I have always subscribed to the philosophy that every student who comes to me for training, regardless of their ability, talent or body type, will receive my full attention. I have always believed that my talents and abilities lie in identifying the unique potential that lives deep within every student and cultivating that potential to its fullest. I have always endeavored to look at every student without judgement and to see the artist that hides somewhere deep below the surface.
But I am flawed. I have judged. And sometimes I need a reminder.
I have, as of late, been charged with teaching some students who, by most of the usual standards, do not have the makings of a dancer. I walked into that classroom, I looked around, I started (as I always do) by explaining my approach to tendu, plié and releve and I watched them struggle; really struggle. And I thought to myself “Never in a million years…”. And so I have done a fair amount of complaining to my colleagues, friends and family about teaching these kids. I have also resigned myself to the fact that I will probably never get a result out of them.
This morning I woke up very early. I signed on to Facebook. The first two posts in my feed were about remarkable teachers; teachers who changed lives. The first story was about a teacher’s letter home to an autistic student who had performed poorly on the SAT exam. Although the student had scored rather low on the exam, the letter focused on the student’s positive achievements and abilities. The second story focused on a fifth grade teacher who had judged a student based on his unkept appearance, poor performance and inability to make friends. She later found out that these problems manifested a couple of years prior when this child’s mother passed away. When this information came to light, and horrified that she had judged this child so harshly, she poured her energy into this child. This child, under her guidance and care, turned himself around; succeeding in the fifth grade and ultimately graduating from medical school while always maintaining that his fifth grade teacher was the finest teacher he ever had.
THIS was GREAT teaching. Here was my reminder.
I recalled, and went back and re-read, an old article that I had written on this topic:
And I was disappointed in myself. I had done exactly what I have always prided myself on never doing; I judged my students. And these internet reminders that showed up in my feed this morning, these stories of the impact that truly great teachers can make, flooded me with the memories of the brilliant teachers that never judged me. Because I was the 26 year old beginner who had never danced a step. I was too short, too broad, too inflexible to be a ballet dancer. I was, by many standards, hopeless. But Luigi saw something in me, some spark of potential that made him whisper in my ear “it’s not too late”. No trumpet, no fanfare, no applause; just a whisper. And my life changed.
Sometimes I think the biggest moments, can be as tiny as a whisper.
So this week I will be re-examining these students. This week I will strive to look at them through different eyes. I will be looking at each student and searching for the artist that is lying dormant below the surface. I will try, with care, respect and love to TEACH them.
4 thoughts on “Judging”
A great reminder to all of us !!!!
Thanks for reading 😀
Hello, Mr. Waldinger,
Thank you for your wonderful story. I was a teacher for 35 years with both typical and special needs students. I currently am a full time Nana and part time caretaker to our grandsons since 2012 when their mother, our daughter, passed away. Both boys are adhd and have anxiety and depression. They receive counseling, medication and lots of encouragement from our family and friends. Our youngest, Owen began dance at age nine. He doesn’t care for sports although he is a black belt in tae kwon do. He always wanted to dance and finally his dad put away his objections to having a son who danced. Owen is now in his 3rd/4th year of ballet. His teacher saw promise in several students and created this special class. Owen is a first year jazz student and is in his second year of tap. Owen has had good teachers at school, but it is his dance teachers who inspire him. They never give up, and the break down the steps especially in tap. His jazz teacher even encourages him to put his own flourish on his endings! I am glad you came to dance later in life. It seems you appreciate it more. I know for our Owen, being in the yearly recital and next year bring able to be considered for The Nutcracker, gives him so much pride. At twelve he is learning that small steps yield big results and good things take time, repetition and endless practice and even with that, he may never be total perfection! Northeast Ohio Dance in Wadsworth, Ohio has given our grandson purpose. Whether or not dance is a lifelong experience for him, Owen has learned lessons that will guide him forever! Thanks for letting me share.
Thank you so much for sharing your story and I’m so happy that Owen has found dance. I’m not sure how much of this blog you’ve seen, but I thought I’d share this with you…
Thank you for reading😀