Monday, December 8, 2008

Understanding your instructor

"Yeeettter! Your nose full of mud yet? What do you think your are? Some sort of plow-walking farmer?"

The smell of stale coffee battered my face. I tried to look him in the eye, but the sting of the caffeine caused my eyelids to spasm.

Snickers from upperclassmen pop-corned the surface of the muddy field.

My fingers numbed as I squeezed my pole into a still order-arms.

"Don't twitch when I'm talking to you!"

Talking? Nuh-uh. Screaming was an understatement.

What did I get myself into? Color guard was supposed to be fun.

During my five years of high school marching band and winter guard, I saw lot of kids audition then quit during band or guard camp.

Not because they sucked, but because they got yelled at. How dare the instructor or director yell at them?

Sound familiar?

Three-ring binders exploding page protectors, drill charts and count sheets... shattered coffee mugs... splintered rifles... words that could make a construction worker blush...

Even from the other end - myself being an instructor and a judge, I've seen some tantrums thrown by guard staff that'd put my two-year old to shame.

Codes of conduct exist for a reason: not because instructors are expected to behave badly, but because the passion for the sport of the arts is so intense, it's impossible to not become emotional. When emotions flare, we say and do things that look pretty stupid.

This past season, I tore grass out of the ground, threw mud clumps at trees and yard lines. One week from State championships, I had students who didn't know their show! Between the section leaders and myself, hours were spent with Struggling Student. So. When I heard, "Darcie, what's a helicopter toss look like again?" I lost it.

I've poured coffee breath over the heads of a student a few years back after she wandered the field, silk dragging on the turf - at regionals. Come to find out she sneaked off to get high before the show. My tirade happened in a parking lot.

Did I have some personal vendetta against these kids? No.

My job as a guard instructor is to take my students to the highest level their potential and my sill will allow. Guard is not an individual sport with individual scores. One person's failure to be responsible for knowing their stuff hurts EVERYBODY. Or, when I know someone is capable of harder skills, I get mad when they spend too much time complaining about how they suck, rather than trying to get better.

Guard instructors don't hate you. They're not yelling at you and acting silly because they have excess energy to release into the universe - they care about how well you perform. They want nothing less than your best from you. Seasons are short. Guard members and instructors have to improve at least daily. Pressure's on.

Years from now, when you're chosen for "Top Chef", wrap your fingers around that coveted diploma, cash in an obscene performance bonus, become CEO of a company or raise twelve amazing kids, you can thank your guard instructor for teaching you how to get ahead in the "real world".

Instructors know guard is way more than spinning and dancing. To them, you are more valuable than any currency or precious metal. You are an investment in the future of our country.

So, when a dance shoe bounces from your head and your skin peels from criticism, try to listen to what is being said beyond how it's being said. Then get better.

Trust me when I say it's not personal.

And a note to those of us who teach... we need to be aware of how we come across. Let's work to reduce occasional unprofessional behavior. :) We don't have to be ugly to get the point across.

See you on the floor in a few weeks!

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