Teachers are an essential part of anyone’s musical life. Many of us begin our musical journeys by taking lessons with various instructors, either through school, or privately. Some of us continue the tradition by offering lessons as part of our music careers.
For those of us who become educators, it’s important to know exactly what our role is so we can perform our jobs to the best of our ability. Some might say we are supposed to inspire our students. Others may suggest our job is simply to teach.
After over a decade of teaching music students, I’ve come to the personal conclusion that our only responsibility as educators is to focus on what is within our control: being genuine, and offering guidance.
Inspiring a student is a wonderful thing, but it’s not something we can manipulate. Inspiration is an internal experience; reflecting back to the student a natural resonance with what someone is doing or saying.
All we can do is be genuine in expressing our views on music, and with what we teach. While this means there will be some people who simply don’t resonate with us, it offers the advantage of being easier to be found by those who do. Develop teaching material and methods you resonate with personally, so you can focus on offering the best help possible to those like you.
As for teaching, the term “teacher” is misleading. In Victor Wooten’s book The Music Lesson, Victor’s fictional teacher Michael says: “You can only teach yourself… I can only show you things.”
No matter how skilled an instructor you are, if your student doesn’t take what you’ve shown them and do the work of teaching themselves, they won’t get anywhere. Teaching, in this sense, is another element outside of our control.
But offering guidance, based on our perspective and the experience we’ve gained through the years, is something we do control. We can assess a student’s progress, point them in the direction we think they need to go to reach their goals, and provide them with the material and tools they need to get there. We can work to develop and improve the guidance we offer as we continue each of our own musical journeys, so we are better able to serve our current and future students.
At the end of the day, a student’s path is their own. Whether or not they are curious about music, or inspired, or whether they do the work to get better or not, is up to them. As teachers, we can only be our genuine musical selves, and offer the best guidance we have at the time.