Music for life base your teaching

Music for life base your teachingThe foundation of teaching should be close relationships. The better you know your students, the more inspired you will be to give them your all, and the better teacher you can be as you discover how they learn best, what inspires them and what upsets them. Students who feel understood and supported are more open to new things and to criticism. Kids need to be able to confide in a trusted adult outside the family--someone they can learn from and depend on, and you will enjoy getting to know your students.

Take time from every lesson to talk. Some teachers may believe this is a waste of time, but it will pay off in the end with students who are more committed to you and their music. Be genuinely interested in what they're doing--even if it's that dreaded soccer that eats up their practice time. Students may think they just come to learn about their instruments, but they will also learn about such life skills as setting goals, handling disappointments, perseverance after failure and keeping commitments. The skills they learn from these talks and their music will serve them the rest of their lives.

You should get to know parents, too. Parents can provide insight into their children, and parental involvement almost always boosts student achievement. Even disruptive parents can be "tamed." Starting lessons is hard for children, and parents can support them and you. When parents see what a good teacher you are, they will do everything to encourage their children to practice and keep taking lessons. Invite parents to lessons and recitals, chat with them at performances, hold music social events where they can be included and communicate regularly through a monthly letter or e-mails. You're missing a valuable resource if you don't use parents as part of your team.

To create mutual trust, let your students know you, too. Be a real person. Laugh at your own mistakes, relate anecdotes about your life and recall your struggles learning music so your students will see you not as just a teacher, but as a mentor and friend whom they will work hard to please.

Deepen your student-teacher partnership by making students feel important and appreciated. Take time during every lesson to compliment, even if it is about the cool book bag or the cute hair clip. Every compliment is like money in the bank that can be withdrawn when the student faces a problem or criticism. When students do something especially well, give them a huge compliment. Write little notes in their manuscript book, compliment them in front of other people or let them overhear your praise. Run out to the car after a lesson to say to parents, "He deserves an ice-cream cone on the way home!"

Enjoy Your Role as a Teacher

Being a music teacher isn't just a profession, it is a passion. (You know we're not in it for the money!) Have fun at the lessons and show your students you genuinely enjoy being their teacher. Every one of my students has heard me say many times, "I am so lucky to have you for a student!" and "What could be more fun than teaching someone like you?" Remind yourself of the good things about teaching, then tell your students. If you want them to be thrilled about taking lessons, show your own pleasure and enthusiasm. Excitement is more contagious than the flu.

Give It Your Best

If your students are not working hard, step back and analyze whether you are contributing to the problem. What have you given to them? Do you provide a well-balanced "meal" of technique, theory and literature? Do your students leave each lesson having learned something? Have you created performance opportunities? Do you have a plan for every lesson and a long-range plan for each student?

The harder you work for your students, the harder they will work for you. Instead of looking at the clock and bemoaning the fact that you still have 15 minutes to go, focus, instead, on how you can fit everything you've planned into that last 15 minutes. Be committed to being a great teacher and work incredibly hard to achieve that goal. When you do, you can start demanding more from your students.

Set High Standards

Decide what kind of students you want, what you are willing to sacrifice to make them that way and what level of commitment from students you are willing to accept. It takes work to raise your standards. Sometimes it may seem easier to let things slide, or to pass students when the piece is "good enough," but a determination of excellence pays off in the long run. When you have clear, consistent expectations for your students, you'll hear better music, you won't have to be a policeman, and you won't burn out because you're having too much fun. Your students won't want to quit either because once they've been through "boot camp" they will be too excited about their progress to stop.

We Have a Great Job

Being a music teacher can be the most rewarding job on earth when it is based on caring, trusting relationships between students and teachers who give it their all. Think of the miraculous gift of music you have given to your students and to everyone who hears them. Remind yourself of the wonderful contributions your teaching has made in your students' lives and the friendships you have gained. Above all, believe in what you're doing. You're not just teaching notes--you're touching lives.

Bonnie Blanchard is a freelance musician and flute instructor. Her creative ideas, rapport and unbridled enthusiasm for teaching have produced students who excel at their instruments and love what they are doing. She is the author of a new book series, Music for Life, for all musicians and teachers.