NO CHORDS BARRED #1 – Unfinished Business

My guitarI first strummed a guitar in 1999. Some friends had one and taught me a few chords. I noodled around with what I learned but I wasn’t very good. Eventually I bought my own guitar and took a few lessons. I had high hopes and made a bit of progress. At the time I practiced a lot but always had trouble with rhythm and I could never complete a whole song. In my mind there would come a day I could take a turn when a guitar was passed around a camp fire. I was in grad school and old enough to know that I was never going to be a rock star (although I day dreamed about it). My goals were modest and realistic. I continued to practice, replaying the parts of songs I could and got better at changing chords but was still far away from that campfire sing along. In 2002 I moved to Korea to teach English and never really picked up the guitar since. If you asked me in 2002 where I’d be by 2012 I’d have told you I could really play. Campfire, strum along and maybe even a few licks that might impress the uninitiated. I enjoyed fooling around and did so long enough to tie the guitar into my self-identity. I felt like I was a guitar player although no one else would have called me one. By 2012 I’d be one though. So now it’s 10 years later and I can’t play the guitar. I tried and failed. It sits in my mind. It is unfinished business.

I teach adult high school. There is a lot of psychological baggage students bring to adult high school. In many of their minds, they too are failures. Of course no one who has come through my classroom door is a failure beyond carrying that label in their heart. The reasons for leaving high school are varied and many and often unavoidable. Still, the stigma of being a high school drop-out rests heavily. They tried and failed. It sits in their minds. It is unfinished business. Adult high school is a place for second chances. It’s a place to reconcile unfinished business.

Unfortunately it is not that easy. Returning to school means turning your life completely upside down. School and school work take up at least a third of your 24 hours. And the worst thing is the original voice in your head that said, “I’m excited, I’m going to do it! I’m ready to learn. I’m proud of my decision!” gets replaced with an extremely seductive, “Things were a lot easier before. I don’t need this. I’m not losing anything by missing class or leaving school.” School is the easiest thing to give up on. No harm, no foul. Money, work, kids and countless other obligations simply get in the way. Too often the tide of life sweeps adult learners back out to sea where the stigma remains and now they’ve failed again.

I tried to learn guitar again about 4 or 5 years ago. My wife gave me 5 lessons for Christmas. I was positive that all I needed was a kick start and I’d be back in it. I was optimistic. I was ready to learn. I was ready to practice. I was ready to call myself a guitar player. However, my job didn’t end. I still had classes to prepare. I still had marking to do. I still had all my responsibilities at home and the 5 lessons came and went. I didn’t practice. I didn’t improve and the guitar returned to gathering dust. It was just easier to give up. I failed again.

In my experience it is never that someone is too dumb to finish high school.  Like with my effort to relearn guitar, it is life and its management that get in the way. The real skills required are non-cognitive. I don’t think I’m so talentless that I can never learn to play but I know I need to work on the soft skills like persistence that will get me to the campfire. This project is an analogy to remind myself of some of the things my students deal with in order to balance their lives and fit school in successfully. Obviously it is only a taste of what they will be doing, but like returning to high school, this is also a story of wanting redemption. I start classes tonight (September 4th). I need to plan around them. I need to make time to practice (this is the real time commitment). I need to keep all same the balls in the air while adding another. I need to complete my unfinished business. I want to shake the label of failure. I want redemption.

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One Comment on “NO CHORDS BARRED #1 – Unfinished Business”

  1. […] truly personal piece of learning I’ve done for this goal is to take guitar lessons. I started in the fall of 2012 in order to take on new learning as an adult and reflect on how […]


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