Last year, someone wrote me a terrible email criticizing me for talking too much in my lessons and not being worth the “very expensive” rate that I charged – it was signed “Anonymous” and came from someone identified as “S S” along with an email address that I will not post. I was hurt and embarrassed and wrote back to the person apologizing but also stating that if ever a student felt like he or she was not getting his/her money’s worth, I would want to be told. The next email I got was “April Fool’s! I hear you’re a great teacher.” And then the next day, an apology (still anonymous, still claiming that the person was not my student but just someone who was angry about something else and took it out on me).
It changed me. It made me examine my teaching style and made me realize that perhaps at times, I had been self-indulgent (maybe because both my parents had died within the past six months) and had shared too much about my life, primarily from a musical/career POV, thinking that what I was saying would offer some perspective from my vast life experience that they could use in their lives. Especially with people who seemed to be going through similar things that I had gone through at their age, and who seemed to be hurting. That was what I intended, but clearly not what was being perceived.
It made me realize that –
That’s not what I’m not here for. My students are not my peers, nor my children. If they ask for my advice on a non-music related matter, I will offer it (if it’s appropriate), but I cannot offer unsolicited and in the case of the person who wrote the email, unwanted advice. It’s not part of my pay grade.
I don’t believe for one moment that this was an April Fool’s joke nor that it was someone who wasn’t a student of mine. I believe that it was someone for whom I crossed a line, albeit unintentionally, and who didn’t have the guts to tell me. I believe it was someone who was going through a very similar situation to my own high school experience who I ached to help, but who was unable or unwilling to accept my help. And I probably would have responded the same way at that point in my life (although technology being what it was, mine would have been an anonymous letter that I never would have sent because I would have discarded it long before it getting to the mailbox – ah, the advantages of the pre-internet life). I also believe it was a she because guys simply don’t handle things like that. I do believe that she was angry about something else and did take it out on me. That I believe.
As a result, I limit my chatting to the stretching portion of our lessons. I try, anyway – hey, I’m a Gemini. I chat, therefore I am. It hasn’t changed my students’ development – they are still as accomplished as before that email hit my inbox. They still win awards, get accepted to music programs, are cast in their musicals. What has changed is me. I am not as emotionally invested in my students as I used to be, and while that’s probably a good thing, it’s also a little bit sad. I’m warier now than I was a year ago. I trust a little less. My guard is up.
I hope that whoever “S S” was, she’s less angry now. But I also think that I’ve changed because of her email. Not sure if I should thank her or not – it was probably the most hurtful thing I’ve ever received – but clearly, if it struck such a nerve, there was some truth to it.