Thursday, June 28, 2012

5 Truths for Successful, Joyful Teaching

  1. Being a successful teacher does NOT mean never losing a student: No matter whose choice it is (parent, teacher, student) to forgo lessons, this is not a sign of failure! Personalities don't always mesh, expectations may differ, other interests may take precedence...NO business has success 100% of the time. Why should I expect that of myself?
  2. A change of approach doesn't equal failure or lack of competence in planning. How many of us stick with even our daily schedules!? Things crop up, plans change, the unexpected happens...As a teacher the key is to be flexible, creative and roll with the punches. Successful teachers keep an open perspective and are willing to be flexible.
  3. A bad lesson should not be taken personally. How many times have I allowed my frustrations on a personal level impact the way I interact with others? Just because a student has an 'off' week doesn't mean that it's my fault! Successful teachers take both the good and the bad and see them for what they are.
  4. I am a teacher, not a mother. My role is limited. My goal is to instruct. I can instruct until I am blue in the face, but there are certain things that, as a teacher, I have no control over. Successful teachers realize their limitations, but capitalize on what they CAN do.
  5. Teaching should be about my love of music: It's easy to sometimes forget that initial motivation in the hectic stress of weekly lessons, but it's important to keep in mind the WHY. Otherwise, teaching becomes rote- not about ministering to others through music. Successful teachers ALWAYS keep the why in mind.
I tend to take myself WAY to seriously. Over-analysis is part of my personality. So is worrying. It can be so hard to just let things go instead of agonizing over what I should have done or should have said. I've been struggling with this a lot lately, and feeling pretty burnt out as a teacher. That's where this post comes from. God's been reminding me in little ways of the fact that I've been trying too hard to control my life and my studio and that I just need to let go and let Him have control.

I hope that this list is encouraging to other teachers out there who might be experiencing similar feelings of frustration. Please feel free to comment and add to my list!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Race is On!

After 2 weeks of summer lessons, I thought I'd share a shot of our music racetrack. Unfortunately, the second week of summer was the week that almost half of my studio went on vacation, so a lot of the racecars are still down at the starting line, and the race is still missing a few students, but you can see that there are a few who have entered the race.

I've also had several students who have already shown the initiative to memorize some of their music, which is what the checkered flags in the middle of the racetrack are for.

We're off to a pretty good start, but I'm hoping that this week will see more cars up and in the race!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Reason to Celebrate

I don't think there's any magic formula for teaching students how to practice. Wouldn't it be nice if that existed?! Or if students could somehow be programmed into becoming good practicers?

It's a constant struggle for me to impart good practice techniques and habits to my students and find ways to make sure that they sink in. And despite my best efforts, I feel like I'm often offering the same suggestions and advice over and over.

Once in a while, however, I find that some of what I've said has actually stuck! Those are the times I celebrate.

Yesterday, one of my students and I were discussing the need to make sure the details were part of the music; things like the dynamics and an idea of the mood and suggested speed.

That's when he turned to me and said:

"Yeah, I was practicing this week and I was really having a hard time with this piece. Then I looked at the tempo and realized that I was trying to play it too fast. I slowed it down and I thought it made a big difference. Then I was playing it this morning and I think it was one of the best times I'd ever played it."

There it was! From his own mouth, completely unsolicited by me! He'd taken the initiative at home to pay attention, and found out all on his own that those details do make a big difference! Definitely a moment to celebrate. I especially love it when my students make these kind of discoveries all on their own rather than through my constant nagging. 

Have you had any reasons to celebrate in your studio recently?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Summer 2012 Practice Incentive!

This week has sped by! I can't believe it's Sunday evening, and lessons start up TOMORROW! I think I'm all prepared... ;)

One of the things I most look forward to at the start of each new term is a new practice incentive! I have so much fun coming up with a theme and getting everything together. This summer, our theme is "The Great Music Race". Students will be racing their cars around the track to see who can get closest to the finish line by the end of the summer. The racetrack will also get decorated over the term, as each piece memorized will earn a student a flag to put on the track.

Our race track is all completed and ready to go! I'll provide more pictures at the end of the week once students have their cars all set up at the starting line.

I'm also continuing our flashcard study by using Susan Paradis' Notes in the Fast Lane worksheets. I have all 12 levels laminated and I use them with students from time to time, but I thought that this summer would be the perfect opportunity to really make use of those excellent note drills. As an extra incentive, each student who makes it to Level 6 over the 8 weeks of the summer term will earn a ticket to a pizza party at the end of the term!

I'm hoping to see some dedicated practice from my students over these summer months. What are you doing to help motivate your studios over the summer?!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Summer Hymn Project

I'm still working on putting the finishing touches on my summer practice incentive, but I hope to tie up all the loose ends today and have things ready to share either later today or tomorrow.

However, in the meantime, I thought I'd share about a special project that I'll be working on with two of my students over the summer.

I have two very precocious beginning students- siblings. After our first few lessons, they started coming to their lessons every week talking about how they found certain musical elements in their hymnal at church over the week. Their mom shared with me how they eagerly examine the hymns looking for rhythms, notes and other technical markings- especially ones they don't know so that they can ask me at their next lesson! ;)

I decided to capitalize on their enthusiasm and interest by doing a special hymn project with them over the summer. Each week, they'll be examining one of the hymns sung in church a little more closely, and then we'll discuss their findings at their lesson.

You can see a copy of the worksheet I made up for the project below. I am a lover of good old hymnology, so I am thrilled to have this opportunity to share about the beauty of these old hymns with some of my young students!

I haven't included this worksheet on my printables page, but if you'd like a copy for use in your own studio, or maybe for a fun project at home with your kids, please feel free to let me know by sending me an email or commenting below. 

Have you ever done a fun project like this with any of your students?

Monday, June 4, 2012


I'm heaving a deep sigh of contentment this morning. Make-up lesson week is behind me, and I have an entire week off before the summer term starts! I'll be taking the week off from blogging and any studio-related business, but I'll be back on Friday to share about my upcoming summer practice incentives.

The end of a term is always a bittersweet time for me, especially if I happen to be losing any students. Yesterday was the final lesson with one of my high school students. She's moving on to another teacher. The focus in my studio is on beginning through early-intermediate students, and when students reach the upper end of that bracket, I often talk with them about the option to move on to another teacher who can start challenging them with more intermediate-level repertoire and technique. Some are resistant, while others are open to the idea of a new teacher and new experiences.

This particular student and her mother had resisted for two terms, but we finally came to the conclusion that this was indeed the right time to move on and embrace a change.I will miss this student terribly, but I know in my heart that this was the right change for her.

Have you ever passed a student on, knowing it was the best thing for them? How do you know when it is the right time for a change?