As a child, I loved Mr. Rogers and my childhood violin teacher for the same two reasons. 1) They were consistently kind. 2) They treated me with respect. As a child, I was constantly annoyed with adults who seemed to treat me with less respect and attention than they would other adults. To my childhood eyes, there were few adults in my life who seemed to really listen when I spoke, who didn’t stop talking about anything interesting as soon as I entered the room, who made me believe I was capable simply by acting like I was capable. I loved them for it.
I was reminded of this when I went to go see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood a few weeks ago. There were so many beautiful moments in the movie, but one really stood out. I can’t even remember exactly what was happening in the plot at the time; only the words have stayed with me. “I don’t think anyone can grow unless he’s loved exactly as he is now, appreciated for what he is rather than what he will be.”
I thought of the way I treat my children, my violin students, my spouse, my parents, my siblings, my neighbors. Am I withholding love until they act in a way I would prefer? The people we love have the space to grow and improve when we don’t treat love as an earned, scarce commodity. That they earn it just by being human. That they are worthy of love now.
I love Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and its current iteration Daniel Tiger because everyone is treated with kindness. The parents are kind to the children, the children are kind to the teacher, the teacher is kind to the delivery man, the delivery man is kind to the puppet. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.
And it’s not just being kind. It’s being respectful. It’s believing these children are capable of more than we think. Mr. Rogers discusses tough subjects on the show; natural disasters, divorce, 9/11, anger, death. Because, as he says in the movie, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be manageable.”
I want to teach violin the way Mr. Rogers would, with kindness and respect; treating children as the dignified human beings they are.
How do I do that?
If a child is discouraged, distracted, or frustrated during a lesson, I know that those are human emotions, and thus acceptable.
I give practice assignments to the child as well as the parent, because children are capable of being a competent part of the practice partnership.
I encourage students to express gratitude to their parent at the end of the lesson.
I encourage students to compliment each other after performances, and create a loving violin community.
I treat mistakes like information, not as character judgments.
And when I don’t follow through on these, I forgive myself, because I am human, too.
What about you? Do you love Mr. Rogers as much as I do? Have you learned any lessons about good teaching from him?
If you want more Mr. Rogers teaching inspiration, I highly recommend this article.