The rung of a ladder was never meant to rest upon, but only to hold a man’s foot long enough to enable him to put the other somewhat higher. —Thomas Henry Huxley

Everyone wants “the answer”– the answer to everything from installing a garage door opener to dealing with an irate parent. If I just had “the answer,” all of my problems would be gone. Peace, freedom from worry, and ecstasy would prevail every moment of every day!

Where does one find “the answer”?

As we look around, it is obvious we all seek this fantastic information, and we all seem to go about it via various avenues: more education, yoga, conference calling, self-abuse, marriage, divorce, remarriage, vegetarian diets, mystic brew, emotional bruises, physical health programs, tanning beds, and R–O–L–A–I–D–S. How do you spell relief?

What does it take to bring us to this wonderful, safe land of success and self-satisfaction?

For everyone who is looking for the “foolproof, absolutely guaranteed, will-never-fail secret,” this is not the chapter for you – head back to the tanning beds! This message is for the person who is dedicated to this great profession called teaching. This is for the educator who stumbles and falls, makes mistakes – like locking the keys in the car, and not being able to find the needed insurance paper for the hospital when someone breaks an ankle during the faculty volleyball game. Maybe this is you!

Our job as teachers has been scribed, prescribed, and described to the point that we may not know what we’re supposed to do. In spite of all this illusion, we know we are counting on ourselves to be successful in our chosen field of endeavor, and the reflection of our efforts can be seen in our students day in and day out. These observations and evaluations serve as the fuel for our forward progress as well as the “emotional breaks” of self-doubt. We all know that students can make or break our days, and the reality is that they reflect our own attitudes. Therefore, it is of ultimate importance that we institute a high feeling of self worth in our students and colleagues so we can enjoy this reflection of attitudes.

The one absolute, obvious quality of every great teacher is the ability to communicate the importance of self-discipline to his or her students. They can focus the energy, and as a result, accomplishment jumps to a new level. This creates a greater desire to succeed, and the self-discipline goes up accordingly. It sounds simple, but the really fine teachers know the process is far more complicated. Focusing the energy is an art! What “turns on” one student may “turn off” the next. The very key to opening the lock to a student’s unlimited potential may be magically effective on Monday and totally useless on Tuesday. The number of variables controlling this phenomenon is infinite, not to mention the changes you, as an educator, go through each day, which also affect your perspective. So what’s “the answer”?

It seems the successful people in the teaching world share one commonalty: the demand for excellence – and they insist on and demonstrate their own persistence in this quest. In common terms, they don’t quit ’til they get it right! They all have their own ways of handling their organizational procedures, they use all different kinds of support materials, they may violate every rule in the book, and they may project every attitude associated with “bad teaching,” but they succeed time after time. Students will go the extra mile for them 90 percent of the time – and whatever it takes, they somehow seem to meet the call.

Self-discipline produces a feeling of self-worth that generates a higher level of self-discipline, etc., etc., etc. This all leads to a feeling of self-esteem, and because our feelings control our behavior, it stands to reason that someone with high self-esteem is going to behave and perform with a success-oriented focus. The result is success.

Again, it sounds so simple; just work hard… feel good about yourself… and work harder so you can feel even better! Every self-help book will give you that recipe, and you’ll put down the book and be ready to move mountains. However…

Here’s the part they forgot to mention: Let’s work hard… and then fail at our task – do we still feel good? No! In this case, hard work produced a negative feeling. The logical mind quickly asks: do I feel better, or do I feel worse? This is exactly where the break comes between those who make it and those who don’t. Most people can rationalize “not doing” almost anything. If we do nothing, we never have to suffer the penalties (the feelings) of failure. We can also stand back and point to where others have failed and brag about being “exempt” because we knew better than to try it in the first place. Sad but true!

It is at this juncture we make the choice for failure or success. The “failure” of the task can be corrected, but if we quit, we’re done! The mind will struggle internally. (“If you go again and fail, then you’re twice as bad!”) The answer: learn from the failure and go right back into the task again. Tackle it from a different angle, get the help of some other people, research another way to go about it, break it down into smaller parts, but don’t quit! The importance of the task may be inconsequential, but the feeling you establish is going to be the groundwork for the next problem you face. Simply don’t allow feelings of failure to be a part of your thinking pattern. The joy of breakthrough accomplishment is so tremendous that it almost justifies whatever price one must pay.

The bonus of never quitting (as teachers) comes from the role models we set for the many students who are watching us with more learning awareness than most of us want to admit. They see that you, too, run up against obstacles that seem overwhelming; even teachers don’t have all the answers, but most search and risk. The feelings of inferiority that dominate the young people’s thinking are then evident in our behavior; however, we model for the youth what to do with these feelings: go on in spite of them!

The habits and patterns ingrained during the school years will determine the patterns of life. Although we always instruct – “Grow up… Be mature… Quit acting like a child… Come on, grow up!” do we ever grow up? Sometimes we imply that when one is “grown up” all the problems of life will have answers at hand, and we will simply live in bliss and happiness. We all know growing up is going to be a process until death. With that in mind, what an opportunity we have in front of us every day to teach, taking the problems of life and turning them into living examples of learning experiences. Each day becomes a lab class of how to handle this wonderful thing called life!

One of the greatest benefits that comes from the demand for excellence is the understood rule that you can’t quit until you have achieved. There is no room for anything less. Do we dare ask anything less of our students? Of ourselves?

It is said that we have six to eight failures for every one success. Knowing that, how could we possibly stop after four, five, or even six bad attempts? The payoff could easily be in the next try. When we fall down, it is so easy to lie there and defend why we cannot get back up, but that only supports the failure. Any truly successful person will tell you the temptation to “stay down” never leaves – the mind seems to always throw the temptation right in our faces. Stay down. Don’t take any more stupid chances. Everyone else is down, too. You aren’t good enough – you’ll fall again. People are laughing at you. Who do you think you are anyway?

When this happens, immediately begin to talk to yourself. What made me fall? Where did it hurt? What could I have done differently? Is there anything I can use in this experience to help if I fall again? What’s the best way to get up? This very technique of “self-talk” may be the one key factor in establishing a high level of self-discipline. It’s a matter of serving as your own cheerleader  focus your own energy and demand excellence from yourself.

As teachers, we must do this for ourselves, but we can also serve as the “surrogate cheerleader” for the students. When we see the fall (fail), we must jump right up and urge them to give it another shot. It is the chance for us to encourage, to give new information, to express feelings, to strengthen our resistance, to teach. Failure is not bad.

We must welcome these instances and focus the energy of the circumstance so we can prepare for the next level. Through all of this effort, we learn, we grow, we expand––and then we can pass that knowledge right back to the students.

In conclusion, the demand for excellence is seen around us every day. Each person interprets this quality, this attribute, in many ways: some with strict rules, some through expressive sharing, some through group dynamics, and many through a combination of all these methods, plus many more. Whatever it takes, the obvious striving for excellence is always predominant. Wonderful teachers just don’t quit… and their students mirror this quality. Maybe the students never reach the top of the mountain, but they sure have a magnificent learning experience on the way up!

The answer? Don’t quit! The way not to quit? Don’t quit! And when you can justify quitting in every logical way: don’t quit! And when you’re tired and you feel like nobody really cares: don’t quit! And when all else fails, take R–O–L–A–I–D–S, then get back to work – you’re setting the pace for all of us!

Note: The term “R-O-L-A-I-D-S” references to an American commercial released in 1973 / In medical terms, ROLAIDS is a relief for heartburn and acid indigestion

This article is adapted from the book “Everyday Wisdom for Inspired Teaching” by GIA Publications, and reproduced with permission from Tim Lautzenheiser

Tim Lautzenheiser
Written By Tim Lautzenheiser

Tim Lautzenheiser presently serves as Vice President of Education for Conn-Selmer, Inc. His career involves ten years of successful college band directing at Northern Michigan University, the University of Missouri, and New Mexico State University. His books, produced by G.I.A. Publications, Inc., continue to be bestsellers in the educational world. He is also co-author of popular band method, Essential Elements, and is the Senior Educational Consultant for Hal Leonard, Inc.