Why teach? Should you? Do you? What if someone asked you to? Are you ready?
Many students regard a teacher as an absolute authority, and many teachers prefer to be regarded as such. Although there are some awesome teachers out there, no one is really a perfect teacher. That is both a good thing and a not-so-good thing. It’s not so good if the teacher is truly under par, obviously. But it is a good thing because if teachers had to be perfect, there wouldn’t be any. Therefore, we mortals are allowed to teach.
But taking on that responsibility has to come with integrity. A teacher not only teaches technical skills, but your word and your demeanor can affect a student’s psyche for life. That, too can be good or bad. Bad if you’re someone who says, “You just don’t have the talent to play this instrument,” or “You’ll never be able to sing. Just mouth the words please,” or “You can’t play this if you have a handicap,” or “There’s only one correct technique.” But it’s good if you are supportive, creative, teach to the way a student best learns (aural, tactile, visual, etc.) and accepts that not everyone wants to become a professional.
How many times have you heard someone say they quit playing music because they had a teacher who discouraged them? And how many times have you heard someone say that their life was changed for the better by a good teacher? Which kind of teacher would you like to be?
I’ve written previously about knowing when you’re ready to teach and about the student-teacher relationship (See posts of January, February and March 2013). So I won’t reiterate those posts. But there is more to say…
Teaching is a great way to learn. Although you’ve heard the adage, “Those who can’t do, teach,” I don’t know what idiot came up with that saying, because it is absolutely not true. I’ve seen some who could “barely do” try to teach, but they don’t last long. The fact is, you must have skills to teach skills.
On the other hand, some very skilled people have no idea how to teach what they know. Some try, and end up over-explaining and making students’ eyes glaze over.
And there are those who merely teach exactly as they were taught, with none of their own insights in the mix. Here’s the thing: no supreme being reached out of the sky and said, “This is the correct way to teach such-and-such.” We mortals made it all up, and so we teach what works best. If someone says there is only one way because it works better than all the others, that’s a guarantee they have a lot of unhappy students who are not being taught according to their own needs. And there are a lot of instrumentalists, even professionals, who suffer with pain and chronic injury from techniques that are “correct” but which hurt them. But I’ve said enough about all that in the past.
Teaching isn’t something we should do only if we have ”arrived”. There is no “there” to which one can arrive. We never stop learning, and hopefully we never stop improving. And if we teach, we learn from teaching. Having to teach something forces us to define it well, understand it thoroughly, and do it well. It keeps us on our toes. We observe and learn about our student’s wishes and needs, and often we become their best friends. How often have you heard someone say, “My life was changed for the better by that student,” or” I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for my students”? If you, as a teacher, look honestly at your life, you’ll see that those statements are just as true as the ones in which you are the hero. Teaching is a two-way thing. Let it be a dance.