Monday, November 26, 2012

On talent and teaching

It's not always easy to teach what you know.

Someone may be an amazing composer, or have a revolutionary approach to a skill, or even have delved deep into a particular style...but it doesn't speak one whit to their ability to teach those things.  Just as it takes skill to play taiko or do a kata, it takes skill to get in front of a group of people and teach them how to do those things.

From a student's standpoint, it's really really really hard to try to learn from someone who doesn't know what they're talking about.  I don't think many people would argue that.  But it's also incredibly dissatisfying to have someone trying to teach me something they DO know about, but lack the ability to teach it.

From a teacher's standpoint, I find it's my responsibility to know what the hell I'm talking about.  I've had to teach things I didn't understand all that well and felt stupid when questions came and my answers were weak.      I'm also responsible to make sure that I'm actually teaching, and not just "speaking" or "doing."

It's not enough to just be good at what you do if you want to teach it to others.  After all the workshops and seminars I've been to, there are four things that I wish all teachers could keep in mind.

-A good teacher knows their material.  A teacher that's not put a lot of thought into what they're teaching is simply parroting what they've themselves been taught, and it will show.
-A good teacher is someone who understands what they're doing enough to modify the plan when needed.  If you're inflexible with your lesson plan (square peg, round hole), then students are going to feel like they're secondary to your ego.
-A good teacher is checking the pulse of the class.  It's not enough to just ask, "get it?"  A little bit of empathy goes a long way here.  
-A good teacher instills the joy in what they do into their students.  Being distant or removed from your students is the best way to make sure they hate what you're teaching them.  Enthusiasm and being genuine is the ultimate delivery method.

There will always be students that wanted more of *this* and less of *that*, or who wish you'd done more/done less.  However, if they feel like you are working hard to actually teach and not just be there to show them how superawesome you are, then what you've taught might actually just sink in and be there years down the line.

Everyone should try to teach something to others in their groups at least once, to understand that it takes both forethought and skill to do well!

1 comment:

  1. This post reminded me of the best teacher I ever had. During middle school and high school, I played oboe...with braces. The embouchure for oboe tightly wraps your lips around your teeth, then squeezes them together around the reed. It hurts, and you cut your lips fast.

    My teacher for about 8 years was Cindy Thorp, and she's probably one of the best oboe teachers in the South Bay. She was always gentle and empathetic. She knew I really loved sports, and that I'd rather practice sports than play oboe (you know, because of the cut lips thing). Cindy would give me challenges, but she really knew how to read me and push me to the next step at the right time (learning vibrato and playing harder passages). She didn't let me control the lessons, but my abilities were incorporated into her lessons. If I had a band piece that was difficult, we could take the lesson to work on solos or fast passages and set aside some other technical work. I was still improving on my technical fingering, just using a different exercise.

    As a teacher, she had to have some credentials. She had played oboe for many years and was in the same orchestra as my middle school band teacher. She knew how to play, and how to break things down. If a passage is difficult, slow it down until you're comfortable and play it until you get it right consistently. Then, you can start increasing the tempo gradually. Metronomes became my best friend. Later on in taiko, other teachers would bring up that same concept of gradually increasing tempo when I was learning horsebeat. If I tripped up, we'd slow down again until I relaxed. By having the experience of playing consistently and even working my way (over time) to a faster tempo than was necessary, I could look forward to the passage rather than fear it (your Future Mistakes post).

    Finally, Cindy was able to do something that's very rare for teachers to do. She got me to practice right after I got home from a lesson. Torn lips, hour of playing. It was fun to play oboe. I wanted to get home and get even better. It was because Cindy provided this encouraging, helpful atmosphere that I kept playing oboe and kept wanting to play through pain.