatever I’m knitting is supposed to be a square or rectangle–it looks pretty good.
Crochet, on the other hand, continued to confuse me for some reason. Every time I would try to learn, I ended up with really colorful knots to throw in the trash.
“Oh, but crochet is so much easier than knitting!”
Yeah, that was never exactly what I wanted to hear while I was tying yarn into the kinds of knots that would confuse an Eagle Scout. I couldn’t get the hang of it. So, I put it away for a while and decided that maybe crochet wasn’t for me.
Well, not too long ago, I opened my big mouth and told one of my classes that I was going to prove that you can learn anything you want to if you’ll just make up your mind to do it.
And then I heard myself say…
“By the end of this year, I’m going to crochet a scarf.”
I asked myself some questions that afternoon.
Why did I say that?
Umm…you wanted to prove a point. Now you just have to–you know, prove it. Don’t worry. Setting that little deadline will help. Maybe.
Why is knitting so much easier for me than crochet if crochet is supposed to be easier?
My best answer for that one?
I like doing things the hard way.
(I’m stubborn. We’ve established that.)
Okay, so maybe the best way I can say that–to boost my self-esteem–is to say that I like a challenge. If everyone can crochet, well, by golly, I’ll take it a step further and knit instead. However, I’ve created a hole in my own argument here, because crochet apparently is a challenge for me, so now I guess I have no choice but to learn it. Darn. (Darn. Darning. Something else I need to learn. My socks have holes, too.)
Well, no going back now, so I got started with crochet…again.
Is this perfect? No, not yet. But, if I keep working at it, I’m sure it’ll be some kind of scarf by May…when it’ll be a thousand degrees outside and no one in their right mind will need a scarf…but I digress.
However, I’m making my point.
If I can learn how to do this thing that frustrated me to no end by taking a little extra time to slow down the process, taking the advice in the videos and the articles, and practicing over and over and over…then perhaps learning other stuff is possible, too.
I’d stay to explain more, but I need to get back to work on this lovely orange scarf that I said I’d finish.
Malcolm Gladwell is widely attributed to popularizing the so-called “10,000 Hour Rule.” (I’m a very big fan of his work; if you have the chance to read any of his books, I highly recommend them. He based the “10,000 Hour Rule” on a study by Anders Ericsson.) For those who are not familiar with the concept, the general idea is that mastery in any one particular field or discipline requires at least 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice.”
Of course, this “rule” is up for debate, as are many theories in the social sciences. Still, if I took it as an absolute rule, then it could get interesting for someone like me.
Why, you ask?
Well, as a self-proclaimed Meticulously Observant Observer, that title carries with it a (ridiculously impossible to fulfill) degree of perfectionism. Not only that, but I’m interested in lots of different subjects and activities. I don’t like doing anything halfway. I want to do things right.
I’m no math surgeon, but according to my (probably inaccurate) calculations, you obviously can’t achieve those hours in one year…unless you really can add hours to the day and you spend absolutely every waking hour devoted to one discipline. Not particularly practical.
Annnnnddddd…I’ve identified at least four disciplines that I pursue regularly outside of work.
If I want to be really serious about four of my specific pursuits, I figure I should start the mathematical breakdown with the disciplines I’ve been involved with the longest: writing and music.
Let’s start with writing.
According to my parents, I was able to read at the age of eighteen months. Writing followed soon thereafter. It was ugly, but it was writing. So, in factoring in my age and the number of hours I spent in classrooms throughout my formal education, I should probably be in good shape on that one.
However, was it all “deliberate practice?” Probably not. Passing notes to my classmates isn’t likely to fit the bill. Hitting every key on the typewriter just to see what it would look like on paper…nope. Besides, all writers know their work is never completely mastered, so this one is likely to be a lifelong pursuit without any kind of designated time frame.
So, moving on…
Let’s add music to the mix. I started playing the piano when I was five years old.
Once again, if I factor in my age, I should be well on my way. Not so fast, though. I didn’t just learn the piano, you see. I’ve spent some decades on the trumpet as well. And I had to learn other band instruments to a level of proficiency required to teach them in my current profession. Remembering that music is always a work in progress…yup, there’s another lifelong pursuit to add to the writing.
But wait…there’s more!
Photography. I started to get serious about photography about eight years ago. That would make it one of my later pursuits. Since I work, eat, sleep, write, and work on music as well…we’re starting to rack up some serious hours here.
Oh, and let’s not forget knitting. I really enjoy knitting. Another of my newer activities.
That makes four. Four disciplines, forty-thousand hours.
Assuming that I live at least as long as the average lifespan for an American woman, once I’ve totaled up all of these hours (carrying the one, multiplying by x, and accounting for sleep, laundry, work, channel surfing, reading, eating, proper grooming, staring into space, socializing, being placed on hold with the cable company, family obligations, waiting at the DMV, sitting at stoplights, travel, home maintenance, airport delays, the occasional illness, and other unforeseen circumstances), I think I can expect to be an expert on all four of these disciplines approximately thirty minutes after my funeral service is completed.
What are some disciplines you would like to master, and how long would you think you’ve been working on them? Do you think that any of this kind of work is ever done? I think there’s always room for improvement, but that could just be my perfectionism speaking. In any event, I should probably be working on something…
I believe that everyone needs to have at least a basic knowledge of musical language and terminology…just as a matter of being informed individuals.
If you work someplace that sells instruments–even just as a side item–it becomes pretty important to your job.
Do I expect everyone to know complex music theory concepts? No. You don’t have to be an expert like this guy…
This story is a small example of a time when the universal language of music didn’t seem quite so universal.
When my brother was in high school, he had begun to show a tremendous aptitude for playing whatever musical instrument you put in his hands. During my senior year and his junior year, we were performing a marching band show in which he would be playing a trumpet solo. However, in the original tune that we were covering, the solo was performed on a harmonica.
After speaking with our band director, he decided to give the harmonica solo a try. They weren’t sure whether or not it would achieve the intended effect (ultimately, it was too quiet to project well enough in a football stadium), but it was worth giving a new instrument a shot.
Not all harmonicas are created equal. While my knowledge of the instrument is limited to a mild mid-90s obsession with all things Blues Traveler, I do know that harmonicas are built in different keys, much like other instruments. My brother needed to find a harmonica in a very specific key for this solo. So, one Saturday, the whole family headed out of town to visit a music store in search of a D-flat harmonica.
(D-flat is important to my point here, so pay attention.)
We ended up in a relatively small store in a relatively small town that sold relatively unrelated items. The glass counter near the cash register just happened to contain several harmonicas.
“Can I help you?”
The salesman had long gray hair pulled back into a pony tail. He was wearing a blue t-shirt and jeans full of holes. He certainly looked like a rock musician–someone you could talk to about things like chord changes and key signatures–so we didn’t think this was going to be a difficult transaction.
“Yes,” my mom said. “He’s looking for a D-flat harmonica.”
My brother was already engrossed in scanning through the glass case, trying to find it himself.
“Umm…wow. I don’t usually hear that much. Umm…let me look through what we’ve got.”
The salesman opened the case from his side and started looking at labels on the side of the cases. He picked up several, looking confused.
“Ma’am, I don’t have anything like what you’re talking about. The letters on the side don’t match what you’re saying.”
“Oh, so you don’t have a D-flat?”
“Well…I have a D-B.”
My brother started to get that look on his face…a mixture of disbelief, shock, and “well, at least they do have what I’m looking for even if they don’t know it.”
Mom spoke before he could.
“Can we see that one?”
He handed it to her.
The label said it all–Db.
“Yes, that’s a D-flat. That’s what we’re looking for,” she said.
“You said D-flat. This is a D-B. Are you sure?”
My brother sighed, then spoke up.
“Yes, sure, we’ll take the D-B.”
There’s a lesson to be learned from everything.
Here’s a short lesson from this interaction (in case you ever find yourself in such a situation):
1. A flat sign looks a lot like a lowercase “b.”
2. Should a sharp sign also become part of the conversation, it looks like what those of us who once used a rotary or touch-tone phone referred to as a pound sign, and what today’s youngsters only know as a hashtag. (See also: #SharpSign)
3. That D-B harmonica ended up sounding remarkably like a D-flat harmonica.
I relay this story not to insult anyone, but merely to educate the uninitiated. So, before you start looking for videos online to learn how to play that F-hashtag chord on your new guitar, take a moment to brush up on the basics.