February 27, 2013

Mean Teacher/Nice Teacher

On my trip out to Carnegie Hall last weekend I was told by a student that I'm "a lot more laid back and less intimidating" than she had previously thought. It made me reflect a bit on what kind of teaching styles I use in different settings. I've known for a long time that I'm stricter and less friendly in some situations than others but it was interesting hearing it from a student for the first time.

This particular student was basing her assessment off of my teaching style at a summer theater camp compared to working with me as the accompanist at her high school. At the theater camp I tend to adopt a tough-love "getting it done" style attitude. I strive for high quality productions and like to treat the kids with respect and high expectations, and to that end I often run very stern rehearsals and save the fun for down time. Working with the high schoolers though I'm usually easy-going (as long as they don't test me) and make a lot of jokes. It's easy to see how it can be confusing for someone who has experienced both of these sides.

My piano teaching attitudes are totally different from both of these and it can often vary from student to student. With my young students I like to keep things light and I'm rarely stern, even if they deserve it. I figure that this is a unique situation, where they are alone with an adult who isn't a family member, and I should make it as fun and least terrifying as possible.

As students get older I tend to get more stern and expect more of them. In college I had a professor who was extremely hard on me. He molded me into a much better pianist but I almost dropped the instrument and vowed not to teach like him. In the end I've probably adopted more of his style than I thought I would. I don't think any of my students would ever label me as cruel or scary, but I do have high expectations.

I always make sure to leave a student feeling good as she leaves my studio. I know what it can feel like entering a studio having not practiced, or leaving a lesson feeling a sense of dread about the next week. I think it's important to bring a student back up as much as you may have brought them down. Most of these students are having a tough enough time just being kids and don't need adults hurting their feelings. It also doesn't do any good to labor one thing for too long. If the kid didn't practice, it won't do any good to keep bugging them about it. I have a student who didn't practice for two months straight. We're the lessons painful? Absolutely, but they were painful for both of us and he felt that as much as I did without me tearing him apart for it week after week.

In the end I'm a fan of tough love, as long as the students know that I care about them as human beings. In the piano lesson it means that I make jokes, and try to understand them on their own level. In the classroom it means balancing work and play, and at rehearsals it means connecting to the kids outside of work time so they understand that I'm tough because I care.

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