My Last Teacher

My Last Teacher

by Nicole Tew, MS2

Winning speech for BVTMC Chapter Meeting on Thursday, 3 Oct 2019

Pathways Manual, L2P3 – Introduction to Toastmasters Mentoring

Another year, another concert. I sat at my piano for another coaching session, ready to make more progress. Considering how seriously I took this, you would expect my coach to spend the entire session doing artsy things such as: “Try to sing this section… [demo – piano]. Can you try that again”

How was our 20 minutes together really spent every week? Maybe a third of it was on the music. The rest was spent doing what I called at the time, talking nonsense, which had nothing to do with the keyboard. Except it wasn’t really nonsense.

Good evening everyone. When I chose a mentor to talk about, it was really hard for me not to pick a colleague, since my job is where I spend most of my time. Before I started work, a good chunk of that time went into something else – the piano. It really defined my life, especially, My Last Teacher, [X], who coached me while I was with the Piano Ensemble at school.

Let me explain where [X] compared to My First Teacher, who tolerated no nonsense at all.

Our interactions went like this: “Are you even listening to my advice? I can hear you haven’t worked on this section at all. You haven’t done scales in a while. If you don’t practice your scales, you won’t ever get them smooth. Don’t get lazy.” Sometimes, the cane would feature. Some of you may start thinking, that’s harsh, for a teacher to cane a kid.

My first teacher was my mother. My first teacher taught me discipline above all else, and that applied to lots of other areas in my life. She was like this because she saw my successes and failures as an extension of her own successes and failures. If I flunked an exam, My First Teacher would blame herself. In her eyes, my failure would be on her, which meant hard work, disciplined practice, and technical skill mattered most. My Last Teacher, on the other hand, coached an entire lineup of performers. I flunked a concert, and was the only performer who did that in the whole lineup, then my failure was starkly on me. Which meant [X] could relax a little, and we could afford to play.

Instead of, “you must do it this way” he would say “hmm. That looks uncomfortable. Let’s try”. To one of my partners, he remarked, “I know Nicole looks very fierce [nod] so you feel you should give way to her all the time. But actually, this part is your turn to shine. Yeeeees. Your turn. You need to step up, and she will follow. [nodnod]”

Take a guess how I reacted. Would you have laughed? I laughed my head off. For a brief 3 seconds, I looked a little less fierce to my partner.

Had [X] been my first teacher, he would have said “Nicole, you need to shut up a bit so we can hear your buddy on the other keyboard”. Instead, he figured the best way to get me to do that, was to make a big joke out of it and pretend I was in. At the same time, he reminded my partner to step it up; but do it in a way which helped us listen to each other better.

He had this magic way of dispensing his advice: he knew how to make a present of it, he knew how to make it fun, and therefore, it would be received, and it would stick.

[X]’s official title with us was coach, but I feel he went way beyond that, because until today, his advice still sticks, and bubbles up in the most appropriate moments.

He once said to me: “I notice that you stop completely when you hear your partner blank out. Trust your partner. Keep the show going. If he’s good, and he maybe he is, he’ll find a way to catch up again.”

Until today, trusting that other people are able to find their own way in life is still advice which works in both my personal and professional relationships.

The last concert for me was 6 years ago; and with that went any real excuse to keep in touch with My Last Teacher. Yet the lasting impact of his advice has taken me forward all those years since. I earnest wish is that one day I can be that mentor to someone else too.



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