Welcome to Music Matters Blog! My name is Natalie Wickham and I operate an independent piano studio in Derby, Kansas. Ever since I was a little girl I’ve wanted to be a teacher. I just never would have guessed that I would be a piano teacher! At the age of 17 I began teaching lessons to a family of three boys, not because I wanted to, but because their Mom begged me until I couldn’t say no anymore. Word quickly spread in our small community that I was teaching and soon I had several days’ worth of students. The only problem was that I didn’t enjoy teaching piano. In fact, most days I dreaded it. Until I caught the vision for something more…
About a year and a half after I first began teaching, I attended a weeklong piano pedagogy workshop that was transforming. The workshop instructor was a dynamic young woman who just oozed energy and excitement. It was contagious! She did far-out things like use colored pens to write her students’ assignments. What?! Assignments were to be boring, written in pencil, preferably on a blank sheet of paper in a drab looking spiral notebook. Right? She made big, exaggerated motions when explaining concepts to her students. If I even tried that my students would look at me like I was crazy! Wouldn’t they? Or, they might think I was actually having (dare I say it?)…f.u.n. while I was teaching. Horrors! Needless to say, I left that workshop with a whole different image in my mind of what it could look like to be a piano teacher. The only problem was that now I felt completely inadequate and incapable of being the kind of teacher I wanted to be. I had only a fragment of the knowledge and experience of this inspiring teacher. Only one thing kept me going when I was ready to throw in the towel.
I was spending time in my morning Bible reading one day when I came across a sentence in a verse that seemed to be God’s promise to me. It was in Ezekiel 36:36 and it read, “I the LORD have spoken it, and I will do it.” In that moment I felt certain that my role as a piano teacher was no longer a self-imposed duty, but a Divine calling, at least for this time in my life. God had called me to teach and He would do it through me. I cannot tell you how often I have quoted those words to myself when I feel inadequate or burned out or overwhelmed. With that promise in mind I determined to become the best teacher I possibly could for the glory of God and the benefit of the families and students in my studio.
As soon as I arrived home, I began taking lessons from another teacher, joined several on-line music teachers forums and became more active in our local music teachers associations – asking questions, attending workshops, participating in festivals, etc. My students bombed the first couple years of our state Music Progressions evaluations. But I had warned them of that possibility and we plodded on, learning and growing together. I gained valuable experience and received practical tips from other teachers so that we would be better prepared in the future. I started thinking creatively and using some of the ideas I’d come across in my other teaching experiences to enhance piano lessons for my students. I started developing a theme each year with specific goals to work toward and a variety of incentives to inspire each student to work hard and do his or her best. We organized special events and poured hours into planning and preparing for every detail so that family and friends would enjoy it.
The studio is now painted in bright red and yellow with a border of black hand-painted musical notes dancing across the walls where the colors meet. Framed prints of colorful flowers adorn each wall. I still have those days that I don’t look forward to teaching, but honestly, I love what I do. I love my students and I love having the privilege of teaching them to play the piano. There is still so much to learn. And I’m still not the teacher I want to be. But now I have a cup of colored pens sitting next to my piano that I use to write all of my students’ assignments… 😀