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Teacher, Conserve Your Energy.

Yes, when you are once thoroughly equipped, a very sure way to do the very best work is to look out first of all for your own comfort. In doing this you will, in the most effective way, insure the comfort and best interests of your pupils. Whatever affects the condition, mental or physical, of the teacher, will tell upon his vitality; and whatever drains' his strength in this line leaves him less energy and magnetism with which to throw spirit into his work and, through this, to achieve the best results.
To do our best work, when not in good mental and physical condition, is as impossible as for a motor to drive its machinery without electricity.
With the enthusiast, there is a constant flow of vitality. And the teacher's professional life and duties feed largely on enthusiasm. Without it very soon he would be dead (artistically), with nothing left of his work but the rattle of musical bones. It is only through his own enthusiasm that he is able to come out of the daily grind of lessons, many of which are usually depressingly inadequate in preparation, with anything less than absolute exhaustion.
We read much of the exhaustive work of the artist before the public. Not long since, in a magazine article, it was stated that the artistic interpretation of a song demands as much expenditure of vitality as the solving of the most complicated mathematical problem. If this be true, what must be the drain on the teacher who must sit hour after hour listening to defective performances of the works on which he has spent so much time and study, and of which his conception is so much higher? Only an almost inexhaustible supply of reserve force can enable him to come out of the ordeal in much better than a pitiably fatigued condition.
Now, with this state of affairs before us, there are three propositions worthy of our consideration: first, the natural vitality and enthusiasm of the teacher; second, the sources from which these forces may be recruited and enforced; third, their preservation when once secured.
The first of these is to a large extent beyond our control. The natural vitality with which we are endowed is hereditary; and for any inherited weakness of the flesh we are unaccountable. Enthusiasm for one's work also depends much upon the natural endowments of the individual. And here is where the young person deciding his course in life should stop for careful consideration. Enthusiasm is necessary to the conscientious teacher; and, without conscience in his work, the teacher has no business in the profession. Unless the teacher expects and determines to give full value for the tuition he collects, he is no better than any other swindler and deserves a place with that brotherhood, in the penitentiary. And this is no idle statement, but a firm conviction established by the woeful results of such teaching which have come to the writer's knowledge, through pupils coming from these sharks, for instruction. No, if you have not enough enthusiasm for the art to enter its ranks as an honest and honorable member, in the name of all that is fair and decent, stay out. Mend roads, wash dishes, shovel coal; do anything by which you will earn an honest living without dragging the standards of a divine art in the mire.
When we enter the second division of the subject, the resources are limitless. First and foremost of all is a cultivation of a love for the beautiful. No difference in what form it is expressed, it will be a means for developing the esthetic nature and of inspiring higher ideals. Miss no opportunity of seeing good pictures and statuary.
Literature is an exhaustless mine of inspiration and resource. Read poetry for rhythm, fancy and refinement of expression and feeling. Read fiction for imagination. Read history to understand the times and environments in which the various composers lived and brought forth their works. Read everything within reach that relates to the history of your art and that has any bearing upon it; so that you may have some really intelligent idea of its growth.
Do not neglect to hold close communion with nature. Get out into the woods and listen to the murmuring of the leaves, the chirping of insects, the songs of birds; and here in nature's cathedral you will hear music surpassing anything that is produced in the marble halls that have been erected by man. Fill your soul with the grace of the swaying branches, the majesty of the centuries-old elm, the beauty of the violet on the moss or turf. Drink deep of the wine of wizardry that pervades the whole atmosphere. Let your heart expand till it feels the wild abandon of its environments, and then return to your work ready to respond to the elusive moods of the composition in hand, and allow yourself to revel in its imagery. Thus you will begin to find a new meaning in your labors, an inspiration where there has been nought but drudgery, a message to the heart where there had been nothing but a cold form.
And when you have drawn every possible benefit from literature, art and nature, do not forget that one of the most fertile sources of inspiration is contact with creatures of your own flesh. Keep in touch with the live, wide-awake people of your community, of other communities if possible. One cannot rub up against a bright intellect without absorbing something of good. Interest yourself in the poor and unfortunate, and thus keep your heart tender to the finer feelings and influences.
Now it will be useless to take thought for acquiring these benefits unless they are preserved in your nature for use. And the first requisite for doing this is that the mind and body be kept in a healthful condition. Whatever happens, there must be a reserve fund of vitality. Plenty of wholesome food and healthful exercise are the best preventives of physical ills; and, with the physical body strong, the best tonic for the mind is to keep it in a cheerful mood.
This is not always easy. To correct the same error in six successive lessons is not conducive to an equable temper. And yet in nine out of ten cases there will be nothing gained by any show of annoyance. Better far to take the matter philosophically and good-naturedly; stop the pupil where she is; have her to execute the passage slowly enough that she can correct the mistake; have her to repeat the pasage (sic) till you are quite sure she really understands how it should be executed. Then tell her pleasantly, but firmly, that you will expect it to be played so at the succeeding lesson.
Whatever you do, do not become worried and lose your patience. Why does it take many of us so long to learn this lesson? It is the greatest possible drain on enthusiasm and vitality. Keep down worry and preserve a bright frame of mind, even if it requires all the will power at your command. It may be hard at first; but with practice it will gradually become easier of accomplishment; and then you can turn off your day's work with but a fraction of the exhaustion which you have often felt. And you can do it. It is wonderful how much of our irritability is within our control. And the more we allow ourselves to became irritated, the more painful to our nerves becomes every little mistake of the pupil. We are only multiplying our own agony and throwing the pupil into a nervous state that but increases the severity of our punishment.
No, if only for self-preservation, keep yourself in a happy mood while at your work. When mistakes begin to multiply and get on your nerves, banish the frown from your face, fetch a smile from the inside, let it show itself on your feature, and it will work like magic in carrying you over the petty annoyances that otherwise keep the nerves constantly on a deckled edge.
The very manner of using the voice in teaching has a wonderful effect on one's nerves. As one grows more earnest in an explanation, and especially as one becomes the least irritated, the pitch of the voice rises. This works on the nerves of both teacher and pupil, and soon, with two sets of nerves and a voice on the up-grade, every influence is pushing on to a disastrous end. Now, if instead of lending his aid to this purpose, the teacher will keep his voice modulated to a low, musical tone, he will administer a forceful antidote. His voice will become a soother of his own nerves and tend to keep them in a restful state. Try it; and you will be astonished at the result. And whatever preserves the calm of the nervous system, prevents a prodigious wast (sic) of energy.
By every possible means try to keep the pupil interested; for the pupil who enters upon her lesson with a genuine spirit of pleasure is a veritable tonic to the teacher. And the teacher can do much to keep up this spirit by striving to win the friendship and to enter into sympathy with the personality of her pupil. If only you can bring about that happy state where you derive a personal enjoyment out of association with your pupil, and where she finds pleasure in pleasing you, then you are reducing to a minimum the drain on your vitality, for the reason that errors will not only appear less frequently in her execution but also that when they do occur they will be of a less harassing nature and will cease to work so keenly on the nerves.
Whatever keeps the nerves at a high tension is a dangerous indulgence, because of this being one of the most insidious sappers of vitality. Study yourself in relation to your work. When, at the end of a number of lessons, you come out exhausted in mind and body, take a review of your experiences of the day and try to get at the cause of this condition. Then, under similar future circumstances, try to eradicate the reasons for its existence.
From the writer's experience two things stand out clearly fixed in his mind. First, that a cheerful, buoyant, elastic mood is indispensable to carrying one through the often vexatious situations of a teacher's life. Second, that it is necessary to obtaining the best results from pupils. And these conditions can be sustained only by enthusiasm springing from an abundant reservoir of stored up energy.

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You are reading Teacher, Conserve Your Energy. from the August, 1910 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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