Many times at the end of a long day of teaching I’ll sigh and wonder if my students will ever succeed as musicians. Always, this question is tailed by another that is just as haunting and perhaps even harder to answer: will I ever succeed as a teacher? After all, don’t people define good teachers as those whose students win the most awards, play for the most prestigious audiences, and advance to the highest level in their musical careers? Well, maybe that is the case, but maybe it isn’t. At the end of the day, what defines our teaching success?
Everyone has gaps in their education, because none of us are omniscient. Only the triune God has all of the answers, because He is the one true God and “by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by Him, and for Him: And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.” – Colossians 1:16-17 It would be a waste of time for us to try to convince each other that any of us could teach anyone else everything they would ever need to know, because none of us can see into the future any more than any of us have learned everything there is to know. So how are we to get through life? This discussion could be prolonged far into the future and pertain to just about every area of life. For the sake of time and the primary focus of these articles, we will keep it centered on music pedagogy and what potential answers to these questions mean to us as teachers.
Week after week I sat next to the piano, endeavoring to communicate the important aspects of music to my student. Lesson after lesson we worked, side by side, as the spark of musical knowledge and experience began to take hold in [her] mind and life. It wasn’t easy for either of us, though perhaps neither of us would have admitted it at the time. There were wins and fails, successes and discouragements, yet each time we would rise up again. We studied; during the week [she] practiced what we had discussed, while I thought, researched, and thought again so that I would know better how to guide [her]. We were making progress as a teacher-student team, and then it happened. I didn’t see it coming, but it came anyway. The last lesson arrived, and the student I had labored over for so many hours would be leaving my studio, never to return. It was relatively easy for me to move on for myself, as a teacher, but what would happen to [her]? Questions began to fill my mind: had I done everything possible to get [her] to the highest level possible? In what ways had I failed as a teacher and how were those failures going to impact [her] future as a musician? Was she leaving my studio equipped to take on whatever ministry or other opportunities the Lord wanted to bring into her life?
I’m confident I’m not the only teacher who has had situations like this one (which, by the way, was a combination of many stories and not just one in particular, as you probably perceived). Besides this, not every student who commits to taking music lessons for a period of time is committed to studying their instrument for life. But how can we best equip our students to continue learning and growing beyond the walls of our studio? If you’ve read my previous articles, you have an idea of the goals I have for my students, but reality is, most students do not stay with any given teacher for all of their musical education, and many of those goals will not be realized before they move on to the next season of their life.
Up to this point, there has been much potential for discouragement because we feel like we will never “measure up” as teachers. But there is still opportunity. It may be limited, it may be unlikely, but it is there. How can we capitalize on it and make the most of every chance to build up the next generation of musicians? While it is ideal to always have a teacher who is there for you to build you up, encourage you, and help you find answers to your questions, and while it is also ideal that you be the same constant and everlasting encourager and resource for your students, this scenario is just what I said it was: ideal. It does not often become a long-term or life-long reality for students and teachers. So what can we do? Let me suggest a shared answer in two parts to this question and our previous one, what defines our teaching success?
- Teach your students to take responsibility. My most recent violin teacher recently made the point that a student is their own best teacher. Try as we might, there is no way for us to pound knowledge into our students’ minds and hands. They must learn to take responsibility for their own education and take heed to the instruction of their teacher.
- Teach your students to teach themselves. Once the character has been established for the student to take responsibility, they are ready to move on to part 2 of the long-term solution. If a student must be spoon-fed information or always told what the “right thing” is by their instructor, then they will be crippled when the crutch of structured lessons is removed and there is little chance of them being able to survive as independent musicians. But, if student can see something they don’t understand and dig for the answer (music dictionaries and Google are amazing resources!), take initiative to speak to other musicians who are further ahead in their knowledge than themselves, and learn to keep their eyes and ears open for learning opportunities, then they are well on their way to being able to succeed as effective ministers in the area of music as they “play skillfully” (Psalm 33:3).
The best teacher is not necessarily the one with “the most,” “the greatest,” or “the most affluent.” Rather, the best teacher is one who will teach a student to excel for the glory of the Lord and take responsibility for teaching the next generation to take responsibility, for themselves and for the children who are yet to be born. Isn’t that what teaching is all about?
If you benefited from this article, please consider leaving feedback in the comment section below. Don’t forget to read the previous entries on music pedagogy here!
We are so grateful for the team at Shawnee Press that is behind our all-time favorite series of method books for piano. Keys for the Kingdom offers a Christ-centered approach to music that is thorough and easily grasped by the average student. If you are unsure of how to lay a musical foundation, start here!
|look inside||Keys for the Kingdom Level A Method Book. Shawnee Press. Christian Instruction. Softcover. 64 pages. Shawnee Press #H5001. Published by Shawnee Press (HL.35012003).|
|look inside||Keys for the Kingdom Level B Method Book. Shawnee Press. Christian Instruction. Softcover. 63 pages. Shawnee Press #H5002. Published by Shawnee Press (HL.35012009).|
|look inside||Keys for the Kingdom: Level C Level C Method Book. Shawnee Press. Christian Instruction. Softcover. 72 pages. Shawnee Press #H5003. Published by Shawnee Press (HL.35012015).|
|look inside||Keys for the Kingdom: Level D Level D Method Book. Shawnee Press. Christian Instruction. Softcover. 38 pages. Shawnee Press #H5004. Published by Shawnee Press (HL.35012022).|
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