You may have been teaching for a very long time. You may just be starting out. But one thing is absolutely true. If you want to be an effective teacher, you owe it to yourself and your students to be a life-long learner. The pedagogy of your instrument may not change but educational strategies do. This is not just true in the classroom. It is also important in the teaching studio. Teachers as life-long learners have the most to offer their students. In this article I’ll give you a couple of ideas to get back to thinking like a student again and why that is important.
Take a private lesson
When was the last time you took a private lesson yourself? You may no longer perform or even practice but that doesn’t matter. When you take a private lesson, you avail yourself to so many new things. You are reminded of some technical issues that you haven’t addressed or thought to address in a while. You hear someone else’s language on how to explain a particular pedagogical issue which can stimulate your thinking. You have someone else’s ears to give you another perspective. When you have that experience, it widens your perspective and knowledge base so that you have more to offer your students. Ultimately your students will grow because you have grown!
Learn some new music
When was the last time you picked up a repertoire book and just started sight-reading? We all have our standard rep that we frequently pull from for our students. But doesn’t that get boring after a while? I remember when I first started taking voice lessons, my teacher, who was well-advanced in years, gave me “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes” which I found out later she gave to every single one of her students. Now I certainly understand how a song as simple as that can offer a good technical foundation, but there are so many other pieces out there that can offer the same things and be more interesting! (No offense intended to those of you who adore that piece!) Pick up a new book and vow to sight-read a new piece every week, or every day. It not only keeps your sight-reading chops up, you find new music to offer your students which will make them happy.
Attend a concert that features an instrument other than your own
If you are a pianist, go to a violin recital. If you are a flautist, go to a piano recital. If you are a singer, go to a percussion ensemble concert. But here is the important point: go to these concerts not to criticize but to actively learn something. Pay attention to how these musicians make music, use their technical facility, program their concert, etc. Remember in music school when we were all required to attend a certain numbers of concerts each semester and we received a grade for it? This was the purpose of attending all those concerts: to LEARN something! So now you are not doing it for a grade. You are doing it to expand your ideas about music and performance and you are doing it to stimulate your brain. Because the more stimulated you are about music, the more you will be able to offer to your students.
Write an article on pedagogy or repertoire
Commit to writing a scholarly article for a peer-reviewed publication, or a newsletter from one of your professional organizations or even an authority website or forum (like Music Lessons Resource!). When you write an article, you may be required to do some research which gets you expanding your knowledge of your instrument or of teaching. If no research is required for the subject you are addressing, writing extensively about a particular concept requires you to really think about all aspects of that issue and it stimulates your thought process. You might fall onto something that you hadn’t thought about before or hadn’t communicated it that way before. Your students will benefit from that.
Whatever you do, DO SOMETHING!
If you have ever had a tenure-track teaching job in higher education, they require you to take part in professional development – research, performance, attendance at conferences, etc. – as part of your evaluation for tenure. While sometimes it seems like the pressure they place on professional development takes away from your actual teaching in these institutions, it forces you to continue to grow as an educator. Learn from this. Commit to doing something this week or this month to expand your horizons. Learn something new! Review something old. Just do something! Your students will love you for it!
So what do you do to keep your skills honed? Tell us in the comments below!