When I was a sophomore in high school, I eagerly anticipated the posting of the cast list for the school musical. I thought my audition had gone well (except for my not-so-fabulous dancing skills), and that I might even have a chance of getting a speaking role.
When I didn’t see my name on the list, I was surprised and incredibly disappointed. Trying to be proactive, I went to the drama director’s classroom that week to ask her what I could improve upon for the following year’s audition. I expected she would agree with me about my not-so-fabulous dancing skills. Instead, she paused for a moment before saying,
“You may want to work on your singing.” She said something else about talking with my chorus teacher about perhaps taking a chorus class.
She must have seen the crushed expression on my face because she then asked, as an afterthought, “Are you in chorus?”
“Yes,” I stammered, trying to maintain my composure and not cry. “I’m in Chamber Choir.” Chamber Choir was the school’s 14-member premier choir of the six choirs in the program. I didn’t tell her that I’d also been in All State Chorus or that I’d had the highest audition score of the few hundred students who auditioned for our regional chorus that year.
Her eyes widened as she recognized her blunder, and she said more that I no longer recall. I thanked her and left her classroom as quickly as I could.
Her unintentional comment devastated me. Singing was my life. I already knew I wanted to be a chorus teacher. Could I even consider that now? I was filled with self-doubt. Could I believe the kind words and compliments I had received prior to this moment? My voice was ME. Part of my identity. Who was I, if not a singer?
After time had passed, I realized that I had probably caught her off-guard, she likely hadn’t remembered me or my audition, and she had grasped at a possible reason why someone wouldn’t have made the cut. I learned some vital lessons through that experience:
- Words have the power to wound or uplift. I want my students to feel uplifted and encouraged.
- Accuracy and honesty are essential when providing constructive feedback. When I discuss how students can improve, I try to frame my feedback in a gentle and clear manner while conveying how we can work together toward the desired outcome.
- Rejection does not define us. Our response to rejection is how we are measured. I’m still proud of my 15 year old self for seeking constructive feedback in the midst of disappointment, but I wish I hadn’t internalized it to such a degree.
- Always be prepared to give an answer, even if the answer is that you honestly don’t know the answer. Rubrics for assessments and auditions simplify the grading process and help me be more efficient, but they also help me provide truthful, meaningful feedback to my students.
What’s a lesson you learned the hard way that has shaped you as a teacher?