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Monday, June 22, 2015

When Words Sting

If you've seen the movie "Whiplash", I'm curious to know your reaction to the bandleader, played by JK Simmons. Specifically, have you ever had a teacher or coach as relentless as the character Simmons plays in his Academy Award winning role? How did you react to that kind of teaching?

Though I saw "Whiplash" a while back, I've reflected on this character from two different angles ever since:

1.) As a teacher/coach: How much more effective would I be if I demanded only the best from my students?
2.) As a student/learner: How much better of a musician would I have become had I had a teacher as unforgiving of mediocrity as the character played by Simmons?

The lifelong story I've told myself is how I wanted to be a great musician, like the young drummer played by Miles Teller in the film. The reality is, of course, more nuanced. Though there's no way of knowing for sure, I suspect I'd have buckled had I been subjected to the kind of maniacal pressure the Simmons character applies to his college musicians. And those reflections point to my "good enough" posture as a teacher. Are the two related? I'm not sure. If you're a teacher and a student do you see a correlation?

For months now, one line of Simmons' dialogue has remained with me from the teacher and the student angle: "There are no more harmful words in the English language than 'good job' ."  I don't know yet what I'll do with those words but the sting they left tells me to pay attention to them.

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