As a piano teacher and as a parent I can say without equivocation that being a parent is tremendously more difficult. This is true in spite of 6 years of music lessons through my grade school years that prepared me for 6 more years to attain 2 college degrees that prepared me just to enter my profession as a music teacher. So, the advice I give here is given humbly because I think both of us want your child to be a resounding success in their music study. I want to succeed because of my calling as a music teacher and I’m sure you want to succeed because of your vastly more difficult challenge of being a good parent.
PREPARE YOUR CHILD TO BE A GOOD STUDENT
When I became a parent in the late 1970’s there was a move away from the view that “a child should be seen but not heard”. Children were encouraged to interact with adults. Children were taught to be assertive. Children were taught to express themselves confidently. As parents we listened to our children and did our best to respect their thoughts and wishes. All these things are proper and good. However ……..
……. these good traits do not always work for the best in a teacher-student relationship.
The most common issue teachers face is the student that looks on the teacher as their buddy or their friend. Sometimes teachers affectionately refer to these students as a “Chatty Kathy”. Of course I consider all my students my little friends but in a teacher-student sense. Some students will take each lesson as an opportunity to tell me everything that’s going on in their life. I must say that sometimes this is all very interesting but it’s really not critical that I know that their little brother hid the beans he didn’t want to eat for supper behind the trash can. And I certainly don’t want to know that mommy made daddy sleep on the couch last night! It’s important for a young child to know that even though their teacher is friendly and interested in them, that the main reason they come to the piano lesson is to learn about playing the piano and not sharing their life experiences, interesting though they are. Their relationship with their teachers is a special one; and one that is unlike other relationships they will encounter in their lives. It is a relationship that’s different than the one with their parents, or, their relationship with their peers.
Teachers love it when students feel free to communicate and interact with them during their lesson. This free flow of communication helps the teacher in many ways. It helps the teacher in making good educational decisions. If a student expresses his like for a certain kind of music and his dislike for another kind of music that is important information for a teacher to know. A good teacher will consider this when choosing appropriate music; music the student will enjoy practicing. However, this free communication does not mean that the teacher is duty bound to direct the student to music that is limited only to their area of interest. A teacher-student relationship is one where the teacher helps expand the view of his student. A good teacher will never discount the views of his student but he will want to expand the views to take in more territory. So, it is important for any child to know that in a teacher-student relationship the teacher is going to be expanding horizons and moving the students out of their “comfort zones” in order to expand those horizons. This is part of the teacher-student relationship.
Again, it is very helpful when a student is assertive. If a student is assertive and says I DON’T LIKE FINGER EXERCISES that is very useful information for a teacher to know. With information given that bluntly, the teacher can immediately respond. When I’m confronted with this type of assertiveness I do not take offense. I do not take it personally as an attack on my teaching. I want to know “why” the student asserted this. I will ask the student many questions to determine the “why”. Were the exercises too difficult. Were they uninteresting. Were they intimidating because of the speed I may have demonstrated the exercise. Were the exercises awkward for their hands. With the student’s assertiveness I can immediately go about solving a difficulty. However, this assertiveness does not mean I abandon the idea of finger exercises. A student needs to know that in a teacher-student relationship assertiveness does not translate into a capitulation on the teachers part.
We live in an age when bullying is an issue we must confront. We teach our children, quite correctly, not to be intimidated by bullies. We teach them to be confident in their convictions, to stand up for themselves as to not be influenced by the tactics of a bully. However, taking this attitude into the teacher-student relationship can be problematic. This attitude often comes up in a piano lesson when the teacher will make a correction in a student’s performance, on a piece they’ve prepared for their lesson. The student will resist the teacher’s instruction, confidently thinking the teacher is wrong in their evaluation. Often when this happens I will try to come from a different angle to make the same point. Again, in the teacher-student relationship the teacher is there to educate the student in their musical and pianistic understanding and this will often challenge the student, especially as the student gets into the junior high and high school years. Again, a major part of the teacher-student relationship is to correct and refine. All quality teachers do this with the student’s best interest in mind. It is never done to tear a student down; though, at times, especially if the student is having a bad day, it may feel like it. It is done to build them up and make the student better. To have a good teacher-student relationship this must be understood.
I certainly understand the difficult demands of raising children in the 21st century and if I were a parent I would certainly teach my children to interact easily with adults, to be assertive, to express themselves confidently. I would teach them in how to deal with strong personalities and bullies. I would do my best to always respect their thoughts and wishes. I would even give them a certain suspicion of adult authority figures. But, I would also temper these thoughts where there would be limits in their interaction with adults where adults would still be given due deference. I would temper their assertiveness with the ability to listen to the wishes of others. I would temper confidence with humility and teach them the best way to gain the respect of others is give due respect in return. I think these points will all go towards preparing young children to be good students where music lessons will be the resounding success we desire for student, parent and teacher. And, I think it will develop outstanding teacher-student relationships.