Monday, March 8, 2010

A Terrifying Acknowledgment

When I was teaching college courses a couple of years ago, students would occasionally ask how long they were required to wait if I wasn't around at the start of class. The policy (anecdotal at least) was that students should wait 15 minutes for a professor with a Master's degree and the entire class time for a doctor. Since I had earned my terminal degree, I advised them to wait for me unless I had officially canceled class. This policy seemed unfair to some of them, perhaps even like a sort of forced respect, but it never really came into play. I was almost always early to classes I was teaching.

In fact, I am almost always early to everything. I suppose I have thought of it as polite or even respectful not to make people wait for me. I certainly waited for a few professors in graduate school, but only on a rare instance did it seem to be an inordinate amount of time. With regard to my own classes, I considered it a matter of respect to the students to start on time. I wanted to cover a lot of material, and I wanted to take advantage of every moment I had to convey that material. But I wondered recently if my sense of self-worth hasn't at some point crept in to the practice of being early, or at the very least, on time. Was I really worth waiting for? Do I arrive early because I believe I may not be worth the wait in other people's eyes?

Saturday, I accompanied about 50 young musicians in a solo and ensemble contest. In the morning, I played for students from one school's band program, and in the afternoon, I was with students from a different school's orchestra program. Plans had been made in advance to ensure I would have about an hour to get lunch in between, and I had the schedules in hand a few days ahead of time. I rehearsed with each of the students twice over the previous two weeks, so we were well-prepared on that front as well.

The judges took a little more than the allotted time with each student, which is par for the course at these events. Many of the pieces selected by the students (or their teachers) were longer than the actual time slot, and the judges typically want to give some valuable verbal feedback to students in the moment. What I didn't expect was that we would be almost an hour behind schedule by lunch time. I had ten minutes to scarf something down and get to another part of the building where the orchestra students were being judged.

Except that the orchestra students weren't in another part of the building. They were at another facility entirely, about 15 minutes away. I learned this at precisely 1:00, when I was supposed to be accompanying the first student of the afternoon. A director offered to make a phone call to the other school as I rushed out to the car and spent 20 minutes in heavy traffic mentally deriding myself. I had simply assumed that both groups of students would be in the same place. I may have heard differently at some point, but I didn't have anything written down. Now, I was holding up an entire afternoon that had been carefully scheduled because of that assumption.

I arrived at the site where the orchestra students (and parents and judges) were waiting and parked as close as I could to the front door. As I rushed up to the door, I saw a sign that directed contest participants around to the side of the building. My mind was going crazy with criticism and my heart was pounding. All of the personnel for the contest and the families of every student I was accompanying were being inconvenienced by my error. By the time I found where I was supposed to be, I was easily half an hour late. I exchanged a few words of explanation with the orchestra teacher, and I went in with the first soloist of the afternoon. And that was it. They waited for me, and once I arrived, things got back in motion.

While I don't want to become less intentional about when I arrive or how I prepare for events, the whole experience has given me an opportunity to acknowledge the value that others place on my presence. I want to be more conscientious about the details for future events, especially if there is limited time between commitments. But I also want to appreciate the respect I receive from others. When it comes down to it, I waited on my professors because I valued what they had to say. If I didn't, I probably wouldn't have shown up to class in the first place. What I have to contribute has value, too. And I'm more likely to bring myself fully forward when I recognize that.

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