What kind of teacher are you? Are you a detailed planner, who knows what will happen in every minute of the lesson? Maybe you’re a reactive teacher, with no particular plan in mind, but a “bag of tricks” at the ready for whatever issues you need to react to in the lesson. Perhaps you’re a long-term planner, with a very clear vision of what your students will be playing in 1, 2 or even 5 years’ time.
My teaching over the past few years has been a combination of reactive and detailed. For many students I went in with no specific lesson plan, ready with my stack of teaching tools to address problems on-the-spot. For other students, I planned every lesson in great detail – sometimes even writing down exactly what I wanted to say when describing a concept to the student. There are teachers of every kind teaching piano today, and all can be successful in their own ways. But here’s a new challenge I came away with, after this summer’s workshop at The New School:
Are you a thoughtful teacher?
I’ve always done a fair amount of thinking about my students and their progress – how I can help them make their practice time more efficient, how to help them truly understand the difference between a quarter note and an eighth note, and what will help them understand the musical importance of dynamics. What has changed, as a result of what I learned from the summer’s workshop, is the way I come up with solutions to these issues. My new challenge is to create thoughtful solutions that will help to develop a whole musician; it’s a challenge to think 5, 10, even 20 years down the road, to what will make my students self-sufficient pianists. Here are a few examples of thoughtful teaching, observed at The New School, that have influenced my own work:
[li]Introducing students to the sound, feel, and look of 8th notes, months before they name it or encounter it in a piece. By the time the students have to play an 8th note, they already have an internal understanding of it. That’s thoughtful.[/li]
[li]Presenting students with an easy-to-remember acronym – R (rhythm) I (intervals) M (moves) – for practice steps that apply to each new piece in their method book. They are taught to prepare themselves for what they will play – no more jumping into the piece thoughtlessly, making completely avoidable mistakes. That’s thoughtful. [/li]
[li]Asking a student to conduct as you play, responding to the sounds they hear (changing dynamics, tempo, etc.) – giving them a unique opportunity to listen to and internalize all the details of a new piece. That’s thoughtful.[/li]
[li]Including composition in each week’s assignment, giving students a chance to express their own musical ideas – and emphasizing the need for the student to create a name for their piece, so they learn to make connections between sound and title. That’s thoughtful.[/li]
[li]Creating a “structure” for each lesson – a list of broader concepts you’d like to cover, so the lesson time is guided and meaningful (rather than hurried and stressful). That’s thoughtful.[/li]
These are just a few of the ideas that are changing my teaching – from reactive to thoughtful. From “I’ll just wait for the problems to arise and fix them on the spot” to “How can I help the student to think and understand, preventing problems from arising in the first place?” This approach demands a deeper level of commitment to my students and their progress. It also creates rewarding, satisfying results. I am becoming a thoughtful teacher – one who plans for the future and strives to create capable musicians. One who finds ways to help students internalize their music, rather than just imitating sounds.