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There are days when we just can’t seem to get things right in the studio.
And I’m not talking about the days when our students cancel without advance notice, or we’re running 10 minutes behind for everything because we got stuck in traffic on the way to work.
I’m talking about the days when we are the problem—when our teaching doesn’t click, our communication skills are stunted, and our best efforts are yielding little to no progress.
If you’ve ever had one of these days, congratulations: you’re a professional vocal instructor.
Don’t get me wrong, we do get better as we study, train, and become more experienced. But the more we teach, the more we realize we can’t do it all.
And eventually, we run into one of those days when nothing we do seems to work. It’s a fact of life as a teacher.
Believe it or not, those bad days can be good for you. They can help you keep your ego in check. They can motivate you to become more creative, focused, strategic, or effective in your teaching.
Bad days can be an effective learning tool . . . if we know how to bounce back with a positive mindset.
So here are some tips for dealing with those bad days and coming out a better teacher:
If you’re in the middle of a teaching day, change your routine and do something physical.
If you have time to go outside for some fresh air, do it. If not, step outside your studio to grab a drink of water or a quick snack. You could start your next lesson a little differently, maybe with some stretches or a physical warm-up.
Breaking out of your routine could help give you the sense of starting fresh, and doing something physical can help you release some tension.
Hit a “reset button” in your head.
Take a minute or two to go somewhere private and quiet. Visualize yourself in a safe place and imagine hitting a “reset button” in your mind.
This takes practice, so try building it into your routine even on good days.
Allow yourself to feel what you feel.
It’s perfectly natural to feel discouraged and upset when you’ve had a bad day. Find the time in your schedule or at the end of your day to take stock of how you feel.
Acknowledging your emotions will help you move past them in a healthy way.
Avoid making any major decisions while you’re still emotional.
Sometimes we go through such negative experiences that we’re tempted to quit teaching altogether. Remember that your emotions may be strong in the moment, but they will pass.
Let things remain as they are until you’re feeling better and can think more clearly.
Be conscious of your self-talk.
If you find your thoughts leaning toward the negative, ask yourself:
Would I use this same language with another person?
Would I speak to one of my students, friends, or loved ones in this way?
If the answer is no, find a way to paraphrase your thoughts or divert your focus so that you can be more compassionate and constructive toward yourself.
Do some careful and dispassionate reflection.
Once you’ve had time to calm down, look back on your experiences without judgment. Play back the events in your mind as if you were watching a film reel.
Without overanalyzing, simply notice your emotional responses during your mental playback, and if possible, write them down. Mental playback might bring certain details of these events to your attention that you might have missed as they were happening; if you notice any of these things, write them down or make a mental note of them.
Exercising this form of mental playback will help you reflect on your experiences in a more objective way, and it might reveal some opportunities for growth.
It will also help you reflect on events that might have hurt you, accept that they took place, and begin to let them remain in your past.
Cultivate relationships within your vocal instructor community.
It’s important to find a network of teachers who can support, uplift, and encourage you in tough times. You’re not alone in what you’re going through, and finding an empathetic ear can be the best remedy for an upsetting teaching experience.
Bad days happen in every profession, and vocal instructors are no exception.
Good teachers don’t become great teachers because they don’t have bad days.
Surviving those bad days and learning and growing from them are what make us better.
So the next time you have a lesson that doesn’t go your way, take a deep breath and remember that you have a choice. You can choose to crumble, or you can choose to bounce back—to survive, learn, and grow.
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