Bittersweet Reminder

September 23, 2011

You represent second chances. From your name to your style to your mom’s overwhelming friendliness, all of it is familiar now. You see, I had a student like you once. It started out wonderful, but I feel like I made the mistake of depending too much on it all. Too much on their talents, too much on their time, and too much on the generosity of their family. As their life changed, and dance faded for them, I held on with a tenacity borne of investment. I saw that it didn’t hold joy for them anymore, but I was unwilling to let go. I was sure it was my fault. “If only I had…” became my inner secret. If I had done something better, they would have loved this more. If I had been more lenient, they wouldn’t have burned out. If I had handled situations as they came, they’d still be here.

We parted on friendly terms… at least, as friendly as likely never seeing someone you love again can be. I’ve done this a lot, students growing up and growing apart, but I don’t think I can ever get used to goodbye.

Then you walked in my door. I have to keep reminding myself that everyone is different, but I still have a surreptitious fear that you’re the same, that I will love you more than is prudent. That we will invest hundreds of hours again, only to end on retirement, transfer or all-out disaster. Why am I mourning something that has just started?

Then we get to those second chances. Every student that has walked in my door has taught me something. From the simplest thing like a way to phrase your first introduction to turning out your feet, to how to handle a family that decides that a transfer is like an ugly divorce. You should not represent a future personal tragedy, but an opportunity for growth. What will you teach me? Even as I write this thought, my heart lifts a bit. There are happy times. There are beautiful moments. There are hours of introspection about how you build my life up. They will be things that cannot be tainted by that inevitable goodbye.

Please forgive me. Old wounds can still tingle, like when a soldier feels pain in a leg that was amputated a long time ago. The instinct to protect myself may make me a little hesitant to throw myself into getting close to you. I may take your mom’s generous offers with a little more business-like aplomb instead of friendly candor. You’ll still get all I can give as I teach you technique and steps and we will still have a lot of fun, because that’s what I do. But I come to you with a little less heart. They took some with them when they left, you see.

But I’m still left wondering, where do I find a line where I can still love you like I want to without breaking my heart when you’re done dancing?

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4 Responses to “Bittersweet Reminder”

  1. Jo Beth said

    One of the hardest things for teachers to do is say goodbye when they have worked with a particular student for years. Somewhere along the journey, the relationship becomes more than pupil and teacher. Often, the student doesn’t realize how vested the teacher is. When the student is in the class or studio, he/she becomes the teacher’s charge – almost like a parent saying that is my son or daughter. So no matter the reason for leaving – retiring, burned-out or even for another activity, it is a little like a parent watching their daughter or son leave home- there is a bit of a hole left behind.

    Don’t second guess yourself. Keep the attitude that the new student will teach you something new. Each student will leave footprints on your heart and some of those footprints will be the beautiful you can imagine. While a student leaving no matter the reason hurts, current and new students always bring hope and love for the area that you teach in. Remember for every student that decides leaving is the best for them, your other students are there waiting for you to teach what you have such joy and passion for. Understand your heart and believe in the heart, passion and love your pupils will give back to you. Look at your student who beams when he/she finally masters a step, their eagerness to learn. As you have been the belief that has held them aloft, let them now hold you aloft for just a while.

    Hang in there.

  2. Paul Seale said

    Such a poignant marriage of word and feeling, I move between wonder that you have time to be so reflective and reminiscence of seeing all this happen from the dance parent point of view. I can say this: your students are lucky to have someone who is so affected and moved by every child. And this: the second chance is not just the new arrival, not just the child who walks through the door; but also the children who never left, the children whose class is also changed by every departure, but who are still invested in you as you are in them. It is clear that you are sensitive to change but, every day, every week, much more remains the same. I think your students are blessed that this is so.

  3. Patty said

    …every family should read this…often I think the adults are locked in a “power-struggle” over an activity that should be nothing but joyous for the child, particularly if the school is a highly competitive one. It can be draining on many levels for a family; often it seems like they’re never doing enough…the majors keep coming and the $$ must follow; long car rides multiple times a week; exhaustion on everyone’s part; trips to the dr. to address injury; missed holidays with family, etc. We feel that we’re owed something after a while!…but there are no guarantees, and our dancer’s joy should be enough anyway, if we let them dictate the pace. However, I don’t think parents necessarily stop to consider the emotional investment the TC may have in the student and their family…and that would explain a lot.

  4. C said

    After reading this blog post, I’m wondering… Am I one of those second chances for my own teacher?

    I made myself a promise when I first realised that I wound up with such an incredibly wonderful teacher: I would never transfer out of her school, unless I was moving out of the area. Even though this is the smallest school in the area, even though it hasn’t much of a competitive track record, it has one thing that transcends the negative: a TCRG who cares about her students and who wants *each and every one of them* to succeed.

    Now, after re-reading the post, I realise, chances are, I am a second chance for this amazing teacher of mine.

    And I’m determined not to be a failed one.

    Thanks for the inspiration. I don’t know who you are, Irish Dance Teacher, but I owe you one. Thank you.

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