It is beginning of 2019 and I have been reflecting on my teaching career of 12+ years before becoming a parent last year. Even before parenthood, my teaching has changed dramatically from when I started teaching my first student, without formal pedagogy training. However, as I gradually went back to work after the birth of my son, I began to notice a few things as a result of becoming a parent. I was now experiencing music learning from the parent side, and I am sure I will continue to learn new things as my son becomes old enough to participate in learning an instrument. Although not necessarily new, I have found that becoming a parent has reinforced the following 4 conclusions:
4. The Importance Of Being Firm
Babies (and dogs!) are the ultimate “people magnet”; when we are lining up at the grocery store, or taking the subway, people are bound to make comments or faces at a cute little baby. Sometimes they offer unsolicited advice, such as “he should smile more!” or “he’s crying because he’s too cold/hot” etc. I have learned to be polite, yet firm. This is also a good lesson for myself as a self-employed business owner. It is important to have boundaries, be firm, to trust in my own decisions. Teaching is my livelihood, not a hobby. For example, the scheduled lesson time is reserved for that student, so when they cancel with less than a day’s notice, or are not home when I arrive, I simply cannot reschedule another student in that short time frame, so it is unreasonable to expect not to pay for the lesson. Of course, there are exceptions!
Parent tip: respect the teacher’s time and studio policy. If you disagree with the policy, be sure to let the teacher know before agreeing to lessons.
3. The Importance of Being Flexible
As a new parent, I have had to offer myself grace. I realize that I cannot “do it all”. I have scaled back my schedule considerably from teaching 7 days a week plus a part-time childcare job 3-4 days/week, and volunteering as an music competition coordinator for my local music teachers’ association to “only” teaching 4 days a week and passing on the other responsibilities. I cannot do my job well AND spend quality time with my family with my previous number of commitments.
As such, I realized that I also need to be flexible when it comes to my students. I need to become more thoughtful and sensitive by trying to see things from their perspective. Parents are doing the best they can. Sometimes they may not know any better. Or they are unable to honor the teacher’s policy due to extenuating factors. Depending on the circumstances, I have offered makeup lessons for missed lessons with less than a day’s notice. I have been more accommodating for busy teenagers who have not practiced for a few weeks due to an overwhelming number of projects and tests, or adults who have been swamped with work during a busy tax season. Sometimes we move away from their usual pieces and just do some composing/improvisation or sightreading or listening activities or musical games during the lesson, and this is alright sometimes as long as they are learning and enjoying music, and continue to want to learn.
Parent tip: Give your teacher a head’s up as soon as possible if your child is having a particularly busy week. We will be better prepared at the lesson to go over those assignments or to do something else.
2. The Invaluable Input From Other Sources
I am privileged to get to know each of my students well in terms of their likes/dislikes, personalities, learning styles, etc. However, I come with a limited set of experiences and knowledge viewed through the lens of my own mindset or outlook. This brings up a couple of points:
- Choose your teacher wisely. Your child remembers and is deeply influenced by their teachers. Hire a teacher who is deeply passionate about what they do, and who also treats each student the way you would treat your own child – with love, empathy and respect.
- Even if you have a wonderfully experienced teacher, it is important to be exposed to new experiences. It is important to take your child out to experiences music in as many different ways as possible. For example, ask your teacher if there are group classes, masterclasses, competitions, exams, or recitals/performances that your child can participate in. Take advantage of the plethora of music festivals and concerts happening throughout the city of Toronto. Take group music classes over March Break or the summer and meet new students and teachers. I love taking my son to group music classes (Music Pups at Musica Music School), or the circle-time at my local drop-in centre. I also end up learning new songs, motions, ideas, and I can take those to further enrich my own lessons.
Parent tip: Don’t rely on your teacher for your child’s sole musical experience.
1. The Definition of Success
As a new parent, I just wanted to do things “right”. For example, mastering the art of swaddling a newborn so he would sleep well, giving plenty of “tummy time” to prevent a flat head, or asking the doctor about the latest curve on his growth chart. This was in order that any abnormalities may be quickly addressed. Naturally, parents compare how their children are faring. It is altogether too easy with google at my fingertips to convince myself that my son is behind in some way, or suffering from some brain disorder, etc. when in reality, he is doing fine and is completely normal (as the doctor tells me!)
Similarly, there is nothing wrong with comparing my student against another student. It can be difficult to avoid, especially if they are siblings! Comparing in itself is not bad because we need a baseline to make check if we are moving in the right direction, and to take remedial action if progress is atypical. However, the most meaningful definition of success has nothing to do with their achievement in a level or performance/competition. It is about improvement in their ability/skill and resilience. The most important measurement of success is how they are progressing and developing compared to where they started. Mistakes do not define you – it is your willingness to keep trying and striving for perfection.
Parent Tip: Celebrate your child’s successes and encourage perseverance.
If you are a teacher who is also a parent, how has becoming a parent changed your teaching? If you are a parent, what are things you wished your teacher knew about your child? Comments gladly welcomed!