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Struggling piano teacher here... (Read 3938 times)

Offline pianolin94

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Struggling piano teacher here...
« on: October 11, 2014, 04:56:35 AM »
Hi, so I've been a lurker for a while but never posted. This might be on the long side but I really need help with some things...

I'm in my 5th-6th year of teaching, and I'm in college. I've had six students total - not all at once - and most of them have been teenagers. I like teaching teenagers.

But then I took on two eight-year-olds this year. And they've been a challenge...I don't know if it's me or them. I'm willing to admit that it's me - I've never really liked kids all that much (but I'm trying to change that). I almost always experience anxiety when I teach. My face gets all warm, I shake, I can't get my thoughts together, and I'm hyper-conscious of everything. I feel terrible/defeated afterwards and I question my major in music and possible career path. (Note: I experience social anxiety in some settings but it hasn't been like this in a long time.)

Something else that I've noticed is that I get frustrated when I can't get my point across and the student doesn't understand. Especially after multiple explanations/tries. I usually end up showing my 8-year-olds how to do everything but then they just mimic and don't actually read the music. I feel like I'm constantly correcting, and I feel bad because they've got to be frustrated too.

I can't really limit myself to teenagers only at this point because there are very few teens who take up piano as beginners.

I've been considering shadowing a piano teacher but I'm not sure I have the time. My schedule is really tight and I'm at school for eight or more hours most days. I watched my former teacher teach a few beginner lessons but it was years ago and it was way different watching it vs. teaching it.

Sorry for the length. To sum up: any suggestions regarding anxiety, explaining things, and frustration? Is there anything I could be doing (like shadowing) to alleviate this? What can be doing to improve as a teacher?
Currently working on:
Handel - keyboard suite in E major
Ravel - Sonatine
Chopin - Polonaise in A flat op. 53 "Heroic"
Muczynski - sonata op. 9 no. 1
Villa Lobos - Minstrel Impressions

Offline Mayla

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Re: Struggling piano teacher here...
«Reply #1 on: October 11, 2014, 07:01:50 AM »
.
"The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving"  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Offline arafelsings

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Re: Struggling piano teacher here...
«Reply #2 on: January 11, 2015, 06:49:41 PM »
several thoughts occur. 

first, it really sounds to me as if you haven't defined/found/articulated a method that comprehensively addresses the complete range of needs in learning to play piano, that matches your personal style and ideology.  a fabulous pianist does not a fabulous teacher make -- you have to have a very clear idea of sequential building blocks required to go from A-Z.  Having this as a solid resource -- knowing WHY you're teaching WHAT you're teaching -- may help reduce your anxiety.  There are several useful resources to investigate -- the required Bastien "How to Teach..." book, an old Oxford University Press book on teaching, and Seymour Bernstein's "musicology" and "keyboard choreography", to name some of my favorites.  (Seymour Berstein also has several YouTube videos that just rock.)

ok.  so you've establishing that personal grounding.  now, it's important to address your issue of "not liking" your students.  really.  that's a huge problem.  so you have to decipher why you don't like them.  is it them, or you?  do you not like them because you (inwardly) think this is a waste of your time.  if so, stop now. 

on the other hand, do you not enjoy teaching because you feel frustrated and stupid?  or do you just not enjoy or appreciate the delightfully open and fluid minds of the young?  do you not enjoy those "light bulb's" going off?  do you not enjoy knowing that learning to play (anything) helps develop self discipline, self direction, self motivation, a work ethic and a character ethic, and a host of other joyous traits IN ADDITION TO watching them grow into playing like a dream?

you have to figure out WHY you're trying to teach, if you don't want to teach.  logically then, you really have to define why you want to teach.  otherwise, stop abusing yourself (and your students) and go find something to do that makes you feel like happy dancing all the time.  really.  treat yourself (and others) well.  it should be a rule. 

good luck. 

Offline falala

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Re: Struggling piano teacher here...
«Reply #3 on: January 16, 2015, 10:50:09 PM »
I agree with all that from arafelsings. To that, I would add that when trying to address the "sequential building blocks required to go from A-Z", in young beginners, most teachers don't break things down anywhere near enough, and take all kinds of things for granted that they don't even know they're taking for granted.

If you really want to address this, I would advise looking into specialised approaches to early childhood music education like Kodaly, Orff etc. (I wonder whether you could maybe do this through your college program?) Most of these are not piano-based, but that's partly the point. Young kids need to have experience of exploring music via singing, general rhythm playing, musical games etc, before the more specific and formal skills generally taught in piano lessons can really make sense to them.

I think one of the biggest mistakes we often make in music education is to forget the crucial role of INFORMAL musical experience. One of those teenagers comes to you for piano lessons and you call them a "beginner" - but they're not a beginner, at all. They've had 13 or 15 or however many years of hearing music, singing along, sharing music with friends, doing class music activities at school, etc. etc. All of that stuff is there, informing what they do when they first place their hands on the piano.

By contrast, an 8 year old has a lot less of that (some, of course, but less).

For me, this only started to make sense when I started teaching Kodaly-based musicianship in primary schools, and then using that as the basis for early piano instruction. I ended up spending ages creating my own custom materials (there are some available commercially, but I wasn't really happy with any of the ones I'd seen) but it was worth it.

The good news is that once you take it on, it's an endlessly fascinating field.

Offline green

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Re: Struggling piano teacher here...
«Reply #4 on: January 22, 2015, 05:19:17 PM »
I agree with all that from arafelsings. To that, I would add that when trying to address the "sequential building blocks required to go from A-Z", in young beginners, most teachers don't break things down anywhere near enough, and take all kinds of things for granted that they don't even know they're taking for granted.

If you really want to address this, I would advise looking into specialised approaches to early childhood music education like Kodaly, Orff etc. (I wonder whether you could maybe do this through your college program?) Most of these are not piano-based, but that's partly the point. Young kids need to have experience of exploring music via singing, general rhythm playing, musical games etc, before the more specific and formal skills generally taught in piano lessons can really make sense to them.

I think one of the biggest mistakes we often make in music education is to forget the crucial role of INFORMAL musical experience. One of those teenagers comes to you for piano lessons and you call them a "beginner" - but they're not a beginner, at all. They've had 13 or 15 or however many years of hearing music, singing along, sharing music with friends, doing class music activities at school, etc. etc. All of that stuff is there, informing what they do when they first place their hands on the piano.

By contrast, an 8 year old has a lot less of that (some, of course, but less).

For me, this only started to make sense when I started teaching Kodaly-based musicianship in primary schools, and then using that as the basis for early piano instruction. I ended up spending ages creating my own custom materials (there are some available commercially, but I wasn't really happy with any of the ones I'd seen) but it was worth it.

The good news is that once you take it on, it's an endlessly fascinating field.

Do you have any samples of the materials you produce or sites that you like for Kodaly and the sort of training that is involved for piano teachers? I have more and more younger students, 4 year olds are my biggest challenge at the moment but I love working with beginners now from an early age more than older students. Thanks!

Offline pts1

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Re: Struggling piano teacher here...
«Reply #5 on: January 27, 2015, 04:59:26 PM »
All the advice in the world about teaching approaches is not going to help, IMO.

You very clearly stated the core problem.

You don't like children.

How can you possibly spend a great deal of time, energy, effort trying to teach a group of people you don't really like?

In our stupidly politically correct society -- and especially the sub-group of "teaching" -- not liking children is something akin to being the anti-Christ... at least to admit it.

I don't like children either... never have... never will. But unlike you, I'm not trying to force myself to like them.

You would never know this observing me in interactions with them, however... I'm polite, caring, attempt to talk with them in their area of interest and capability, etc.

But these interactions are very brief... few and far between.

I would NEVER teach them or set myself up in situations alien to my personality... i.e. baby sitter, elementary school teacher, etc.,

There is NOTHING WRONG WITH NOT LIKING CHILDREN.

There IS something wrong with forcing yourself into a profession utterly dependent on your liking children to an extreme, since you're going to have to tolerate all of their child qualities as part of the fabric of teaching them.

Offline asiantraveller101

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Re: Struggling piano teacher here...
«Reply #6 on: August 07, 2015, 05:54:55 PM »
Not liking children does not translate into not being able to teach children per se. I think the most important point is to treat them with respect. Children are super perceptive and sensitive. They pick up on everything. My point is that we don't need to like them to teach them well, but to give them the dignity, respect and space to grow and learn. 

Additional pointers you may want to consider:
1. Are you expecting too much from yourself when it comes to teaching? Do you set yourself up, thus creating anxiety even before you start teaching? Being prepared before lessons may help (have a custom individual lesson plan for each child) and try to keep to a few key points that you want to address. Focus on only a few key points (or even just one) in each lesson. Do not overwhelm the child or yourself.
2. Make things simple. Simplicity in everything, especially in your verbal instruction. Most of time, we tend to talk or try to explain too much.
3. Incorporate the attitude of "exploration." Sometimes, sequential teaching is not the only way to teach. Allow yourself the freedom to experiment and think "outside the box." For example, are there other ways to make the message/lesson come across to the child? What about multi-sensory approach when teaching rhythm from a particular passage or piece?
4. I do like the idea of shadowing another master teacher. I learned a lot in my younger days from observing other teachers. I learned what to do and what not to do in teaching.
5. Have "free time" with your students. Often we are so caught up with teaching, that the moment the student arrives for lessons, we want to start right away and make sure they go away with something. This pressure is especially strong when most children take only short lessons, for eg. 30 minute lesson. We do not allow ourselves to chat and have little talks with them. Allow yourself to find out more about your students. Talk and play musical games with them. This will allow you build a closer understanding and lessen your anxiety level.

Well, I wish you well in your teaching. The points I made above are from my humble experience, and I just want to share them with you. You may or may not agree with them, but at least, I know you are concerned enough to bring your issues up for discussion.


Offline ziomamusic

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Re: Struggling piano teacher here...
«Reply #7 on: September 08, 2015, 02:23:30 AM »
To teach a kid you kinda have to be a kid. Kids like games. Play music games with them.

I was in the same situation as you, I had about 4 teenage students and never really taught kids. I also wasnt a kids person. Until one year i got a 7 year old and that was really interesting.

One word. Games.

Its easy. Youtube some easy piano games and play with your kid students. I also play them with my teenage students and i love it when they roll their eyes, its fun lol.

Play a few piano games with them then throw there a few exercises and songs. Time flies when your having fun.
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Offline dcstudio

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Re: Struggling piano teacher here...
«Reply #8 on: September 08, 2015, 02:28:41 PM »
To teach a kid you kinda have to be a kid. Kids like games. Play music games with them.
Time flies when your having fun.

that is the best advice there is..   OP---I am passed 20 years teaching--but I felt the same way as you do for my first few years.

I heard from someone that my former professor--a man who was a walking encyclopedia of pedagogy and piano literature and the chair of the piano department at my university for 30 years--felt under-qualified to teach...  he made this confession on his deathbed...  or so I was told.. 

my point is...  it's soooo normal to feel that way.  Not good...just normal.  It may never go away so learn to work around it.   Plan your lesson time and you will feel more confident,


Offline ameliatan

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Re: Struggling piano teacher here...
«Reply #9 on: September 10, 2015, 08:59:32 AM »
Teaching young children is totally different from teenagers! You need alot of patience, and yes, you got to enjoy playing music games. Most kids will only learn by playing these games! My youngest student is 4 years, and this age, the whole lesson is like a game! For older students (age 7+) I will play at least 2 games a lesson. Try doing research on internet for music games. You can also invent your own, experiment and see what works. For example, most of my students enjoy playing 'Hangman' - something good for playing trouble spots. Others like 'tick tack toe' - playing 3 x correctly in a row, and you win! I also give prizes if they win. You'll be surprised how many times they want to play it to ensure they win!  I try to make a game list for every concept taught in lesson and refer to it. The most important is to use what works. I have students who loves playing 'treasure hunt' for learning dynamics, and pitch and basically ANYTHING! I basically hide a lollipop in my studio and they have to find it. This is just the tip of iceberg. Lots and lots of other games too. Have fun! 

Offline dcstudio

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Re: Struggling piano teacher here...
«Reply #10 on: September 10, 2015, 03:02:14 PM »
Teaching young children is totally different from teenagers! You need alot of patience, and yes, you got to enjoy playing music games. Most kids will only learn by playing these games! My youngest student is 4 years, and this age, the whole lesson is like a game! For older students (age 7+) I will play at least 2 games a lesson. Try doing research on internet for music games. You can also invent your own, experiment and see what works. For example, most of my students enjoy playing 'Hangman' - something good for playing trouble spots. Others like 'tick tack toe' - playing 3 x correctly in a row, and you win! I also give prizes if they win. You'll be surprised how many times they want to play it to ensure they win!  I try to make a game list for every concept taught in lesson and refer to it. The most important is to use what works. I have students who loves playing 'treasure hunt' for learning dynamics, and pitch and basically ANYTHING! I basically hide a lollipop in my studio and they have to find it. This is just the tip of iceberg. Lots and lots of other games too. Have fun! 

GOOD ADVICE!!! :)

Offline pianotv

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Re: Struggling piano teacher here...
«Reply #11 on: September 14, 2015, 03:25:06 PM »
I don't know how much this helps, but when I started teaching, I was given a whole bunch of younger students right off the bat (worked at a music school), and it terrified me and I hated it. As an only child, I pretty much had never spent any appreciable amount of time with kids, so I didn't "get" them. But after a decade, I really enjoy teaching (slightly older) kids, 8 and up. I absolutely refuse to teach children younger than 6! But for me, teaching kids was a learned skill for sure. I kind of just had to wing it, and eventually I figured out how to communicate with them, how to teach them in a way they would understand, etc. Good luck!
Allysia @pianotv.net

Offline dcstudio

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Re: Struggling piano teacher here...
«Reply #12 on: September 14, 2015, 03:50:05 PM »
. I kind of just had to wing it, and eventually I figured out how to communicate with them, how to teach them in a way they would understand, etc. Good luck!

and that is how it is for all of us I do believe.  there are some things about teaching music that you can only learn on the job.  ;)