After just over twelve years of teaching piano, I still love it. When that amazing adult student performs that piece she’s wanted to play for years. When that six year old races in to tell you about how she learned the entire piece in one week, even though it was her challenge piece that was so tricky but she practiced so hard and figured everything out and she’s so proud! Or when that teenager with that crazy hair, performs her own composition with musicality and depth far beyond her years. These are the moments I am addicted to in teaching. These are the moments I plan to keep experiencing for as long as possible.
So now that I’ve explained how much I love teaching, I also need to explain how sometimes… lessons get a bit long… It helps to just get recharged, find a few new ideas to refresh myself and my student. So on one of these long teaching days I got a call from the department chair at my university. She offered me a chance to fill in for her on several things while she went on sabbatical. The biggest request was to teach a semester of group piano with 6 college piano major interns observing me and then practicing teaching while I observed them. Of course, I had to say yes to such a neat opportunity! I’ve always wondered if I would like to teach teaching/pedagogy so this was a chance to dip my toe in the water, so to speak.
First of all, I loved working with the group of college music majors I got to teach in Group Piano. Just that class was fun to mix up my schedule a bit. Then the added fun of working with the interning students made it even better. They each took turns teaching a few times, working up to teaching an entire class by the end of the semester. They were amazing! By this semester they had already had 3 semesters of pedagogy classes and experiences so they had worked hard to already improve their teaching. (This undergrad program is awesome for training piano teachers and performers by the way. Where else do undergrads get 4 semesters of pedagogy training?!)
As I gave them feedback on their teaching, I remembered hearing many of the same comments from my own pedagogy teachers over the years. Another moment when you realize you’ve come full circle and feel so grateful to the teachers & mentors who helped me get to this point. And as I’m reaching a significant age milestone this year, I’m looking back and feeling a bit nostalgic about how fast the time has flown by…
So now that the semester is over, I wanted to share what I thought were the most important tips I had for these young teachers. Looking at all the scored observation sheets I wrote this semester, these are the points that stood out the most to me. This is the advice I would give to my younger self when I was a young, new teacher fresh out of college. And this advice still applies to so much of my teaching today. I hope you enjoy reading it and reflecting on what advice you would give to a group of young pedagogy students. I’d love to hear it and learn from you too so please share in the comments below!
Dress code, attitude, and so much more. How would you feel if your piano teacher or college professor always walked in with a baggy t-shirt and jeans, excuses for being ten minutes late every time and chewed gum really loud… You get the gist of it, we’d probably change teachers. So let’s all just promise to be professional starting now, even when teaching at home. It will really help your image of a professional studio no matter where you teach. Sometimes I get so comfortable with the routine of teaching that I need to remind myself to go the extra step in keeping my studio professional.
*Use your technology
Know it backwards and forwards, how to fix most common problems and don’t forget to USE it all the time to your advantage. We have amazing phones, iPads, fancy keyboards, smart boards, camera projectors and so much more. We always hear that kids aren’t impressed by it any more, they are so used to it and expect it everywhere. But in my teaching, I still believe students love it,so use everything you can when it has an educational purpose. Plan ahead and slowly add it in if you need time to adapt. But don’t just ignore it. It will give your studio an advantage and help you retain interest so just take the leap! If you need somewhere to start, check out this short list of apps we love to use. Another awesome resource is this handout from Joy Morin’s session at MTNA.
*Stay involved in your profession
Be interested in improving yourself continually, even after graduation. Regardless of homework, life will always keep you busy. Whether you are teaching nonstop, or raising your family and trying to even keep dinner on the table, or taking care of elderly parents someday. So get started right away in associations and continue learning throughout your life. Stay active in MTNA or another teaching association that fits your interests. Read academic articles and books in your profession, as well as business books. Listen to more podcasts and follow blogs to keep updated with the current trends of your profession and get ideas from other businesses! All of these resources are vital to keep me growing. Otherwise, you will just plateau or get burned out and bored with the life of a private music teacher. So invest in yourself and stay involved.
*Less talking is more teaching.
Yes it’s important to visit too, to build relationships and know your students’ lives. But we’re teaching music, so the less verbal teaching means the more experience students get making music and listening to your modeling of sound. This produces the best practicing at home, when they know what sound to produce and they’ve successfully done it before. We have all types of learners in each of our studios (kinesthetic, visual, aural). Learn about helpful teaching techniques to help each type of student. Then make sure they are able to do it with you before sending them home. Don’t just tell them what to do or show them, but make sure you let them actually do it. The saying from Confucius rings so true.
As you grow a studio or search for a college position someday, there will be ups and downs. Life is full of them! So remember to believe in yourself. As pianists, we are critiqued a lot but remember to see your strengths and sell them. You have to market yourself everyday with everyone you meet so be confident in your abilities as a pianist and piano teacher! In your teaching, always be confident. Show it in your posture, in your tone of voice, and in your smile.
*Do Your Best
No matter what the time of day, even if you’re exhausted or feeling a bit sick, if you’re going to teach a lesson you have to teach the best you can. Remember this post? Every student deserves the best from you. They deserve your utmost attention, energy, positivity, and best attitude. Sometimes this is harder than other times and I admit. Sometimes I need to take a deep breath and try again. But this is my motto for every lesson, to be the best teacher I can be.
Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post of my advice to myself. The reason I love visiting with other teachers so much is to get their advice. To learn from them what has benefited them most throughout their teaching career. So please share what you have learned or what advice you would give your younger self below! I’d love to learn from you too 😉
Whitney Hawker, NCTM, teaches group and private piano at Weber State University, Utah. She loves surprising students with the perfect piece or a new exciting game! After graduate school, she missed sharing ideas and resources daily with colleagues so she and her friend, Spring, began blogging together at 4DPianoTeaching.com