To Teach Is To Be Taught

When I first started teaching I made every attempt I could to arrive at least 20 minutes prior to teaching… ideally a half hour before. I arrived at the school and found what I called my “happy place”. This was my quiet time before the start of lessons for the day where I could set my things down, collect my thoughts and wait for my students to start arriving. I made lesson plans for each student prior to coming, so I would pull them out and get ready to set those into motion.

My, oh my, things have changed. I still arrive early, but the process is no longer the same meditative one as before. I make sure to have at least 10 minutes prior to lesson start times to set my things down before the circus begins. I turn on what I have now termed “teacher mode”. I have a routine down now that doesn’t need the same gear-up time as before. I can literally set my things down, hop behind the piano and turn the switch on. It’s nice to have the few students where my teacher mode and personal mode are very closely linked, but there is still a switch when work begins.

There are no more lesson plans to follow. I learned very quickly that as long as I have a general framework for teaching a student over the long term, the best teaching comes from working on what organically arises in each lesson. In my mind, each student has a map of where he or she is going and how to get there, and each lesson you begin to clear part of the path. It’s my job to open the students up and see where they are today and begin from there, always working towards the end destination.

I don’t know about other voice teachers, but often I assume my students will not practice from lesson to lesson. Call me a pessimist but I insist I am a realist. Children are too busy these days, constantly being carted from one activity to the next, and adults have life to take care of. I assume practicing is last priority for many of my students, but their lessons are built in, weekly check-up. They come to me, and even if they haven’t practiced all week, this is the devoted time they have set aside to building their instruments. It really only takes about 10-minutes of thoughtful practicing every day, but life is busy, and for many people singing is a hobby not a priority.

So imagine my surprise lately when tons of my students have come in singing better than they did last week! I can tell in an instant who has practiced and who hasn’t. To teach is to continuously be willing to learn, and these “practicers” make my job more interesting. They are setting the bar higher, pushing me further to work harder and faster as a teacher. I have many beginning students- many working on the exact same things- and it is when the “practicers” come in that I get to be most innovative and experimental with my teaching.

I often refer to my “bag of tricks” as a teacher- this general pool of images and information to give to my students… warm ups, tools, exercises… tricks! This bag is getting more and more full, and I can pull from it in each lesson. It’s when something new comes up, that I sit back and say “Ok, this is isn’t working. Let me step away from this for today and come back next week with a new idea”. Then I go home and research or ask other teachers what sort of things they do to work on this area of technique. I am continuously adding to my bag of tricks. I am continuously learning!

They say that being a teacher is to inspire others to want to learn, but honestly (although that is really great and all) I feel like being a teacher has just continued to inspire ME to learn more. To be better. To work harder. I find inspiration in students of all levels and ages. I love the variety. I love the challenge of working on the same basic technique with completely different students, all with different abilities and levels of understanding. So far what I imagined teaching to be has been surpassed by miles. I am SO looking forward to what comes next!

If you are a teacher or student or lover of education, please comment below on what you love about it! What do you love about teaching… about learning… or about watching it happen for others?

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