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The Importance of Being Earnest (or What It Takes To Be A Good Teacher)

By Published: July 12, 2012
If a new student comes to you and says he/she is at the intermediate level, don't take them at their word and don't assume they know some things; test them and make sure they are what they say they are. You'd be surprised at how many times a new student would say" I am playing ten years" and they still need to learn some basics and have so many bad habits that I would practically start them off as a beginner.

As a teacher you must evaluate your students in many ways. What kind of personality do they have? Are they somber, happy, moody etc.? How much work can they handle? Do you need to come down on them because he/she is lazy? Do you have to teach with a light touch? How much time do they have to practice? Many parents believe in keeping their kids busy. So besides school and music lessons, they might be on the soccer team, boy/girl scouts etc. The list goes on and on. You have to take all of this into account and decide what the best way to teach your student is. Sometimes the kid just doesn't have time for music and you can tell by the way they come in, prepared or unprepared. If they are yawning throughout the lesson, doesn't mean they are bored, they are probably exhausted from all they have to do. You may have to tell the parent that the kid is too busy for music lessons and that you would just be stealing their money if they continued. It's a hard choice, but if you are in it for the money as I said before, then quit!

Your best attribute as a teacher will be your honesty. You need to be honest to yourself and to your students and their parents. It's also important how you look, especially if you are taking on a young student who is accompanied by a parent. Dress like a professional. It gives you an air of authority and dignity. You may want to stay nice and loose, but you can be loose and dressed well too.

If you are building a teaching practice it is best for your students to bring a pad so you can write down the date and what you are giving them for a lesson. You would be surprised how fast you or they can forget what you taught. This is a failsafe against "Oh, I forgot" or , "You didn't give me that." Always keep the parent in the loop. If you student has a good lesson, tell the parent in front of the student. If the opposite is true don't be afraid to do the same thing. If you have to, set up a practice schedule for your student. There's nothing wrong with going that extra mile, too. If your lessons are supposed to be 45 minutes to an hour and you need extra time to get a point across, take the extra time. Your responsibility as a teacher doesn't stop when they walk out the door. Take advantage of the Internet. If there is something you think your student might need to expand their talent and you see it on the net, send them the link.

You may think of teaching as a part-time job to expand your income, but it takes a full-time effort to do it well. Teaching can also be a great learning tool for yourself as well. It will teach you to be patient. All the best teachers, whether it's in music or something else, show a love for what they are doing and great teachers inspire. Show your students how much you enjoy doing what you do. I had a teacher who loved what he did and in turn I loved to go for lessons each week—and, because of the way he was, I never brought in a bad lesson or had to repeat a lesson. When I think back to my early years, he was like a father to me. He recognized what I had and he nurtured it.

We in the arts have a special opportunity to be able to love what we do and enhance the world with our talent. In essence, that thing we do is not a job anymore, it's a lifestyle and we are lucky to have it. How many people can say they love their work? Not many.

So if you want to teach, teach and do it well. It is an obligation, a responsibility and for God's sake, do it in earnest!


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