Teachers for Teachers | Is It Talent or Hard Work?
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Is It Talent or Hard Work?







As Thanksgiving dinner ended my 18-year old cousin, Ellen, sat down at the piano and began playing Christmas carols.   A few younger cousins squeezed in next to her on the piano bench singing along as she played.   When one song ended one relative or another called out a new song title, “Can you play Silent Night?   What about Winter Wonderland?  Do you know Oh Christmas Tree?

At each request, Ellen flipped through her book of music to find the song.  This music book was well worn and well loved.  The front cover was missing and it had 20 different colored tabs poking out of the top marking different songs.   Again and again Ellen found the page, played the song and the room filled with music, singing, and laughter.


As the sing-a-long ended the talk in the room focused on Ellen.

“Amazing!  – She is so talented.”

“I can’t believe she can do that.”

“She is a natural.”

“Such an incredible gift.”

As I listened to these comments I couldn’t help but think about all of the work that was “underneath” Ellen’s musical talent:  The countless hours of thinking, practicing, redoing, revising – trying again.  Ellen is far more than talented – she is dedicated and committed to her craft.   This dedication and hard work made playing the piano appear easy.  Yet there was nothing easy or natural about it.

This made me think about when teaching goes well.   Teaching looks easy when we see students voraciously reading or overhear profound comments during book club conversations.   During these moments it appears as if the kids just “know what to do,” that this is an “easy class,” or that this professional is just a “natural born teacher.”   But we all know that beneath this “flawless” exterior are hard work, dedication and passion.

How did this teacher, teach her students to love books?  How did she teach them to talk to each other?  What does she do when students aren’t focused?  What did the hours and hours of work underneath this flawless lesson look like?   We can learn so much from each other by talking about the hard work behind what we are seeing.  It is these conversations that can help us really understand the true meaning of the word, “talented.”  The talent doesn’t just come – it is gained through hard work.

On this Thanksgiving, I am so thankful to my cousin for bringing so much joy and festivity to our family holiday.  I am inspired by her dedication and hard work.  When something looks easy or flawless – the hours beneath are probably the real reason to celebrate.


  • Avatar
    digital bonnie
    Posted at 13:05h, 03 December Reply

    Makes me think about why we need to pull the curtain back and share more of the work of teaching so it’s clear that not everyone can do or that it takes more than 5 weeks of study to have enough learning to be trusted in a classroom with kids.

    • Avatar
      Tammy and Clare
      Posted at 18:17h, 03 December Reply

      We love the idea of pulling the curtain back – We need to learn from each other by understanding the work that is underneath our successes.

  • Avatar
    Posted at 16:34h, 03 December Reply

    As a mother to musicians, I know how much practice it takes for my kids to do what they do so “effortlessly” on stage. So much hard work! But, I love the way you transitioned to how this plays out in our teaching lives, too. Thanks for the affirming thoughts – because teaching takes endless hours of practice, too.

    • Avatar
      Tammy and Clare
      Posted at 18:20h, 03 December Reply

      It just seems that the endless hours of practice aren’t honored in teaching. Let’s hope we can change that.

  • Avatar
    anita ferreri
    Posted at 01:21h, 04 December Reply

    You are so right to compare the practice, the work, the prior mistakes and the beautiful music that comes from a piano or from a classroom that is finely tuned and led by a someone who has worked hard. It’s hard for many non-teachers to see that teaching is a science and an art; however, it is a complex science and an art that is honed with many hours of practice and reflection. Thank you for sharing.

  • Avatar
    Julie Johnson
    Posted at 01:29h, 04 December Reply

    Your words are so true in all aspects of life. My son is a percussionist who is majoring in music education. Since he was very young, he practiced for hours and hours on end. Now, I am watching his as he begins to gain the skills to be a thoughtful teacher. It’s very rewarding to watch him grow and learn. Thanks for sharing this great story.

  • Avatar
    Leigh Anne
    Posted at 03:14h, 04 December Reply

    I kind of had this experience today. Had teachers observe me and one of them said, it all runs so smoothly. Do you spend hours on the weekend doing this? Of course, my answer was yes. It didn’t just happen overnight.

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