Edith Piaf was a celebrated French singer, who lived from 1915 to 1963. She was affectionately known as La Môme Piaf, which loosely translates as ‘The Little Sparrow’. Nearly always dressed in black, this diminutive lady emanated not only a powerful voice, but a powerful presence on stage.
Her early years were very tough, and I won’t go in to details here. Some people are hardened by such experiences, and others become more human, and in the case of Piaf it was definitely the latter. She was a generous lady – some say too generous – but it was in her nature. Life however did pay her back through a successful international career, but sadly also in the tragic death of people she loved.
While performing in New York, she missed her boyfriend Marcel Cerdan, a French boxer. She wanted him there with her so much that she asked him to fly out one day early. After some strings were pulled he obtained a seat on an earlier Air France New York flight. While making an approach in to a stop over it crashed and he was killed.
Not only did she share her money, she also shared something more personal and profound – herself. Many of her songs were autobiographical, and she would sing with her heart reaching out to the audience. People felt they could share their troubles with her, as she was sharing hers and her pain of life with them. It was a genuine experience.
Let’s come back now nearer to home. Some students find studying a pleasant emotional experience, and others struggle against the demands of a busy life. However one of the pleasures of being a tutor is the ability on some occasions to ease the pain to some degree. Although we are here to teach, we are also very experienced in the ways in which a busy person can react to a schedule of teaching and assessment, and we understand their problems.
We cannot wave a magic wand, but usually we can help to re-frame our student’s problems and improve how they feel. We are not trained in counselling, and cannot play games with people’s minds, but often it is enough to be a good listener, and good listeners we are. Good listeners with helpful suggestions. We may not always succeed, but we try our best.
I would say to anyone thinking of starting a programme of study, or going back to study after a long absence, see the problems but focus on the opportunities. Problems can often be overcome, but not so easily a lack of opportunity. You won’t be alone: family, friends, college administrators and tutors can share in the journey with you. Nothing worth achieving is easy, but a challenge is not the same as an impossibility, and the highest hills provide the best of viewpoints.