Thursday, January 3, 2013

What Does It Take to Teach?

Recently I had a conversation with one of my music students about becoming a private music teacher. As he asked about the requirements, I realized that there is little oversight in the field. Anyone can claim to be a qualified teacher. It's sad, isn't it! I'm sure many of us have worked with students who received poor instruction from a previous "teacher." The process of correcting, clarifying, and relearning can be difficult and frustrating for both the student and teacher. While speaking to this potential future teacher, I wanted to make sure that I was clear about the ethical requirements I would put on anyone considering teaching.


  • Have a realistic understanding of your skill sets. It is imperative that you know what you are capable of doing as well as what you cannot do. In addition to knowing your skills, however, you must be honest about what you are capable of teaching! Not too long ago, I had a student that was wanting to learn to play "gospel" music -- a word that has several meanings in the deep South! After an introductory lesson and several discussions clarifying the student's goals, I realized I was not the best teacher for her. While I would have enjoyed working with this gifted student, I would not have been serving her needs in the best possible way and helping her find a more qualified teacher was the ethical decision. For many teachers, this issue arises more often as students progress into the intermediate and advanced levels. At what point do you need to admit that the student has gleaned everything you have to offer? (I've experienced this first-hand as a teenager and I plan to share my situation and experience in the coming weeks.)
  • Have formal training. Having a degree in music is the best situation, but I'm not implying that only those with a degree should teach. I WILL say that only musicians with SIGNIFICANT amounts of training should venture into teaching students of any level......especially beginners! I have found that those considering teaching have convinced themselves that they are qualified as long as they know more than the student. That's simply not true! A qualified teacher is able to look far down the road and see the implications of each successive concept that is introduced. 
  • Have a desire to help others make music. This should be obvious, but often it's not the case. If you are teaching music for the money or the flexible schedule, you are barking up the wrong tree! The driving force behind teaching must be the love of the music. This is the reason that I am very selective in the number of beginning students that I teach. Elementary music education is not my passion. While I could fill my schedule with beginning lessons and maintain a full studio, I know that the students deserve a teacher who finds tremendous fulfillment in teaching the basic concepts of music. When do I teach a beginner? Normally I tend to take on those students who have had a bad experience with another teacher as well as later beginners (8-12 year-olds). I find that I am able to connect with them more than their younger counterparts.
I find that these are some of the key aspects. Other things (like location, reputation, ability to instruct and share knowledge) can be developed over time. What would you add to my list? I'd love to hear from you!