One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child." - Carl Jung
It was not part of my plan to become a teacher. I forget the movie, but I remember a quote that went, "Those who can...DO. Those who can't...TEACH." I thought as I heard that dialogue that I would never want to hear those words spoken to me. Many years later, I became someone who "does." AND... I teach. In spite of politics, test scores and rhetoric, I teach.
I admit that I suffer from a lack of focus but there are two things I knew in my thirties and forties. One, I loved the performing arts, especially music and acting. Two, I loved young people. I wasn't prepared for pitfalls of teaching. I struggle and continue to struggle with my students who for so many reasons, can't be reached. That saddened me. I turned inward.
Two years ago, I learned more about teaching by becoming a student again. I had always wanted to learn how to sing properly and learn the proper technique. Through friends, I met my teacher, who truly taught me what teaching is and should be. He's a vocal and piano teacher and after many musicals and other performances, it seemed appropriate that I take a well-deserved lesson or two. Our one or two lessons has turned into twenty, thirty. I wanted to show my voice teacher I could sing and sing well. I wanted him to think I was truly gifted. When you are learning something, anything, you go through so many emotions. I realized then, that I am no different from my students and it annoyed me that up until this time in my career, I was just discovering how important that is. I had forgotten to bring passion, caught up in the pressures of the job.
As I walked into his studio, the first thing that startled me was how calm and warm it was. I gazed throughout the red room with all its antiques and artwork. There was so much to observe. There he was, soft-spoken, quietly peaceful in his tone. In the gentleness of ways, this man, has shown me that my lessons were all about mistakes and not at all about perfection. I was his student and I wasn't going to learn a thing by being afraid. He started with music that built my confidence and that I was comfortable with for my range. We always start with what I call "catching up." We talk. He listens to the tone of my voice and decides while listening, what I can accomplish and what songs would be appropriate given what I have been through that day. He knows this. I do not. The music he gives me each week is like opening a Christmas gift or a birthday gift. He has guided me, and become the seer of my present and yes, my cheerleader. But this is by far the end of the tale...
The last two years, as I have been studying voice, I have become a true student again, interested in improving and reaching beyond my own comfort zone. He taught me not to be afraid to make mistakes. It didn't take long for me to understand that what he was giving me as a student, I had to give my students: patience, knowledge, expertise, more patience and inspiration. When we work together, I can hit the notes poorly, or well. I am free to make all of the mistakes I want as long as I'm taking his efforts seriously. As I've been studying, I been walking into my classroom with the same realizations that my vocal teacher has about learning. Make the student unafraid to create, make mistakes, and love the process.
As I've become the student, I understand how my students must feel as they sit in front of me. Anxious, sometimes scared, sometimes not in the mood to create, I am their catalyst. My voice teacher understands and deciphers my "climate" before we do anything. This is an important thing for any teacher to examine. Assess the climate of the students or the classroom, and then determine what they are ready for and what they aren't. My classroom has artwork and all kinds of diversions for my students to gaze at and yes, some are great conversation pieces. When you're learning, you need to talk and question.
I work to create an environment where creativity is their personal journey. I just steer the ship. There are compliments, laughter and joy when there is a job well done and there is drill and repetitiveness when there are struggles. The environment makes it possible to explore potential not kill it.
My voice teacher is a child prodigy with the piano. He practices what he teaches. He works at his craft. I learned that the thing that separates a good teacher from an excellent teacher is that very fact. In the two years I've been inspired to do the same and as I learn, my students have learned. You can't measure the joy of learning with politics or test scores. But you can measure the willingness to learn by watching how eager a student is to improve because you've shown them it's acceptable to fail. And yes, there is a difference between failure as means to learn, and failure as a personal choice that all too often students make. Why are we afraid to acknowledge that piece of learning game? All I know is that excellent teachers know their students so well, that they can monitor instantaneously what they need and when they need it. Great teachers feed our spirit and our soul. Like a delicious meal, they make us want to savor every bite and come back for seconds.