Saying No.

There was a time that I did a lot of teacher training – I would present workshops to generalist Primary teachers (unsung heroes, in my opinion) about teaching music to their kids. I can remember one moment really clearly. I was asked what I’d do if a child read a rhythm wrongly (using Hungarian time-names. Ta and ti-ti and all that….).

“I would say ‘No.’ I said. ‘Try again’.”

A teacher looked at me. “We don’t say ‘no’ to children.” he said.

I was completely speechless. Various things went through my head. Like “Why not?” and “Well, they are going to hear ‘no’ in their lives, so avoiding that word is a silly thing” and also “But it’s wrong, so things need to be corrected”, but I said none of those things. I probably said something like “I suggest you find your own way”, and kept on going, because there’s never enough time to teach everything you need to.

But it’s stayed with me. And I check what happens to the kids I teach when I say ‘no’. And right now, I’m saying it a lot. I’m preparing kids for concerts so there’s a lot of ‘no’ going on. A group may not have walked on to the performance place well enough. Or someone’s made a mistake. Or held an instrument wrongly. Or a class mightn’t have concentrated as well as I wanted them too. There’s ‘no’ to individuals. And ‘no’ to groups. There’s ‘that’s not really good enough’ as well (and no – I don’t say ‘I think you can do better’. I say ‘That’s not good enough yet’.).

And here’s what I’ve noticed. Kids nod their heads. They don’t crumble. They agree. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t good enough. And then we all try again – and then when it’s better, there’s a HUGE feeling of joy. There’s smiles and laughter. There’s sometimes cheers. There’s often high fives.

The acceptance of mediocrity isn’t something I do for myself – and I don’t do it for the kids I teach either. And you know – they rise. They are extraordinary. Every time.