Over the years I've known quite a few music education majors, whether they were students in my college philosophy class, former public school students of mine, or student teachers that I have mentored. One thing I started to notice was that most of them experienced a phase during college whereupon they would be giving serious consideration to abandoning their career before even giving it a try. They had somehow determined that they should do something (anything?) else. There is a powerful wave of doubt that creeps into their thinking, sometimes resulting in drastic changes like dropping out of school or changing their major to something completely foreign. I've dubbed this wave of doubt the Little Voice, although that can be misleading because the Little Voice is not so little. Where does this doubt come from?
It comes from fear.
When it comes right down to it, being responsible for educating hundreds or even thousands of children over a career can be a scary proposition. Music education majors are so busy taking so many classes (for so little credit) that the future isn't something they have had much time to think about. So I believe that there are periods of anxiety that arise whereby entering the profession feels completely wrong. We all went through it, in fact I've started to think that the more you've worried about it, the better teacher you might become. It's ironic to say the least, but sensing the responsibility can seem too much to bear, yet being able to sense it is integral to becoming an effective teacher.
When you are a student, it's all about you, so conversely when you become a teacher it needs to be all about the students. The problem is, that is a completely counter-intuitive mindset for education majors, and when it hits them, it hits hard. Education majors like being students. The thought of leaving the student role one day and being responsible for students the next day is both uncomfortable and frightening. Logic has a way of going out the window at times like these. Even though these students have been preparing for this career for years, and been musicians for half of their lives or longer, leaving the comfort zone of being a student can be paralyzing. As a result, going into an entirely unknown profession can now seem like a rational decision. Or suddenly teaching 60 private students a week for the rest of your life rather than standing in front of an ensemble sounds like the better alternative. Like I said, the Little Voice is very, very powerful.
The Little Voice starts its attack at different times. It might be during an observation, during practicums, or just prior to student teaching. The Little Voice starts telling students that they aren't good enough, aren't fully prepared, really shouldn't be doing this. The Little Voice tells them that they've "lost the passion to teach" and kids "don't deserve to have someone in front of them who isn't passionate." Then, even more insidiously, it starts to tell them that they would be really good at something else. The next thing you know they are looking to transfer or "take some time off." If they get that far, it's probably over. Another potentially great teacher lost to the Little Voice.
I don't think a year has passed within the last decade where I have not had a "Little Voice Discussion" with one or more college students. More and more I'm initiating the discussions as I've learned to see the telltale signs. It's important to have the discussion before these students make drastic, often completely illogical decisions about their future. What do I say to them in this quasi-intervention?
I tell them to stifle the Little Voice. I help them to realize that abandoning something they have been working towards for so many years makes no sense whatsoever. I try to help them to admit that it's not about losing the passion to be a teacher, it is about simple fear. If they can admit they are afraid, they can start to realize that fear makes you do stupid things, like give up on everything you've worked towards. It also helps them to hear that so many education majors go through this. It's OK to worry, what isn't OK is throwing everything away before you find out if you can do this.
The Little Voice has a crafty way of making you think that people who are cut out for the profession have no doubts. That just isn't true. We all had doubts, and overcoming them is part of the process. Student teaching is a time where you realize that you can do this. The challenge is shutting down the Little Voice so you can get to the student teaching experience. And no, it isn't the same as practicums and no, it isn't the same as some bitter and burned-out teacher you observed. Stick it out, you'll see. And if I'm wrong, well at least you know based on some actual teaching experience.
So for all of the music ed. majors out there whom I have not had the pleasure to know, please learn to recognize the Little Voice for what it is, and stifle it. You have worked too hard to give up now. I'm not saying that everyone is ultimately cut out for this profession, but I am saying that almost nobody under the age of 22 has any clue if they are cut out for this profession until they get in there and find out. See it through, you owe it to yourself, and frankly your future students need you.