Classical Sass

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Teaching Better

I was trying to write a Myth/Fact on teaching issues.  But it wasn’t going very well, so I switched to writing about what I am working on improving in my teaching, rather than what I wish would change/be better understood in the teaching profession.  Mostly because my desire for wine was becoming intolerable.  And it’s morning.

1. Perception.

I sometimes forget to take a moment to thoroughly understand the mindset of my younger kids.  For example, when I play things for them, the reaction is usually jaw-dropping, wide-eyed, silence, followed by exclamations.  (Although, I have one kid who starts grinning and then merges into over-excited ‘oohs’ that last until the end of the piece.  It’s adorable enough to make me debate youtubing it, and possibly getting sued.)  I typically react by thinking; ‘Aw, that is so cute,’ and then continue with the lesson.  I figure; most kids have that special ability to be in love with everything, without second guessing it.  Being in awe is an almost-perpetual state for them, and while I love their reactions, I try not to take them personally because I want to remain focused on what we need to accomplish that day.  😉

What I don’t take into account is what it means for that child to feel that way about me, as his/her teacher.  If I were to feel that way towards my teacher (as a younger child – basically anyone pre-college), it would mean: 1) I would desperately want to please my teacher.  Desperately, like, would risk accruing serious self-image issues if my teacher decided I had failed somehow, and 2), would tend to believe that if I couldn’t do it easily (as my teacher did/always does), then I just wasn’t smart enough, or good enough, and that’s that.

My teacher used to love telling me one of two things: ‘This is easy for you,’ and/or ‘When have I ever given you something you couldn’t do?’  (I know; he’s a genius.  I’m lucky.)  Every once in awhile, I will tell one of my students, ‘You can do it,’ and I will inevitably get one of two reactions.  The first starts with doubt and ends with hope: ‘I don’t think I can do it…can I???’ and the second one is more of a release-type reaction: ‘Oh!  I didn’t know I could do it!’  Either one is fantastic and rewarding, because both reactions perfectly highlight what it means to a child to be appreciated by someone who amazes them.

I need to work on being able to help my kids from where they see me, not where I see myself in their lives.

2. Practice.

Every teacher must practice regularly and frequently.  (I know, I know, laugh it up, dear teachers of mine.  Do the I Told You So Dance, and feel free to run through some Schumann Scherzo while you’re at it.)  If my excerpt thing (see previous post ‘Auditions’) has taught me anything, it is that practice is teaching.  They are one and the same.  If you don’t live it, don’t preach it.  Etc.

Just to be clear: in my post-school-world, I don’t consider preparing gig/orchestra music or pre-rehearsal/concert warm ups to be practice.  That’s paid work.  Practice is me time.  It’s meditation, exercise, and academic training, in one, focused, session.  Practice time is time you set aside to make your art easier, richer, and more accessible.

Anyway, over the course of the last few months, a lot about practicing has come shrieking back to me with an urgency equal in intensity to that of needing to not be on fire.  I had forgotten how completely demoralizing it is to have a bad practice session, one where I struggled to be focused every minute, fought for every miniscule improvement, only to have each disappear several seconds later.  I forgot how difficult slowing down is when shit just needs to get done, forgot how unrewarding a mere three bars, well learned, can feel when there are 27 pages ahead of me, didn’t remember that sometimes, showing a piece who’s boss isn’t as thrilling as I want it to be.

I need to remember, more intimately, why practice is hard, and how I work with my practice time to make it healthier, and less dark.  I need to be able to share with my students my personal experiences with practice, not my memories of how I was taught, or what once worked awhile back.  If I don’t practice, then I am not teaching what I know, I am teaching what I remember.  I want to be fully present in all of my lessons, and that means that I practice.  A lot.

3.  Tell stories.

I already do this quite a bit, but I should do this more consistently when I teach pieces.  I can’t pitch this idea enough: everything is a story.  If we show kids how to find the story, then we give them the tools they need to make their own when they’re ready.  And having something to ‘say’ is a big part of why we bother, right?  Contributing, sharing, reaching out; these are all things that involve learning to strengthen your perception, and to articulate what that lens shows you.  I want to be better at instilling that eagerness for sharing in my kids.   I want every lesson to have a story.  Holy overwhelming.  Maybe I’ll aim for every piece…for now.