As another school year comes to an end, we all scramble to finish up what we have to with our students. The summer begins to draw ever closer and you try your hardest to make sure your students can transition seamlessly and begin to piece together your students' plans for the next few years. While in the past this has been a very exciting time, this year is not the same. My middle schoolers are very excited to carry on their "orch dork-ness" into next year and the kids going into high school seem deflated about orchestra. They used to be gun ho about playing for at least another 4 years, but now they just wanna get the credit and bail. What gives? As a teacher, I haven't done anything different, so what caused this sudden downward spiral of disinterest?
I have to ask myself, are we looking at a new breed of students? Is this the first generation of children that checks out after a brief moment of being engaged in something? The "instant gratification" child could be the cause of technology offering us instant answers at the palm of our hands. After all, the 8th graders going into high school were mainly born in the year 2000 right? This is the last class that learned how to write in cursive!!! These guys have ALL been around, worked on, or been given an iPad or some sort of smart device that gives them the ability to have information instantly.
While we musicians know that music is entirely the opposite of instant gratification, it surprises me at times that kids even stick with something for a whole year. I, mean I've had kids quit after 1 lesson (I promise it wasn't my fault, the kid wanted to be told how good they were and wasn't looking for actual direction) but never have I seen such a large spike. Yes it's disheartening and sad, but I'm not going to change my approach.
As a private teacher, I immediately notice that every single student is different. They're human so they all have something unique about them, which is what I think makes all of us special. Since I get to see them on an individual basis, it's very easy to make a connection with the student because I'm able to engage them with questions, especially when we first meet. I feel it's important to find out what you have in common as this could be the best way to connect with a kid. Simply put, if you end up talking about Star Wars for a few minutes with a kid who's a huge fan, then the door could open for you to relate it to the lesson. Maybe even letting them call you "Lord Javier" because they think it's awesome, will give them the motivation to listen to what you have to say. Yes, my middle schoolers address me as "lord" if you were wondering.
The point is, no matter how much correcting, practicing, or offering of solutions you give to your students, "you can't teach 'em if you can't reach 'em". (I'm not sure if that's an actual quote, but it's mine now!!). I am from Texas so it's staying as is... At any rate, I went on this soap box for a reason.
As there are many new graduates that are ready to make a difference in the education world, remember that you're not there for a paycheck (You would probably do something entirely different if you were). You are there for the children, the student. The effective teacher should be a mentor to the student not a dictator. When the student admires you and what you do, then you can "reach 'em". This obviously takes a little time and effort, so it's important to get a feel for things. You can learn a lot from listening to what the kids have to say. Believe me, it's just as rewarding when you get to learn something from them too. You don't have all the answers, so don't act like you know everything. Just be your beautiful self and communicate with your new family of little people (maybe the older kids aren't so little).
We never stop learning so don't be afraid to take advice from your colleagues, peers, and teachers from different subject areas, regardless of age. That's the beauty of life, if we are willing to learn, we can keep getting smarter!! Truthfully I chose to commit my life to music because there is always something to learn or someone to learn from. If we take this attitude, you create a great back drop for a positive experience for both you and the student. Only then, will we really be able to "teach 'em".
So going back to the question I posed earlier, Are we seeing a new breed of student? I guess the answer is that only time will tell. In the meantime, I'm going to continue to teach my kids how to love music and do it well. Is perfection necessary? Nah. What is required is a passion, some dedication, and a little goal setting. I can show you how to play well. When you really think about it, these things I just listed are required out of life itself. I just happen to teach that stuff through music.