Every theorist has to wear several hats: we are scholars, performers, speakers and many other things, but we are also partners or parents and, in general, we have a private life.
Unfortunately it is very easy to misunderstand this division in one’s life and to mix up the roles.
My kids were taking private instrumental lessons since a few years with a professor of the Institution I am affiliated with as a PhD student in music theory. Recently the kids had their lesson in the afternoon. That same evening I received a strange email in which this Professor wrote something very confusing to me. The email was organized in this sequence:
1) “we could have a lesson on this date…”
2) a list of all his/her upcoming appointments,
3) he/she probably cannot make up all the lessons at the University
4) my kids need weekly private lessons
5) he/she cannot teach my kids anymore The final sentence was: “I hope you understand”.
I found that email confusing. It was like one of those texts you could read from the top to the bottom or from the bottom up and understand two very different things.
Obviously, as a parent and as a teacher myself, I was upset, surprised and really confused. As a mom my only concern was about my own children, of course. I felt that they were being dumped without any rational reason after their first lesson of the school year. We had a pretty rude exchange of emails from both sides, as no, I don’t understand and I won’t please any teacher telling that it is ok to dump my young kids in that way.
That Professor’s answer was that I should remember that he/she is a university Professor and I am still a “student.” Therefore I am not even allowed to share my opinions about him/her with anybody in the University. Mind you, it would be great if this would be possible.
While on the private side, as a parent, I can -almost- accept every offense (from being a careless parent to being humiliated about what I can afford) and while I think I also have the right to feel disappointed and angry with a careless teacher, I cannot accept threats to my academic work in that same context. Professional and private life are two different things.
I am a parent in that case, a teacher in other cases, and finally I am also a student who, as a music theorist, has nothing to share with an instrumental Professor.
“And that’s a private conversation. Keep it as such.” was my final sentence, from a mom to a private teacher I hired.
The takeaway from this experience is that as scholars we need to think about life in general as being divided in two parts: the academic life on one side, the private life on the other. And each one of us has the right to keep these two lives apart: as soon as we let personal feelings and gossip enter our academic world, we are not scholars anymore, but gossipers.
(Submitted on August 23, 2015.)