Monday, September 19, 2011

I Am The Teacher

I never wanted to be a teacher ever. The very idea of planning lessons, preparing resources, and dealing with unruly students, seemed too much like hard work. Besides, I wasn't the most patient of people, and teachers have to be patient. No, whatever I wanted to do in life, it wasn't teaching.

My first experience of real teaching was when I help to prepare my sister Charlotte for her very first piano exam. Lesson after lesson went by, ending with me in my grumpiest mood, and Charlotte generally in tears. We were both glad once the exam was over and I could stop interfering with her playing.

Then Mum asked me to teach the two younger girls. I had the books and the piano and the students. I was set to go. We sat down for the very first lesson. Sophie chattered the whole way through about things besides piano. She played at top speed, like a 1000km/h hurricane. Then she began to sulk as I grimly pointed out every single mistake she'd made in the whole lesson.

Gemma-Rose wasn't much better. I explained things ten times, and she still couldn't tell me where we were in the piece, or what note was which. She eventually stormed off, leaving me sitting on the piano stool, wondering what to tell Mum.

After only a few weeks, the lessons died away, much to my secret relief. I was left in peace for months, free to enjoy my own lessons, play my own pieces, and do nothing else.

Then, "Mum, I'd really like to learn to play the piano properly. I want to be as good as Charlotte and Immy." Sophie gave Mum her best pleading eyes.

"Well, maybe Imogen will teach you after her exam."

Sophie didn't forget, and as soon as the exams were over, she was ready to be taught. I sat down for the first lesson, filled with dread. This was going to be awful. Sophie would have forgotten everything. She'd get grumpy the first time I tried to correct her. She would...

Half an hour whizzed by without my noticing. Only the appearance of Gemma-Rose stopped the lesson. Wow, that hadn't been so bad after all. I was in a good mood for Gemma-Rose's lesson, and she was in a good mood too. She bounced off after the lesson to tell Mum all the wonderful things she had learnt.

Meanwhile, I was buzzing with ideas for the next lessons. Gemma-Rose wasn't very good at recognising notes. Maybe I could make or find some cards with notes on them. And I could find extra pieces for her to learn. Sophie could learn scales. She was always asking when she could learn them.

A whole new world of teaching was laid out before me. Enthusiastically I made the note flashcards, downloaded the free sheet music, and taught lessons. The girls really enjoyed their piano lessons. After every lesson they ran off to tell Mum all the new things they'd learnt.

Today was their last lesson of the term. Sophie aced her note practice and played all her pieces perfectly. Gemma-Rose enjoyed using the cards too. And today I showed them the pieces they're going to play next term. They can hardly wait for the next term to begin! Not to say that I'm an amazing teacher, but that they're awesome students.

And what about me, the reluctant teacher? Well, I have to admit I'm enjoying the lessons too. Every week gives me new ideas as to how I can help my pupils learn better. I think I could keep on teaching them. And I think they've taught me things too, like how to be patient, and how to give correction without annoying people. I may be the teacher, but they are teaching me too!

Do you teach anyone? Do you like teaching them, or do you find it hard work? Do you have any tips I can use?


  1. That's funny- It is my ambition to become a violin teacher. I believe that this is because I have an amazing teacher. She is always encouraging and generous with her knowlege.

  2. It sounds like a perfect arrangement, Immy. Are you still thinking of becoming a doctor, or do you have a few different ideas about what you'd like to do?

  3. I always said that I'd NEVER be a teacher, EVER. But I want to be a Dominican sister when I'm old enough, and they're a teaching order....I'm changing my mind about my willingness to try it. And I actually do enjoy teaching, when my pupil learns. :) Patience isn't my best virtue, though.

    Yesterday I taught my grandmother to knit. I know that sounds kind of funny, because usually the grandmother teaches the granddaughter... but she learned very quickly, and I really enjoyed teaching her. It makes me proud to have given somebody a new talent. So maybe teaching won't be so bad after all.

  4. MAS, a good teacher really helps doesn't it? my piano teacher is a really good teacher, except that he's a bit forgetful sometimes. Good luck with becoming a violin teacher.

  5. Aunty Vicky, I'm still thinking of being a doctor, though most people seem to think I'm mad because I'm not going in for music! But being a full time teacher doesn't really appeal to me at all.

  6. Victoria, I know some Dominican nuns and they are some of the best teachers I know. They taught us religion and musical plays, and have gone on to start a school. It's great that you want to be a nun.

    I love the feeling of having taught someone a skill, though the actual teaching can be quite hard. Sometimes I struggle for patience too.

  7. Wow, that is amazing. My mom wanted me to teach my little sister how to play the piano. We tried but so far most of our efforts have resolved into something like your first results. Maybe sometime we'll actually get around to the second part! :)

    Thank you for sharing Imogen! Have a blessed day!


  8. I'm sure you will sort it out eventually. The most important thing I found, was to remember to praise as well as correct, and to do a variety of things. That way they don't get too bored. What area do you have the most problems in? I'm very interested.

  9. Our challenge is she can play pretty well by ear, and she doesn't see the need to really learn music (*ahem* I didn't either thus I never really got far). She just wants to play the piano.

    So I am watching myself years ago and I know my mistakes and I am trying to help her not have the same problems as I did...and well we have very different personalities that clash ideas frequently. I should try praise more often, I know that does bring around beautiful results.

    Thanks Imogen!

  10. I always envy people who can play by ear. I have a friend who plays the piano brilliantly. She can learn to play a piece of music by listening to it on youtube. How I long to be able to do that. However, I have found that I'm actually quite good at sightreading music, which partially makes up for it.

  11. I took four years of piano but, unfortunately, my teacher wasn't very good. But I've enough to get by and some beautiful recital pieces. I'm (slowly) teaching myself more, but lately my youngest sister (11) has shown interest in playing the piano. She has a pretty good ear and I think she'll pick it up fast if we ever get around to lessons on a regular basis. So just wondering as I go into this - any tips?

  12. Magdalen, my first tip would be, have regular lessons. It gives the pupil a reason to practice every week if they know that they're definitely going to have another lesson.

    I would also suggest not just sticking to a book, but looking around for other pieces. There are some really good pieces that can be downloaded off the internet for free. They're excellent for beginners.

    Also, if you're learning some theory, such as reviewing note names, or other symbols, make it into a game. You can always either make or download some flashcards if your sister would be interested in those sorts of things.

    I also find that girls of that age really want to move along quickly, so I'd suggest that you keep her busy with lots of different pieces that will cement what you're trying to teach her.

    And most of all, have fun. If you're not just sitting there and waiting for the lesson to be over, but can have a laugh over some ridiculous mistake, it makes the lesson far more enjoyable.

    I hope these tips help. It's only what I've found from teaching my own sisters. If you need any online resources, I've found a few sites that offer free downloadable music, flashcards, and other things.

    Thanks for taking the time to stop and comment!