I keep it in the back of my basement so I don’t have to see it when I do laundry, but I know it’s there. It’s neck peaks out of a box of my old college stuff (the box of misfit toys). After reading a blog post entitled Benefits of Failing by Peter DeWitt, I decided to go back into that box and think about why this guitar upsets me so much. It’s a nice guitar, really. New-ish. Rarely used. It is what it represents that gets me.
What got me to open that box of Pandora was this quote from DeWitt, “Why is failure considered so bad? Besides the obvious reasoning that failing doesn’t feel good; failure can offer many learning lessons to the person failing.” He made me realize that I wasn’t yet done with this guitar.
I’ve always wanted to play the guitar. My favorite childhood memories include my cousin Bobby acoustically rocking out in the basement of his parent’s home. Back then, I always thought that when I grow up I will totally play Jack and Diane just like him. This never happened. I sought to remedy this the semester I student taught by taking a 1-credit private guitar class that met once a week. Not only would this be a great de-stressor, it would finally fulfill my childhood dream.
I remember walking into the class on that first day with my instructor. My mind was racing with grandiose ideas about our time together. By the end of the month, I thought, I would probably be playing some Tom Petty (or even Extreme’s “More than Words”). To my dismay we spent that hour on a sound check and learning to strum the guitar. Things were not going according to plan. My goals were too ambitious and unrealistic.
After a month of incremental lessons, I could play a poor rendition Greensleeves and a nursery rhyme song (neither of which would sell out audiences or garner anything but sympathy applause). One day I fake-jokingly asked when I could learn to play some Cat Stevens. My teacher smiled and said, “not in this course.” I did not attend the next lesson. I ended up dropping out of guitar lessons altogether.
The guitar represents a personal failure and an unrealized dream. But I keep it around.
When I read the article mentioned above, I took the guitar from the box and brought it to my study (a fancy name for the second bedroom that houses my desk and education books). I attempted to poorly play Greensleeves. I couldn’t. So I jut sat and thought of something to be learned from this failure.
After a bit of off-topic thinking, it came to me as clear as that Smart Water I had once – we never discussed our expectations or the why of what we were doing in the guitar class.
We both came to the class on that first day with different expectations – mine was to play folk-ish music and his was to teach me the basics of the guitar. Had we had that conversation, I probably would have realized that it was ridiculous to think about playing an acoustic version of “Everybody wants to rule the world” without first mastering the fingering!
Which leads me to my biggest takeaway – I did not understand the why of what I was doing. Ann Beck wrote a great blog post this morning about the importance of discussing the why with your students that got me to think about my experience as a learner in this class and on my role as a teacher. I teach a World History class and despite my initial discussion on the importance of World History, the why is something that I rarely revisit. From this point forward (sweeping declaration), I will explain to students not only why we are learning this, but why we are learning it in this way. Ideally, engaging my students in this level of discussion will help them see the relevance of the topic at hand and help them understand the various approaches to learning that we are utilizing.
I will also consider telling them the story of the guitar and the importance of learning from our failures. If you don’t, then you have also lost out on an invaluable learning opportunity.
Great post, Michael! It really resonated with me, and inspired me to write of my own experience of guitar lessons on my blog: http://www.johnft.me.uk/2012/04/im-no-recording-star-and-thats-ok/ (sorry for stealing the style of your title). Couldn’t agree more about figuring out the ‘whys’ before getting stuck into the ‘whats’ and ‘hows’. Hope you can turn the guitar failure into the dream!
Thanks John! I enjoyed your post too. I like your title and I’m glad that you are still working at it. I think I’ve learned a lot from my guitar failure and my department head told me that he would teach me a song that I want to play.
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Wow!! Thanks for the mention on my post!! Even though I wrote about the topic of “Why?” I didn’t get a true picture of its impact till now!! Off the subject, how much do you want for the guitar, just kidding lol!!!
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