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What Kind of Teacher are You? Part Two

Part 1 started a conversation about teachers contextualizing themselves and understanding their relationship with their student(s). Part 2 is a break from cane sorting and double reed topics in order to spend a little more time thinking about how teachers and students work together and how to navigate those relationships:

“The constructs of those participating frame all conversations, all acts of teaching. As teachers we cannot, do not, transmit information directly; rather, we perform the teaching act when we help others negotiate passages between their constructs and ours, between ours and others… teaching is an interactive process with learning a by-product of that interaction” (Doll, p. 271, 2009).

As an oboe teacher, I can not expect my students to understand and apply a concept through a simple statement or explanation. How can that be expected from them? What seems like a basic idea usually consists of a complex set if ideas. Asking a student to play more “musically” is one example of a simple request that requires something more. It places a demand on the student to understand what I think it means to play musically and what tools or skills they have to help them achieve it. The act of teaching is not to say, “play more musically,” but to teach them how to think about playing music–both understanding what you mean and what they prefer.

Going back to the metaphor from Part 1, the dinner party host does something similar. They can’t teleport food from their oven to their guests’ stomach. It doesn’t work that way. There are a lot more steps involved. The host has to have something to feed them like the teacher has to have some knowledge to share. The host sets the table/serves the food like the teacher demonstrates concepts or knowledge. Then, the guests finally eat what their host has prepared, which can be thought of as the student playing an assigned etude or exercise. Contextualization makes the meal more meaningful–the details and the preparation. The same is true in a music lesson. Creating a new context for an etude or exercise makes it more meaningful to the student and helps them navigate those passages between their constructs and those of their teacher.

The host prepares by shopping for ingredients, and they schedule the event around the needs of the student or travel restrictions such as winter weather or rush hour traffic. A good host does not put their guest in peril or make them sit in traffic for at least an hour to get to the other side of the city. The host also has to consider their accommodations and know that the people they have invited will be comfortable in the space they will be in. The situation is as important as the meal. The meal could be the best in the history of mankind, but if the conditions are not conducive to a positive experience, then it is a fruitless endeavor.

Like the preparations for a dinner party, another aspect of this conversation is planning ways for students to “negotiate” those passages. Good teaching doesn’t happen by accident and neither does a great dinner party. The host plans a menu based on the tastes and needs of their guests, and they probably won’t attempt a new recipe for the first time. They also won’t serve spoiled food or something that they know their guest can’t eat or won’t enjoy. The dishes selected are probably tried and true and are appropriate for the guest. In private teaching, menu selection translates into appropriate exercises and repertoire that will interest and engage the student without frustrating or boring them.

There are two huge problems in the realm of private teaching: Giving students spoiled food (knowledge) and unappetizing dishes (repertoire). The second problem is easier to fix than the first. Either present the material in a way that makes it more relevant or choose something different!  A bigger problem is the number of teachers that don’t know how or what to teach.

There are many great players who struggle to articulate how they can do what they do so well. Some teachers feed students exercises that are sour or repertoire that is too difficult, and they lose sight of teaching their students to grow based on the music they have consumed.

The dinner party metaphor is an ideal aim, but it isn’t always an option for the private instructor. When the stars align, the metaphor of a dinner party is a reality and both teacher and student have rewarding experiences. When either side comes to the dinner table unprepared or with different expectations, the student-teacher relationship is reduced to that of a patient and a dentist traversing the pain of a root canal together. The real question is how do private teachers resolve the differences between memorable experience and “pulling” focus and creativity out of their students like a dental procedure. Part 2 of this series will leave us with one question to consider: What can private teachers do pedagogically to increase their effectiveness inside and outside of their students’ lessons?

Doll Jr., W. E. (2009). The four r’s–An alternative to the tyler rationale. In D. J. Flinders & S. J. Thornton (Eds.), The curriculum studies reader (pp. 267-274). New York, NY: Routledge.

Julie C