Completing the Circuit (by David J. Pacific)
Completing the Circuit
Every so often, a parent of a student will make a comment or ask a question that just sticks with you. For me, that happened as I was getting ready to write this post. I casually mentioned my topic of choice which, up until I spoke with this parent, was going to be insight into what happens in beginning piano lessons and why X was critical in developing Y…how academic. The parent commented, “I would love something on what our jobs is as parents,” and I referred her to my more recent post on practicing tips for parents, but her comment stuck with me. It’s stuck in my head so much that I think the real question is, “what is it that you do as a private teacher and how do I help my child progress?”
For a parent, I have to imagine our jobs seem somewhat vague and the gauge of progress is marked by recitals and practice time at home. Ask us how your child is doing and we will usually say something positive, in some instances offer some more critical feedback, and usually try to sum up the lesson that week in thirty seconds as we end one lesson and begin another. Sometimes we email or make calls, but we rely heavily on the ever present notebook, markings in the music, and, most importantly, sending the student home knowing what they have to do. So, what is it that we private teachers do and where do you fit into all of this?
The first thing to address is that we couldn’t be more different from public school teachers. Attire and atmosphere aside, there is no cut and dry curriculum, no single set of standards to which we teach, no marker of passing or failing, and no singular way that any one student is taught. It is perhaps the greatest blessing and greatest curse of the private teacher and our relationship with parents. We are often minimally concerned with parents reinforcing our roles since we work directly and individually with each student one at a time within their own capacity. We gauge success on interest peaking and technical achievements that there simply isn’t a way to easily define. We rely on ourselves and our individual approaches to help each student move forward and build a positive relationship with playing their chosen instrument. As a parent, you may be left wondering, “where does that leave me and what do I do?”
It leaves you confused, but there’s a very good reason and that’s because we all came through the American educational system of quantifiable results, standardized testing, and a constant progression of learn this, then this, and then you will know that. Leaving out any mention of what is happening in education today, the history of this model is fairly recent. Believe it or not, our structure and system of education is modeled after the assembly line pioneered by the Ford Motor Company. Now, if you reflect on your own education, no matter the shifts that occur nearly by the decade, you will see that this model fits perfectly around how we were taught to learn and how progress is measured. Think of the diploma upon graduating high school as a representation of the car you just completed and college the road you will travel finding your way in academia. Concurrent to trends in public education, we private teachers were there all along, teaching our instruments and, while we evolved over time – becoming more modern using technology, offering less traditionally classical educations – not much has changed in the sense that the goal is to get you to love to play and to play well.
You may have noticed that I still haven’t answered where you, the parent, belong in all of this and how you might help your child succeed. The fact is, you can Google that and there will be tons of private teachers and academics out there who will offer a wide array of suggestions, make up fanciful games, suggest using this bit of technology or that, but I’ll offer you what I believe the truth is: you know your child better than we do. We can offer suggestions on what to do at home; we can offer advice on how you should never, ever force someone to practice; we can remind you that the love of practicing is built over years, not months, but that a positive relationship to music should be maintained at all times. There is no singular magic fix to make someone love an instrument faster or to get them to practice or play more. You know your child and their interests, their attention span, and you have to find a way to get those to work together with music making until playing is a brand new and personalized interest. That’s exactly what we do in private teaching. The parent that I spoke to earlier said her son loved performing, but practicing was having its ups and downs. I made a suggestion for a fun practice idea, but will it work? I have no idea. All I can hope is that if it doesn’t, maybe that will inspire a new idea at home.
We try our hardest to engage each student and we rely on you to be our cheerleader. We tell you things that seem to feel so contradictory to what you feel like should happen – how practicing can’t be treated like homework and it doesn’t just ‘get done’ or how it is completely fine that they only played their piece three times that week and we’re so thrilled that we can shoot for four times next week. We tell you it takes time and it does. If you want to know what the best day in private teaching is, it’s the day that a student asks their first real musical question based on inference. Those are the days I live for even if they didn’t practice that week.
Other articles by David J. Pacific: