Years ago I heard someone make a distinction by stating, “I don’t teach piano; I teach students to play the piano.” This has stuck with me ever since I heard it, and guides my perspective from week to week as I work with my students. One of the reasons I love teaching so much is because I really love my students! Every single one of them has a unique personality, God-given talents, varied interests, differing perspectives, etc. I love talking with them, sharing ideas, discussing life events, and getting input from them.
Numerous times, I have heard other teachers exclaim about how nice it is to have “adult interaction” in contrast with spending so much time each day with kids (a.k.a. their students). It’s also not uncommon to hear others advise new teachers to keep their personal life separate from their professional life. They caution them to keep their dealings with their studio families professional and not to get too personal with them. I couldn’t disagree more with either of these mindsets! For starters, when I’m working with my students, I speak to them on the same level that I would most adults. I don’t dumb down my vocabulary. If they don’t understand something, we discuss it in more detail, or I alter my explanation, but I don’t automatically assume that they won’t understand me if I explain it in the most precise terminology. And we discuss all sorts of things – philosophies of musical styles, historical elements of time periods, theory concepts…as well as many non-music topics. 🙂
Secondly, my studio operates with almost a full overlap between a professional and personal approach. I intentionally make efforts to get to know my students and families on a personal level. One of the ways I do this is by attending other events in which my students are involved – plays, concerts, sports games, community fairs, etc. Two weekends ago, several of my students were competing at a local 4-H event, so I went to watch and support them. When I arrived, I ran into a neighbor friend who asked what I was doing there. When I told her I was watching my students in the piano competition, she was in awe and said that in many years of her daughters competing in the event their piano teacher has never once attended.
Now I realize that there is not always the flexibility to be able to attend events and support our students in their various endeavors. But I strongly believe that one of the primary ways we can invest in our students as people, not just as musicians, is by getting to know them and their families on a personal level – caring about them and who they are outside of the piano lesson. This is why I look forward to lessons – not only do I have the opportunity to impart a love for music and the skills to play the piano, but I also get to see and spend time with some of my favorite people!