Aug 2016 Downtown Ral Dance 056I love teachers who kick my butt—means they care, right?

That’s how you grow. I have teachers who are invested in my learning and aren’t lazy—it takes effort to give constructive criticism. Now that the Olympics have ended, I’m sure all the gold medal athletes had caring coaches who didn’t hold back when their charge was giving less than 100 percent.

I think back to when I was in middle school and taking ballet, flute and guitar lessons, and I contrast those lessons with the Irish dance, violin and guitar lessons I’m taking now. NOW I have teachers that gently and appropriately correct me. Especially in Irish dance: Alice, learn your steps! I’m making progress since I hurt after every class. Feedback from the likes of Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr.) from An Officer and a Gentleman was very helpful to Zack Mayo (Richard Gere)—Foley was giving it all he had to weed out weak officer candidates

I took ballet for 10 years as a kid and I don’t remember my teachers EVER correcting my feet or posture—I mean, what the hell? (I do remember my hands though—we weren’t supposed to have wimpy fish hands). But then again, maybe I wasn’t ready for it, or maybe I got so much yelling at home, I would have cracked from the feedback.  But then I stopped playing an instrument or dancing until a few years ago again—I’m sure I felt in my heart that my teachers were either burnt out or phoning it in with me and happy to take my mom’s money without too much hassle.  So why should I give myself hassle and work harder? I never said, “Excuse, Mr. Guitar Teacher, may I have some feedback now on how my left hand is doing?”

Are you in a writing group? If you are, are they giving you the feedback you need to help you move forward OR are they treating you with kid gloves? I’m talking about feedback that’s helpful like, “I enjoy reading your dialogue, Sue, but your POV is all over the place and there are such long stretches of where nothing is happening. You really need to consider adding more conflict.” As an editor, this is also the kind of feedback I give—I would never tell a new writer, “Hey, you suck at writing and what makes YOU think you have the audacity to give yourself a 100 out a 100 on your self-evaluation. That’s more like a 14 out of a 100!” Oh, sorry, I just got flashbacks from my Belk store manager’s evaluation of me 14 years ago. But this is worth a conversation detour—I used to HATE receiving evaluations in my twenties as a young worker because what I got back was horrid and demoralizing. I mean, you had to agree that you were a worm so you could get a $.30 cent raise to $6.30/hour. They were ambush sessions so your boss could tell you everything you’ve done wrong in the last year in one fell swoop. As a result of this fear of evaluations, I transferred my job within Belk around March every year because I’d avoid the evaluation! But now, I readily give evaluations at every one of my workshops and retreats because I want to be open to suggestions and I want to improve—that’s how you stay relevant and stay in business, after all.

If you care about your art, you’ll get the right feedback, and I’d like to emphasize the word, RIGHT. Some folks will offer you shitty feedback because they are neither experts OR they enjoy seeing you squirm while they go on a power trip. These people deserve to do push-ups in the mud all day. Feedback should also be appropriate to the level of the student and the length of the class. For example, I’m not going to give hard-ass craft feedback to a poet who has only started writing poetry that day and is sharing her work for the first time in public.

If you’re taking lessons from teachers who don’t give you enough feedback—LEAVE. Same goes with teachers who are being too harsh and make you cry. As adults, we should welcome feedback and see it as the gift it is—and hopefully when there’s an opportunity we’ll offer someone else helpful feedback that will give them good value for their money and time!