Underprepared: When Students Come Up Short

Sometimes even the most committed, passionate students come up short.

Whether they were too busy, too distracted, or just underestimated the challenge – your most reliable student occasionally shows up underprepared.

In these situations, the overachiever can feel lost – they might not know how to pick themselves back up. It’s our job to help them find the path forward and get them back on track.

Overachievers overachieve. It’s how they define themselves. When they underachieve, there’s a real risk that they (a) don’t know how to handle their failure and (b) will chose to keep their head down and hope everything will fix itself. They can construct a massive blind spot around the failure and just go right on failing.

As their director: gently, gently call them out and show them how to fix their problem. Take this opportunity to give them an education they may have never gotten before.

Taking risks means facing down failure, and students need to know how to get from failure to success. Overachievers especially may have never learned this skill in the safe cocoon of their educational system.

I experienced a few failures of this type in middle and high school; it wasn’t until college, and especially with Steve Zegree in Gold Company, that I learned to view failures not as past facts but as temporary challenges to overcome. Ensemble conductors seem to be in a particularly unique position to help students learn this rare skill.

Give an overachiever the skill to take a failure and transform it, and she will be unstoppable.