Written by Thomas McGregor
Published: May 29, 2014 at 2:56 AM [UTC]
As I do every Tuesday afternoon, I drove up eagerly to the house of one of my students. My student, age 6, is a very energetic and music loving child in which I enjoy teaching very much. Sometimes I pinch myself in disbelief with the quality of students that I am privileged to have a chance to impact. As I park the car I notice that my student is running out to greet me with a, more than normal, excited glow about her. I pop out of the car, exclaiming "What are you so excited about today?" In which the answer came bolting out of her month before I had barley finished my question. "Mr. Thomas! Mr. Thomas! I learned Boil em' Cabbage!!!" She proclaimed with the enthusiasm of a thousand children. Puzzled, I knelt down to her level and said, softly, "But you already know Boil em' Cabbage. I taught it to you several months ago." She looked up at me sharply with her big brown eyes, cocked a secretive smile and whispered, "No Mr. Thomas... I learned it on the guitar!"
She is a piano student.
This five year old energetic little girl took it upon herself to learn a song she loved on another instrument that happened to be in the same house. This is one of those moments as a teacher where you want nothing more but to encourage the behavior of your student so there is a positive experience engulfing the actions she took to think outside the box and act on inspiration. And that is exactly what I did. We exchanged high-fives and smiles as we walked into the house so she could show me the great work she had done -- on the guitar.
I understand that I might not showcase the same mind set as some of colleagues regarding this type of self-inititive action by students. In fact, it has been brought to my attention recently that teachers are shunning and putting down students for this type of activity. It is my understanding that teachers may feel as though students are "stepping out of bounds" or into the teachers territory when a students takes it upon themselves to learn a new song or transfer knowledge to another instrument, arguing that the technical components of that activity needs to be monitored by a "professional". A solid argument; did my student have perfect technical form on the guitar after only knowing piano? No, of course not. But by focusing on that, or shunning, would automatically stifle that light in her eyes as she proudly performed for me a song she transferred on her own, making that experience negative. We should all agree that music is for FUN first, not to be used as a tool to decided a hierarchal system between masters and mortals. Where have we gone so dreadfully wrong to think that stifling initiative and "outside-the-classroom" thinking is a part of a teachers job description?
When we dig deep and understand ourselves as teachers we find that we are much more than conduits of information -- we are enablers. As instructors our chief aim should be to enable each student to be able to operate on the principles and systems that we have taught them. In the end, they will go off and live lives without the helpful hand of an instructor. But isn't that the goal with everything else?; In math, science, homemaking, accounting, car maintenance, we never prescribe an instructor for ever. We teach them everything we know so they will be able to live on without us and grow from the foundational information we have laid before them. Teaching music should be the same. Our chief aim should be to enable them to take discipline, dedication, commitment, and memorization as skills that can be applied to other aspects of their lives. Furthermore, we should heavily encourage self-starter behavior so that they understand the value of exploring, being curious and venturing into unknown lands of creativity and expression. By doing this we are cultivating a future that is bright and prosperous via the values we install through our mode of teaching in the minds of children.
As instructors, we have a choice to make -- right now. Are we going to allow space for our future to expand and explore? Or are we going to claim that we know best all the time nothing should be done outside of the classroom?
As a professional, tell me you've never learned a song without a teacher. You can't.
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