Since teaching has found its way (finally!) into my heart, I thought I'd share what I've been discovering about myself as a teacher. Perhaps jotting it down and receiving feedback from others will help me to get back into writing. So here goes. My current teaching philosophy, as of today. If anyone has any comments by all means, chime in! I'd love to hear what you have to say.
After teaching as a graduate assistant in college I vowed never to teach in a classroom again, not because I felt I had not succeeded – a teaching award and the support of my students and advisors showed me otherwise, but because of the realization of the intense responsibility involved. Being the perfectionist that I am I found it difficult at the time to teach knowing that I wanted to teach better. I should have known then that my reticence meant that I was destined to become an educator many years later and to fall in love with it. My first experiences back in the field confirmed what I had suspected all along – that yes, teaching is incredibly challenging but that it also pays one back ten-fold in the inspiring and self-propelling direction that a student’s life can take with thoughtful teaching.As a teacher I believe in approaching each student as an individual, not only exposing the areas that need improvement, but also discovering each one’s strengths so that I can help them find ways to utilize and highlight them. I have found that students are much more open and willing to work hard if they first feel good about what skills and natural talents they already have. I feel it is my role to be an honest but sensitive mirror of who they are and what they are capable of.In the classroom I direct the students’ attention to the process of learning rather than focusing on end products. The norm with preparing projects and assignments is for students to delay working until the last second. The attitude is that as long as it gets done, they will receive a grade – in their mind, this is often sufficient. Yet how often is it that we, their teachers, see how much better a project could have been or how much more learning could have taken place had the student been working with consistency? In an effort to curtail this approach I spread projects out over extended periods of time, breaking them into smaller components that require the students to live with the concepts for longer. This also gives me more opportunities to give constructive feedback, encourage creativity, and assist with problem solving. By the time they have a finished product they have learned about planning, process, and the mastery that can come from such an approach – all things they can carry with them into every aspect of their lives. Since I’ve shifted my focus from product to process I have been amazed at how much more initiative the students have to go beyond what I have asked of them. Excited and encouraged, students respond by taking their education into their own hands, and taking more pride in what they accomplish.Related to process-oriented learning, one of the teaching tools I regularly use is the asking and answering of open-ended questions. New students regularly respond to them with looks of bewilderment – they are there to get answers, they seem to think, not to answer them. Rests in the music are a great opportunity for such a question. “What is happening in that rest? Is it a pause after a question? Is it a moment for a change of mood?” Or another favorite of mine is asking what’s different about musical material that appears in multiple places in the score and then asking why the composer chose to present the material differently. “Does he go up the octave this time because he wants to change the timbre and create a different atmosphere?” “Can you believe what key she has gone to here? Why would she do that?” Sometimes I feel they fear giving a “wrong” answer to questions such as these, a side effect perhaps of our test and grade oriented education system. Having them come up with answers to open-ended questions, where there aren’t necessarily “wrong” answers, gives them the opportunity to start thinking for themselves and helps them to start enjoying the process of learning and exploring.One of my favorite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke, penned the following words -“If the Angel deigns to come it will be because you have convinced her, not by tears but by your humble resolve to always beginning; to be a beginner.” These are words that I live and teach by. If I focus on the process of gaining whatever I am trying to achieve I am claiming that status of being a beginner and with this acknowledgment I am free to talk and collaborate with colleagues with a sense of open-mindedness and curiosity, I am inspired to write about topics that are of interest to me and to receive feedback from others, and I am motivated to learn and perform new repertoire. Growth is just as important for educators as it is for the students that we teach. I believe that by sharing with students the journey I am perpetually on to keep improving as a musician, teacher, and person, I am inspiring those that I teach to approach life and their studies in a way that helps them to take ownership of their own education and lives.Teaching is about more than teaching my field. It is about helping students approach life in a way that will keep them engaged, curious, and passionate in all that they put their hands to. Every time I am approached by one of my students that is excited by something new they've discovered by him or herself I count that a success for each of us. It is a thrill every time and a motivator for me to stay put in the classroom.