Wednesday, September 21, 2011

IMT Meetings

I have been to a lot of teacher meetings in the last two weeks. My local, two classes, and a state level meeting have jarred me back to the life I used to live. I used to float among my peers and jabber with them, without any second thoughts. I took a 4 year sabbatical of sorts from many of these meetings while I was at my church job, and now I'm back, I think.

In those years of teaching before my hiatus, I became numb to the comments of the independent music teacher. I guess I trusted them and knew their personalities and could shrug my shoulders to much of it. I liken it to watching and getting desensitized to horror movies? Sort of?

I have recently found myself speechless when I usually had a quick retort to the various things that music teachers say. Don't get me wrong. I put myself in this select group of people. It's not our fault you know. We teach in a cave. We are isolated from our peer group and routine office banter. We are critically listening to students for hours on end. We even critically listen to the radio. We are encouraged to share our critiques with our students, and we begin to edge toward a teacher-student relationship with everyone, even people with whom we should be friends. I am one of the younger teachers in this arena, and I think I am sometimes regarded as needing daughterly advice. This is merely a guess.

So what happened to me? Why do these fairly innocuous conversations have me perplexed and wondering, what, exactly, did I used to talk about? Did I speak to others this way? I am so sorry when I did.

I will share a few examples with you for which I was dumbfounded. Perhaps you can help me think of something witty that I could have said. Maybe your humor will help me put aside my shock at these obviously common occurrences. May I be quick with an apology when I find myself becoming more like that. And I probably will because I will spend more time with them.

Piano teacher #1 approached me as I was seated in the classroom. She has known me over 20 years, but I was already coloring my hair back then! She was already graying then and has a beautiful, coiffed silver style today. She checked my roots (because I was seated!) and asked whether I color my hair. She commented on the pretty highlighting in the back and wondered how I had done that. I said only that I had been in the sun a lot this summer in my garden. Then I didn't answer her question. I just looked at her.

Piano teacher #2 at the break of the same class commented on my purple jacket and wondered whether it was real leather. When I said I didn't really know, she asked what I had paid for it, because that was one way to tell. I told her I had bought it at Macy's and she said that answered her question, turned around and left me standing there.

Piano teacher #3 skipped pleasantries other than a smile and a hello, and asked me what I was charging now. Her sister-in-law is teaching in my neighborhood and although her s-i-l only played through high school, she likes to charge $1.00 less than I do and was hoping I had raised my rates.

It seems a strange way to be welcomed back, but I'm back, I I I guess. Or I could just stay in my cave.


  1. All I can say is "Gaahhh!" What are people thinking. I'm with you - I might rather stay in my cave. It's safer there. I wish that every conversation with our colleagues was uplifting rather than off-putting.

    The question in #3 really "gets" to me. She's not worth $1.00 less than you.

    At least you know the horror movie is just a story, not the way things really are. Sad.

  2. I am over it by today. It was a nice weekend and distance gives perspective. It says a lot more about them than it says about me, yes? I am lucky that there are many many wonderful uplifting colleagues there.

  3. Don’t hide! Just go armed. Speechless *is* one possible reaction to rude questions, but I personally have trouble maintaining the astonished stare until the culprit recognizes his or her rudeness and apologizes. If you are able to, there's no reason not to use it, although I think it also depends on the extent to which you wish to remain friendly with these particular people afterwards. I like projecting sunny but willfully dense better. Pretend that they asked something polite and answer that. I think your response to the first person was right on -- it's a reasonable response to "Oh, what pretty highlights you have in the back of your hair!" which is what she should have said. You could also say, "Thank you! I was admiring your hairstyle today, too!"

    Person 2 can be assumed to have said, "I love your jacket." Then you can say "Thank you! Don't you love all the rich tones of fall clothing?" or something similar. If the person has a peeve with animal products they may not give up immediately, so this may require some persistence.
    "That's a nice purple. Is it real leather?"
    "Thank you! Don't you love all the rich tones of fall clothing?"
    "Yes. Is it leather or an imitation?"
    "Oh, I've no idea. That's a lovely blouse/skirt/pair of shoes you've got, too"
    "Thank you. You would be able to tell by how much you paid for it."
    "Aaahhhhh. Well, it's kind of you to admire it. Tell me, what do you think of ... [insert subject change relevant to conference here.]"

    Person 3 is a tough case, because she’s given you very little wiggle room to assume the best about her. I assume the conversation included the little gem about her sister in law? You are perfectly within your rights to say, “I prefer not to discuss finances,” and say nothing further depending on the level of affront you wish to convey. Another option is to overlook the finances part of the question and look at it as an opening in a conversation about s-i-l. She: “Hi! How much are you charging…” You: “Oh, how *is* Mary these days? It’s been ages since I saw her. Do you see her often?” Given the boldness with which this ambush was staged, the redirection approach may not work here either, in which case you will have to go back to the direct response.

    Don’t let the rudeness of the world trap you in your cave! :-) Conferences are fun! (Although I gather you had actually already come to that conclusion.)


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