TL:DR: Why aren't "practice teachers" more of a thing?
I remember reading about the concept of "practice teachers" a while back (I can't remember where I read it, but I seem to recall them mentioning it was much more popular in Europe than here).
Anyways, I suppose I didn't give it much thought at the time, but in the past few months I begin thinking about it, because I have several students, both younger and older, that have expressed to me that they would enjoy being involved in the learning process in other students.
In thinking about how they could be involved without being able to play at a high level, I had the epiphany that the single biggest issue I have as a teacher - and, it would seem, the biggest issue for *most* teachers - is simply having young students practice with both quantity and quality at home. In an ideal world, one of the parents would act as the "practice teacher" at home until the child develops a good work ethic on their own, but I've come to accept that this is no longer realistic to expect of the average family; there are just too many distractions/obligations in today's world for the parents to have the energy to be good practice teachers (although YES, there are exceptions to this).
My students are always so engaged in our lessons that I find it baffling that at home it's a totally different story. I try to impart to the parents *what* I'm doing that makes lessons engaging, but it just never seems to carry over to the at-home situation. The "fire" for teaching just isn't there. I really think it's just that parents these days are so tired. Dual-income, tons of extracurriculars, etc.... They just don't have the energy to care as much as I do. I genuinely enjoy teaching and would still do it even if I had income from a different source and didn't need the money (although perhaps not 40+ students, lol). I taught plenty before I ever got paid for it. But this same attitude just isn't realistic to expect in the average parent. And I really can't blame them: teaching is all I do, so it's easier for me to have the energy to do it all the time... if I were in their shoes, I would probably have the same lack of overall energy.
Anyhow, my personal solution to this issue is going to be to train a small fleet of my better students, who have expressed interest in the idea of teaching, to be able to be effective practice teachers. Basically, I want them to keep practice engaging, give basic advice, and most importantly just make sure the practice actually happens. But they also need to know which lines *not* to cross: for example, they are not to worry about technique except in the most basic way, they are not to assign new songs, etc.... They will have to teach for free for a while, and then can charge a modest fee for their hourly services (something similar to what a babysitter would charge). I will then create "profile pages" of each practice teacher that will list their basic stats (such as experience, playing level, etc...), prices, and a picture of them, and parents will be able to pick out which one they feel is best to use. They can then contact them directly.
In doing this, they will be receiving important experience in teaching while also helping the students who would have inevitably failed if they didn't start practicing eventually, and the parents will be happy because their child is happy, improving, and a big burden has been lifted off of their shoulders (parents really hate having to admit to me each week that they failed in helping their child to practice).
Off-topic but still related: it's my fantasy to build a system/school where each tier of student has the opportunity to assist in the learning process of the lower tiers of students, while still being a student themselves.... thus leading to a system of immersion and cooperation, not to mention the benefits to one's own playing when you begin teaching (the biggest leaps in my own playing ability were epiphanies from trying to explain something to someone else). And kids love explaining things to other kids.
Anyways, my *official* question is this: why aren't "practice teachers" more of a thing? Are they just too expensive for most parents? And if that's the reasoning, couldn't it be argued that it's more expensive to just keep throwing money into lessons that don't go anywhere?
Or perhaps there's just not a system in place for "practice teachers" to even exist? Perhaps they're all scared off by the idea that you have to be at a professional level before even considering any form of teaching?
Not just too expensive, but then you have to schedule your child's violin practice down to the minute. People with families need more flexibility.
Here's my take as both a teacher and a parent of musicians: Teachers have spent their whole life developing efficient and regular practice habits. Kids just don't have that. And most parents have a lot going on. If I could get my kids to do their 15 minutes in between other activities, homework, and family time, I was happy.
Paul: I have found that time/scheduling isn't *actually* the primary limiting factor for most people. Although people will cite "time" as the main problem, I have found it's actually a lack of energy that causes the most problems, and "time" is just a stand-in word for lack of energy. People don't like sounding like they're making excuses, and a lack of time makes it sound like you're so impossibly busy that you couldn't possibly squeeze in the 15 minutes each day. I'm sure there are exceptions, but I have found this to be the case the majority of the time.
However, in my experience, it isn't that enriching unless the child actually improves. No one likes playing the same level of material year after year. Human beings need a sense of progress to be enriched.
I see, Julie. I suppose I should clarify, myself, that the students I'm referring to - whom I believe would benefit greatly from having access to a practice teacher - are the ones who practice *zero*, or close to zero, despite all the best advice to both them and their parents on repeated occasions. They are students who essentially make no progress at all.
I teach in school. I would be glad if there are "homework teacher" to do homework with my students. However, society expects us to teach students to do homework at home, and to teach them things like self discipline, time management, give them motivation / punishment etc. to ensure they do it. I don't know if my analogy make sense… if it does, I think guiding your students to "learn to learn" is an integral part of a teacher's core duty, we're also paid to do that. My two cents.
Ideally, a parent or perhaps older sibling should oversee practicing every night for at least 15 minutes. When my daughter started three years ago, I returned to lessons, regular practice, and studying music. I feel that it is important to lead by example and it gives us something we can do together. At first I sat in on our daughter's lessons. I would keep track of the important things to work on during practice through the week. After a while, I would wait in the waiting area and her teacher would just come out at the end and update me on what we should be working on and general progress.
Horace said: "I think guiding your students to "learn to learn" is an integral part of a teacher's core duty, we're also paid to do that."
My wife and I have apprentices (usually college students or recent graduates) who serve as our practice partners for students who need that support because they are not mature enough yet to focus their practice themselves, or their parent(s) are unable to provide direction/feedback for their practice for the reasons above. Through this partnership, they also improve their own ability to assess the effectiveness of their practice strategies, on their way to becoming teachers themselves.
Thanks for the info, Gene! Really good to know I'm not the only one with the idea!
I'm wondering if part of the benefit isn't just creating a peer group to compare against. If you're doing private lessons, it is often hard to know how much progress you are or aren't making. And relying on the teacher to tell you that can really slow things down. Having a friend to listen to you (and vice versa) can keep you on your game a bit more, as well as training you how to listen better.
If I may add my memories as a student here as a sort of counterpoint: I started lessons at 11 and went there alone. My mother took me to the first lesson but did not stay for it. I would have resented it if she had; my autonomy was important to me--more important I guess than rapid progress on the violin (my progress was quite satisfactory though). She never interfered with my practicing. She nagged when she did not hear me scratch my fiddle.* The nagging I could tolerate--even appreciated it, more than that would have irritated me.
.”By opening up to additional teachers, you open up the possibility of them covering some of these gaps to the benefit of the student. All I'm suggesting is to not lose that opportunity even though there might well be some problems which arise in the process of learning, for the teacher and student.”
Yes Erik, I agree with most of your points.
I suggest trying something like this:
I think this is a great idea. My worry would be you'll have difficulty making it cheap enough for parents, yet a good enough wage for the older students.
I should add, my wife and I only do this for children in the single digit ages who don't yet have an established practice routine. Our apprentices (who are also our students as well) never teach any new material during their sessions, only guiding the students and answering questions through their practice regimen.
"sometimes our apprentices are paid more to be a practice buddy than the exploitative strip mall music "schools" pay their actual teachers for instruction."
I think the issue is, not everyone that takes lessons is all that interested or invested in pursuing it long-term. It's very easy for families to put learning an instrument into the same category as swimming, math tutoring, cooking class, yoga, etc. There's just not the intensity of commitment to it--and that's fine!
There's a definitely a market for those types, Gene, and honestly I'd be broke if there wasn't! :D
A music school I know does not pay practice buddies. They function very much as "unpaid interns." The school charges $5 per 30 min session but their rent out studio space at $30 an hour so no one is making much money.
I restarted violin attending a local music school. The location was just close to where I live.
This is definitely a thing out here (in the Bay Area). And it really starts to add up. Our friends' daughter was taking violin lessons in middle school. Her teacher ($120/hr) insisted on a $2-3K violin as the minimal acceptable instrument for her ~Suzuki Book 5 lessons. She was told that 1 hr of practice per night was the minimum acceptable amount, and was strongly encouraged to hire a practice coach for several afternoons a week to help her along. I'm sure it helped–but at some point the whole arrangement became too much for the family and she stopped playing. I wonder sometimes: if she'd had a teacher who was a little less intense, would she still be playing? Maybe not.
Pretty valid concerns, Katie. I do wonder if kids who rely heavily on external motivational factors will ever really succeed in any meaningful way.
I think a practice coach is most effective in a situation where a very young student would normally have a parent practicing with him but neither parent is available. I actually had something like this myself as a young beginner; my mother was very busy with many obligations and my father, having only one arm due to a childhood accident, was clearly not a candidate to be my "home teacher." So my older sister, a high school senior who took lessons from the same teacher and who was reasonably (Viotti 22) advanced, worked with me.
Good info, Mary. I wonder how you would have done without that advantage? Interesting to speculate on the role it had on your overall success.
I honestly do not remember much about that period of my learning--I was five! And I had only been playing for eight months or so when my sister went away to college; after that I was definitely on my own at home. I think my eventual success had much more to do with my teachers, in whom I was incredibly fortunate. My first two teachers were Alice Joy Lewis (from age five to eight) and Doris Gazda (age eight through fourteen). Perhaps you've heard of them. :-)
We approach by Rice University violin performance graduate students to baby-sit, and they worked out nicely as practice teachers. We pay them regular baby-sitting rate, and teaching rates for the time they practiced. The money we used for daycare shifted to the graduate students. So the financial impact is minimum, and we get quality help for us parents.
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