Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Question of the Week: Feb. 7, 2011

How can it be February already?! My first month of teaching has flown by, and I've been pretty pleased with my students' efforts and the progress they've been making. Last week was kind of a downer though. I think it's typical to see the initial enthusiasm wane a bit after the first month, but it's still not fun when you see bad practice habits (or lack thereof) start creeping back in.

One of the most frustrating aspects of being a teacher (at least for me) is the fact that I have so little control over so much of my students' lives. Now I'm not saying that I want to step in and micromanage, I'm merely observing that when I teach a lesson what I am working with is the product of a week I have had no control over and have no clue about. Perhaps the kid has had a really bad week and is struggling with self-esteem issues at school. Maybe he's had a big project due and that's been sapping all his time and energy. It may be that family problems or conflict has kept him from being as focused and dedicated as he may normally be. If it's a younger child, many times their level of preparation for a lesson depends largely on how much time the parent has had to spend with them in practice over the past week. In short, there are a whole host of factors that go into play that I never even get a glimpse of, and have absolutely no control over. And yet, I am expected to teach the lesson regardless. If they're prepared, great. If they're not prepared, I get creative. If they don't want to be there, we make the best of it.

While this adds a level of mystery and unpredictability to my weekly schedule that can be exciting, it also wreaks havoc on all my attempts at lesson planning. Half the time I find my plans completely tossed out the window as I encounter the reality of just what a student is prepared to perform.

So this leads to my question of the week for all teachers who find themselves frustrated in their best laid lesson plans:

What do you do when a student shows up grossly under-prepared and you suddenly have to alter your lesson plans? How do you deal with the issue, and how have you learned to become more flexible as a teacher?
I'd love your tips as I work to make myself a more flexible teacher as well!


  1. I've definitely felt the frustration of having underprepared students dash my well thought out lesson plans :( Sometimes when they come underprepared I use the time to practice sightreading duets that are a bit easier than their current playing abilities. Depending on their pieces, I review appropriate practice strategies and have them practice just one hand while I play the other hand giving them some great "Hands-separate" practice. I also like to add in a bit of the theory, improv, composition or eartraining that there never seems to be quite enough time for at "prepared" lessons each week.

  2. Heidi those are all great ideas :) Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I try to think of these situations as 'opportunities' since, as you mentioned, there's never enough time in prepared lessons to fit in eartraining and other activities.

    One activity I try to avoid is games. While I've been tempted to pull one out from time to time when a student shows up unprepared, I feel like that's almost rewarding students for their lack of effort.