I have been asked to write an article for a publisher working on a book. Here is my section as a work in progress, from the heart. :) And since I am sick at home, I thought I’d get to work on it. :)
Teaching has to be organic. If teaching isn’t already a part of your drive, something you desire to spend your days doing, you will burn out. We all have had times we didn’t want to go to work. Often, the reasons vary as much as the personalities between the teachers. Maybe it has been a long week, maybe the parents have requested one too many times to reschedule, or maybe the kids simply won’t practice the assignments you’ve carefully jotted for them to follow… but in the end, do we really enjoy teaching? What drives us?
I have been teaching since I could talk. I used to invite my neighbor friend, Heather, over and would give her piano lessons – complete with bossy assignments, even though she was 3 years older and rather intimidating. My parents have seen the “world of computers” pick up momentum – and it has been great fun being able to help them with questions they sometimes have… I am always impressed with the number of systems they have had to conquer over time. My brother was my first “paid to teach” music student. Shortly before starting my studio, our parents saw I had an interest in teaching – and he had musical skill too. Piano is a great starting platform, and because this arrangement caused many sibling squabbles, they decided to pay me a dollar to teach him, and paid him a dollar to take the lessons. We managed 25 weeks before quitting, and are still great friends to this day. ;)
At my 8th grade graduation, my dad with tears in his eyes, gave a speech – I’ll never forget when he mentioned that the stubbornness in me had grown into determination and courage. It gave me a spark. It gave a name to the feeling I have had almost my entire life. When I want to do something, I will do it. Someday.
My brother, sister, and I were competitive swimmers for many years. One day, when Michael was very new to the sport and we had an inexperienced coach, I witnessed (without being able to help) my brother struggling, in the pool. He was 10 years old, exhausted, and I couldn’t do anything except scream. I was too far away. My mom jumped from the bleachers and pulled him out of the pool. Michael showed that day, that his stubbornness was equally as strong as determination. He became an amazing swimmer, and went on to survive some of the most difficult Marine Corps water challenges as a result of the training that later would come from a better coach.
Music has been a language in my life since I was 7. Back then, I didn’t know I could express myself through it, but I was learning that my fingers could create something beautiful. When I turned 14, I began learning to improvise with earnest. I was beginning to understand that my imagination and creativity could also arrange something beautiful. Music became a passion in my life, and I was eager to learn how it all worked. Not long after, my parents suggested I start teaching music lessons – and my career was born.
Teaching, music, and our desires to see music come alive for our students have to be a part of our daily code. Without a natural desire, a natural drive, and a natural instinct, we’ll teach for a season, and then switch careers. It is exhausting work, tedious, and draining. It takes our attention in the studio and out. It takes our focus day and night. It can have a toll on our family life and social circle. The proper balance of all of these things takes a lifetime to learn, but the rewards are unfathomable.
I don’t burn out. When I am truly discouraged, it is because I have lost focus. When I am lacking focus, it is because I have forgotten that lives are touched through our teaching. We must remember that teaching a growing knowledge of music construction isn’t accomplished through one long moment, or one long explanation, but rather by many tiny, repetitive, creative moments over the course of many years. I truly believe teachers burn out, because they forget the journey they had to take to reach the point at which they stand in that given moment. It took years of practice, dedication, hard work, and teachers who never gave up on them.
The teachers who were stubborn and didn’t let their students get away with too much silliness, the teachers who have been teaching for many years with success and possibly taught for very little compensation in the beginning, the teachers who were “stubborn” and held their ground, the teachers who unwaveringly NEVER gave up on their students or what could be accomplished, the teachers whose inspiration came from those who love them, the teachers who paid attention to their students’ needs and didn’t let them drown (or down) – those are the teachers who have been successful through the years, and they are the teachers we all need to strive to be – because without the drive to be a better teacher, one who can reach the students, we will burn out. If we find the drive to be the teacher we once had, or wish we could have had, we will love our jobs and we will never burn out.
These days, whenever a student cancels a lesson, drops lessons, or moves away, a part of my own teachers’ wisdom goes with them. The things I learned as a student are now being taught to the next generation – a heavy order. One of my most amazing teachers once told me, “You know, Kristin, you are my teacher’s granddaughter.” I had been adopted into the lineage of a great teacher before mine. Many of my students are now aspiring to be teachers someday, and my teacher’s teacher soon has many “great, great music grandchildren” approaching the horizon. The fact that one teacher can have such an impact is motivating enough for this teacher, to remember that my decision to teach or not, has an eternal handprint on the generations to come – and will keep me teaching for as long as I can breathe. Don’t ever tell me I’m burned out – because I will stubbornly refuse to give up and will politely inform you that my dad once said, “You are determined and courageous, Kristin. You would be a great teacher.”
I have added some of my favorite Piano Lesson Paintings for your enjoyment. :) Let me know what your favorites are, if you’d like. :)