I am reminded of a trip I took to Gettysburg College when I taught out in Oklahoma. It was 20 years ago, but while reading the first chapter of the book Ruling Your World, by Sakyong Mipham this morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The title of the first chapter of the book is: “What about me?”
It was a Sunday afternoon and I was in Baltimore at the airport on the way back from Homecoming, and as soon as I arrived at the airport my flight changed to delayed due to massive flooding in Houston, our destination. It was a Sunday so I had plenty of football to keep me going as the day dragged on, and it dragged on. Finally after about 5 hours in the airport we left for Houston, but I boarded the plane with the understanding that I most likely wouldn’t arrive in time to catch my connecting flight to Amarillo. And when we finally arrived in Houston, my flight was gone, but I was able to get a seat on a flight first thing in the morning. I collected my small “we are so sorry you are stuck in a city without your luggage” toiletry kit and headed off to the hotel for the night confident that I would be home early in the morning!
I arrived at the airport and my bubble was quickly burst. It seemed that the one flight attendant assigned to the flight had a run in with some fire ants and they were trying to get someone to fill in. So we waited… and we waited… With the massive delays due to the flooding and changing of flights, they were having a hard time finding someone for our flight. As I approached the 24 hour mark of my journey, I watched a man berate the gate agent because the flight still couldn’t leave. He sat down next to me mumbling to himself angerly, while I tried to just read my book in peace. He finally turned to me and said “I was supposed to be in Amarillo an hour ago! This delay has ruined my plans!” I looked up from my book and calmly said; “I was supposed to be in Amarillo yesterday.” and went back to reading my book. He started to laugh, and I could see him relax a little more. He looked around the gate, and turned back to me and said, “I guess my situation isn’t really that bad, is it? I was so focused on me.” I let out a little laugh, put the book down and then had a great conversation while we waited for our flight to finally leave.
Why bring this story up? One word… ME. Self-centeredness gets us from time to time.
In a recent Skype session with two high school band directors, I asked what one of their major obstacles was. Without hesitation they both pointed to their feeder programs, and the unevenness of the abilities of the students who arrived in the high school from different schools within the district. Some of the middle school directors didn’t go a great job of supporting the high school program. I asked them what they had done to support all of the feeder programs, and they looked rather embarrassed. They admitted they had done very little because they had become so focused on their own program and issues. I reminded then that it was in their own best interest to be less self-centered and more aware of the entire program. We worked on ways for them to get involved with the younger ensembles. We agreed to do a follow up including the directors from their feeder programs working on ways they can all work together. Better feeder programs can only make a better high school program! What can you do to help other programs outside of your building?
Do you push your marching band to win that competition so that you can get a trophy? Do you select the music for your programs because you just want to conduct it?
Is your goal a great performance so that you can get credit for doing a wonderful job?
If you answered yes to any of these things, take a pause and think about why you really want to be a teacher. If you make the students the priority instead of yourself, you just might still win that trophy, and you will have great performances.
I spend a lot of time selecting music for festivals, because I look for music that will benefit the students. I like to pick music that the students probably don’t know so they are exposed to different composers. To me the entire experience is about the students, and not my ego, and that completely takes over my thought process from the minute I arrive at the festival. It is never about me!
So what can you do to help outside of your immediate sphere? What can you do to help other teachers, students, and programs? Blow up that self-centered bubble and you will be amazed at how much better your own ensemble will get! It honestly should never be about you and you alone.