It’s teaching time again. I’ve had 16 first lessons in the past two weeks – almost all continuing students, but in each case the first lesson of a new school year and the first after a long summer break.
Every year I find it helpful to reflect on the past and set goals for the future, so I always ask something like, “what do you want to work on this semester?” And usually the response is something like, “I don’t know – um – technique?”
This year I began to change it, and I asked, “What are you good at now? And what do you want to get better at?”
First, I observed that EVERY student, without exception, ignored the first question and answered only the second. Second, I was surprised that EVERY student gave me a clearer, more focused response to the new version of my question than the old version. Even though no one was willing initially to come out and say that they did things well, having that anchor to their internal storytelling caused them to answer far more thoughtfully.
Having a new goal in place is great for them, of course, but it also gave me an immediate focus for each lesson. It informed the etudes and solos I decided to start them on. It informed the warmup exercises I suggested for them. It informed the way we worked on scales, which is pretty much ALWAYS the first bit of the lesson – instead of asking for a D scale, I asked some of them for a D scale with crystal clear articulation and more front to each note. I asked some for a D scale in which they were hyper analytical about intonation. I asked some for a D scale with focus on embouchure, and on how much they were doing with their mouths. Look at how high your fingers are! Is that necessary? We played scales with extroverted and introverted vibrato. We did scales fast and slow. It was a good set of first lessons.
And this exercise was dramatically helpful for me, too. As a teacher, I think I excel at the in-the-moment lesson. The student standing in front of me gets my energy and attention, and I can nearly always IMPROVE something for them over the course of the lesson. Where I am not so great is the big picture. I spend too much time in the moment, not looking ahead, and I allow teaching days to exhaust me to the degree that I shut down all thoughts about my students when they AREN’T in front of me.
So my resolution this term is to put in just a little extra energy at the end of the day – each teaching day – to reflect on what we did, and to set an intention and put a plan in place for the next week. My goal is to have a slightly broader sense of the big picture for each student, and to re-energize myself by planning, as I do in other aspects of my life and work, and to be able to raise EVERYONE, including myself, to a next level.
Happy Back to School!
Good luck to us all.