I had a long talk with a friend and colleague this afternoon, and, as often happens, we got around to the subject of the challenges we face teaching in a very busy and growing music program and trying to stay very active as performers- all while attempting to have a life outside of work. My colleague wondered, ‘how do we keep our energy and enthusiasm through it all as the years go by’? It brought me back to what I share with my music education students, and why- after thirty years of teaching- I have never dealt with the all too common problem of burn-out…it’s all about the inner flame.
I learned early in my career that I can’t depend upon the circumstances of my work environment to keep me energized and focused. You can work really hard and no one may notice. You can work with terrific colleagues and students, and sometimes challenging ones. You spend hours and hours practicing, work that few notice or care about. You spend tons of money on music and equipment, on traveling to conferences to keep yourself fresh and become known in your professional field. You deal with changes in administrations and pay checks that never get very big. So many highs and lows- true for many professions.
The trick for me is to always remember why I got in to teaching in the first place- my love of music and wanting to share it with young people. I focus on the changes I see happen in students when I teach them well and something clicks for them. I focus on the smiles I see as they greet me in the halls. I focus on challenging myself to get better each year, setting goals musically and pedagogically. When I do those things, my inner flame- that spark that is the love of what I do each day- keeps burning brightly. It has a magic all its own, for as it keeps burning, it keeps inspiring me to see what’s around the corner. Every single day with my job is different, presenting new challenges- if only I keep my eyes open and pay attention.
As a brand new teacher, at that time a band director at a rural junior high, I got a ton of life lessons as many students did their best to scare away the young teacher. I spent many nights in tears, wondering how I would ever get through the next day. And then, I would notice that one student trying so hard to do what I asked, then another, and another. From that moment on, no matter what I faced, I focused on giving my best because those students deserved it. They helped me remember why I was there, and that spirit helped me to turn the others around over time. I find it’s true no matter what level you teach- it’s still all about the inner flame, remembering what brought you to the career in the first place.
I suppose that could be said of anything we do- no matter the kind of job, the relationship, the life goal – hold onto that first spark of excitement, remember what made you feel passionate, what gave you the gift of joy. Those embers never die down if we keep fanning them. When we tend to our inner flame, our love of what we do shines through, infectious to those around us, hopefully reigniting their own inner flames. The flame is eternal, always inside of us- we just have to remember that. What a beautiful thing.