Monday, April 09, 2007

The Bond That Ties

This weekend I really experienced the bond that can grow between a teacher and students. Before now I had understood this bond from the student’s perspective. To this day I hold a special place in my heart for various teachers in my life from elementary school, to junior high, to high school, to college, and to other instructors outside the formality of the school environment. I think, for some of these teachers, I made it clear to them how much I enjoyed their classes and how much I felt they impacted my life even beyond the classroom. For others, I’m not sure I made this appreciation as well known, but I’m sure other students have through their years of service as a teacher.

But for the first time I truly understood this bond from the perspective of a teacher. I have ten students in my advanced belly dance class that come all the time. It’s a very rare thing for any of them to miss this class and when they do have to miss, they always tell me in advanced. The routine I’ve been teaching is not one I choreographed myself which can be a teaching challenge and on top of that the routine is a veil piece with some difficult formations to get a handle on. We have struggled with it the whole semester and in just the last few weeks they have really started to get it.

I’ve been so proud of these ladies pushing themselves to learn this routine. Many of them have never picked up a veil before the beginning of this semester. All these moves they had struggled to understand and perform they can now execute with such ease, grace, and beauty. It’s mesmerizing to now watch them. So when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to teach them the last little bit of the routine before the first performance of the season I was heartbroken. I felt I had failed them.

In truth it was unforeseen circumstances that got in the way. The choreographer suffered an injury making it impossible for her to teach me the end of the routine. I tried to figure it out on my own, but with no success. And a person can’t teach what they don’t know.

I dreaded telling my students they would have to miss performing this routine at the upcoming show. I was so proud of what they had accomplished and looked forwarded to them being able to show off what they had learned to an audience. The transformation they made since the beginning of the semester just can’t be put into words. They started off so clumsily swirling their veils into each other as they turned the wrong way here or flipped the veil in the wrong direction there. But now they are synchronized elegant fluidity drifting across the dance floor. If you get the chance to see them it will take your breath away.

I broke the news to my students this past Saturday that they wouldn’t be able to perform this routine at Springfest. I tried to brace myself for their anger, their frustration, their disappointment, and their sadness. I couldn’t even look them in the eye when I finished talking.

“Oh, thank God, we don’t have to dance this in two weeks.”

“I was trying to figure out how to tell you I wasn’t going to perform it this time anyway.”

“I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it through that improv section yet.”

What? I blinked my eyes and shook my head a little. What were they saying? These were not the words I was expecting to hear. It seems that they all felt they would perform better if they had a few more weeks of practice anyway. But none of them wanted to say anything because they didn’t want to disappoint me! They didn’t want to disappoint me, their teacher!

It seemed crazy to me. I could never be disappointed in any of them after everything they had gone through to just learn this routine. The only thing that would have disappointed me would have been if they had given up trying to learn the routine. But that was never an option for any of them; they were all determined to learn it.

It was at this point that I realized that there really is a bond that ties a teacher to her students and students to their teacher. Both sides are willing to sacrifice for the other in order to achieve goals. I was willing to turn my schedule upside down to help them learn this routine in time to perform it at Springfest. They were willing to perform the routine even though they still felt shaky about it. But after talking we realized that even though the ultimate goal for both sides was a public performance, it didn’t matter when that public performance would be. The performance will be sometime after I’ve had enough time to teach them the whole routine and they have had enough time to get comfortable with the routine.

In the meantime they have let me know how much they appreciate my patience and dedication of time to them. And I have let them know how proud I am of them and how honored I am to be able to say those are my students. These ladies will always have a special place in my heart and not just because they were my first advanced students. They will have a special place in my heart because of the bond we have tied by sharing this journey together.

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