Saturday, July 5, 2014

Always the Teacher, Now the Parent


This post is a close follow-on to the thoughts I shared about Recognizing Your Worth as an Artist

Private teaching the past two years has been a frustrating aspect of my work in Montana.  I have pondered many different aspects of being a teacher as I have progressed to understand better how teaching in GTF is going to work for me.  In the midst of this, my son - better late than never - decided he wanted to play cello!  This meant entering a new world: paying for private lessons.

I have been a private instructor for 20 years! 

I began teaching beginner piano lessons when I was 14 years old in order to pay for my lessons and transportation to the Hochstein School of Music in Rochester, New York.  As a 14 year old piano teacher, I wrote and paid for my own advertising, established a studio policy, created my first artist biography, managed a teaching schedule, set lesson fees, designed curriculum, communicated with parents, assessed progress, and finished each year with a studio recital.  Looking back, I think I was better organized then, than I am today!

However, being a parent to a music student is a whole new world! 

I am sad to say, that in only 1 year, I have done every single irritating thing that students have done to me:
  1. Missed payment for lessons
  2. Missed lessons without cancelling
  3. Last minute rescheduling
  4. Last minute cancelling
I can only imagine that my son's teacher has had the same thoughts that I have had as I sit in my studio waiting for a student who is 5 minutes late, 10 minutes late, 15 minutes late, a no-show. 

Being a parent has definitely made me more empathetic to my students and parents. 

The reality is that life is busy!  In a perfect world, our weekly schedules are all exactly the same.  But in my life, my schedule is always different.  This means that I am constantly canceling or rescheduling for my son and my students.  In all of that, it's no wonder that lessons get missed or forgotten.

On the upside, there are a few things I do very well as a parent that I wish more parents would do for their students:

  1. Know what your student needs to practice and ENSURE they get their practice time in.
  2. Sit in the lesson and be aware.
I can overlook missed lessons and missed payments.  What is frustrating as a teacher is feeling like a babysitting service because the parent shows little interest and doesn't follow up week-to-week.  Getting your students to lessons is obviously important, ensuring that your student is actually learning and practicing is far more important.  Too often, parents drop their kid off once a week at a lesson and wait for the studio recital at the end of the semester/year. 

Parents, you are missing out an amazing learning experience with your child!  Studying privately isn't like having a math tutor because your kid is failing math.  Studying privately is the opportunity to watch your child interact with an expert in a discipline that your child has expressed passion for. 

I LOVE attending my son's cello lesson each week.  For a few months, I was even able to play his cello as well as he did.  I love watching my son learn from an expert!  I love watching him learn and then master a new concept or technique.  I love observing another teacher and learning myself how I can help my son and all of my students.

Ensuring that my son practices is sometimes difficult but I have learned to step back and let him work on his own - that's why he has a teacher.  I'm not expected to teach him cello, but I am expected to provide him with the time, space, and tools needed to teach himself in between lessons.  It's wonderful to listen to your child practice and improve day by day.  I don't hear scratchy sounds, I see a child working to learn and improve. 

I obviously believe in the value of private instruction both as a parent and as a musician.  I want to further encourage parents to take a more active role in supporting their child in learning music.  Don't just drop them off while you run errands - go inside!  Even if you can't always be present for every lesson, make a point to attend even occasionally.  If you can sit through a 2-hour athletic practice or game, you can sit through a once-weekly music lesson.  Encourage your student to practice DAILY and provide that by giving them time and space.  Volunteer to take a chore off their hands so they have  an extra 15 minutes to practice.  Have them end their practice session by playing a few lines for the family in the living room.  Learn to become familiar with their progress so you can give positive feedback as you hear them improve. 

I have seen first hand this past year how my son's cello study has brought fun and music into our home and family in a whole new way!  I'm not really concerned with what Morgan does with cello in 20 years but I'm truly grateful for the memories we are making as a family right now surrounding his cello study. 

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