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What Kind of Teacher are You?

Part 1: The Music Teacher or Something else?

A challenge issued by former CCM Music Education Professor, Dr. Liz Wing:

“The images that we hold as teachers influence not only how we see ourselves and our roles but how we frame the classroom environment, treat students and subject matter, and how students, in turn view us and themselves. The implications of these images permeate our daily lives and have the potential to affect profoundly the academic and personal growth of our students.”

Dr. Wing’s challenge is specifically for classroom music educators, but it is equally appropriate for anyone who interacts with students in a one-to-one or private studio setting. There is always a possibility for broader implications, but we are going to focus on the private music teacher for a few minutes.

Take a minute and think about yourself as a teacher. What does it feel like to work with students? What is your attitude and behavior like, and how do they change based on the situation? What metaphor or metaphors seem most appropriate for you? Here are a few examples to get you rolling:

  • Air traffic controller
  • Gardener
  • Paramedic
  • Bird watcher
  • Judge & jury
  • Circus master
  • Traffic cop
  • Coach
  • Counselor
  • Mother hen
  • Drill instructor
  • Pinch hitter
  • Out in left field
  • Diva

Some of these metaphors are more of an idealistic and others are more of an unfortunate reality. If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we have probably experienced more than one of these metaphors at some point in our teaching. Maybe it was strategic, or maybe it was an accident. Either way, awareness is the key.  

Let’s pick an ideal scenario and delve into it. Let’s compare the private teacher to a host who is inviting a student (or a friend) to dinner. The educator as the dinner host is involved in fervent planning, shopping, cleaning, and organizing. The host has to considering dietary restrictions, organize the time to prepare the food, and have back up plans ready in the event of a surprise power outage or some other unforeseen obstacle.

This is a challenge I’m prepared to accept only as a metaphor and not as a reality. I won’t be inviting anyone over for a dinner party any time soon, but a dinner that goes off without a hitch is a carefully and methodically planned and organized series of events. Rarely, is it the result of a whim or spontaneity; even acting on a whim requires some sort of preparation. How is teaching a student any different? There is a certain level of preparation and planning that is imperative. The host prepares by shopping for ingredients—you can’t invite someone over for dinner if you have nothing to cook. This preparation and planning is paralleled in private music instruction. Being able to wiggle your fingers quickly does not mean that you are prepared to teach someone else effectively any more than knowing how to boil water or use the oven provides enough evidence that someone is ready to host a nice dinner. A host can’t cook with equipment that they don’t have or with skills that they have not acquired. It does not require great skill to put something on the table, but more skill is required to serve something that is enjoyable and suited to the tastes of the guests. Producing something memorable, rewarding, satisfactory, enjoyable, or meaningful requires something more in both cooking and in teaching.

Take a minute today to consider how you perceive yourself as a teacher and how you think your students perceive you as a teacher. We will be back soon with Part 2 and more ideas on the teacher as a dinner party host.

Julie C