Monday, October 9, 2006
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What Makes Good Teachers and Students? by Douglas Yeo
As a teacher and a lifetime student of the trombone, I have developed thoughts on what teachers should be able to expect of their students and what students should expect of their teachers.
Students often ask me what they should look for in a teacher. Here are the questions I encourage them to ask:
2) Does your teacher inspire you to be a better player?
3) Does your teacher recognize he isn't the best player in the world?
4) Does your teacher treat you with respect?
5) Does your teacher give you all the lessons you should receive under contract?
6) Does your teacher go to your recitals?
7) Does your teacher end a lesson always giving you a reason to keep playing the trombone?
8) Is your teacher available to talk about things other than trombone?
9) Does your teacher care that you have a life outside of the trombone?
10) Is your teacher constantly trying to become a better teacher and player himself?
11) Does your teacher seem concerned with being able to tell people that, after you are successful, you were "his" student, or is he proud of you for YOUR accomplishments?
12) Does your teacher encourage you to ask questions?
13) Does your teacher ask YOU questions?
14) Does your teacher TELL you everything to do or does he help you DISCOVER how to do things?
15) Is your teacher a role model for you in his personal life apart from the trombone?
16) Does your teacher encourage you when you are having a difficult time, either in life in general, or on the trombone?
17) Does your teacher have good communication skills?
18) Would you recommend your teacher to your best friend? Your mother? Your daughter? Your son?
There are more questions, of course, but this is a good start. The answers are self evident. Get the right answers and you probably have a good teacher. If not, well....... Of course these questions can be read by teachers - they are the list of attributes I aspire to myself as a teacher.
On the other side of the coin, teachers should have high expectations for their students, particularly if they aspire to the highest level of performance or if they want to be teachers themselves.
Here are the questions a teacher should ask about their student to determine if the student is really serious.
2) Does the student have an insatiable musical curiosity?
3) When you assign the student material to prepare for the next lesson, does he fully prepare it?
4) Does the student arrive punctually for lessons?
5) Does the student arrive warmed up and ready to play at a lesson?
6) If you asked a student to listen to a recording or bring in a score of a particular piece, does he do it and perhaps listen to MORE than just one recording? Does he have questions to ask you about it?
7) Does the student treat you with respect?
8) Does the student make excuses when he plays poorly or does he truthfully tell you why he is ill-prepared?
9) Does the student inspire his peers to want to be better players?
10) Does the student understand that he has much to learn from his peers even if he is a better player than them?
11) Does the student encourage his peers by attending their recitals?
12) Does the student seek out opportunities to play trombone in a variety of different kinds of musical ensembles?
13) Does the student make the effort to go hear orchestral performances "live?"
14) Does the student give you adequate lead time when he asks you to write him a recommendation?
15) Does the student respect your need for privacy (no phone calls at home unless they are very important, personal problems that need immediate attention, or emergencies, etc.)?
16) Does the student listen to and try suggestions you make?
17) Does the student trust that your years of experience are valuable and he can learn something from you even if what you say may not completely make sense right away?
18) Does the student find ways to contribute to the trombone community at school and at large by doing research, encouraging friends who are composers to write for trombone, etc?
19) Does the student "go the extra mile" when preparing lesson material?
20) Does the student demonstrate a cooperative, cheerful attitude when working with peers in ensemble such as orchestra, band, brass ensemble, trombone choir or other groups?
21) Is the student the kind of person/player you wish YOUR teacher could have had?
22) Is the student highly self-motivated?
23) Is the student willing to delay present pleasures in order to secure future rewards?
Likewise teachers need to be "servant-leaders." (I take this metaphor from my Christian faith, where Jesus Christ modeled this perfectly.) Teachers need to be people whose highest goal is to give their best to their students, to "serve" the needs of the students while modeling as leaders. This is not a matter of co-equals of station - it is a matter of a relationship between one who has knowledge to impart and one who has the thirst to learn. There is no place for teachers to engage in power or ego trips at the expense of students. Students have the right to expect that they will be treated fairly and forthrightly. I am often reminded of the Biblical adominition to those who would be teachers: "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment." (James 3:1 NASB). Teachers bear special responsibility because they work with young people. The potential for misusing their position is enormous. Teachers would do well to remember - all the time - that their students pay their salary and were it not for their students, they would not have a job. This concept of teachers acting as "servant-leaders" is one which could revolutionize the teaching profession.
Jacques Barzun, one of the great historians of our time, wrote the first modern biography of the great French Composer, Hector Berlioz. In it, Barzun comments on Berlioz and his teachers, and Barzun's words are remarkably insightful - as fresh to our ears today as they were when he penned them in 1950:
Any good teacher would prefer his most gifted pupil to come to him possessed of a good grounding in the rudiments and nothing more - no premature "style" to unlearn before going on. The reason is that every real education differs from every other, and that the valid discipline of any art is not something that can be taught. On this point our modern faith in ubiquitous "education" is touching but mistaken. In art one can teach only those who already know - those who instinctively feel - how words or paint or sounds can be handled. What makes them pupils is clumsiness, not ignorance. By trial and error (called exercises) an artist teaches himself, though not necessarily by himself. Schooling provides useful but limited aid - text-criticism and encouragement. The true teachers give goals, not rules, and even these goals are but the intermediate steps between what the student can do and what his ultimate wholly individual intention is. Besides, if he is ever to "speak in his own tongue," it is important that he not show too ready a hand at using at using his teacher's tricks. Better remain clumsy than turn slick. Berlioz at a later date could very justly speak of young Saint-Saens's "regrettable lack of inexperience." (Jacques Barzun. "Berlioz and the Romantic Century", Volume 1. Little, Brown and Company, Boston. 1950. p. 140.)
This subject of teachers and students reminds me of something else I've read many times. Since I love to read and write, one of my favorite books is called Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History edited by William Safire (1992, Norton - ISBN 0-393-03368-6). It's enlightening to read the words of some of the best communicators of the last 6000 years.
The last speech in the book is by Professor Jacob Neusner, professor of Judaic studies at Brown University, et. al. His speech, given to students at Elizabethtown University, on the social contract between teacher and student, has some great insight into what teachers and students are about. Here are some important samples (get the book - there's more great stuff like this, too):
Our theory of teaching is to tell students, 'Don't ask, discover!' The more we tell you, the less you learn. The more you learn, the more we teach. And learning takes place, in a country as practical and as rich in innovation as this country, when you find out for yourself. Professors are there to guide, to help, to goad, to irritate, to stimulate. Students are there to explore, to inquire, to ask questions, to experiment, to negotiate knowledge. The ideal teachers for our students therefore are people like Socrates, Jesus and Hillel, and what you have to ask of your professors is that they measure themselves by the model of Socrates, Jesus, and Hillel.
Great teachers don't teach. They help students learn. Students teach themselves. Three of the all-time greats - Socrates, Jesus, and his Jewish contemporary the sage Hillel - share a dislike of heavyweight speeches. They spoke briefly, painting pictures and telling tales ('parables'), and always raised more questions than they settled.
Socrates was the greatest philosopher of all time, and all he did was walk around the streets and ask people irritating questions. Jesus was certainly the most influential teacher in history, and his longest 'lecture' - for instance, the Sermon on the Mount - cannot have filled up an hour of classroom time or a page in a notebook. And Hillel's greatest lesson, in answer to someone who told him to teach the entire Torah while standing on one foot - 'What is hateful to yourself, don't do to someone else. That's the whole Torah, all the rest is commentary. Now go study' - directed people to go off and learn on their own.
The great teacher makes a few simple points. The powerful teacher leaves one or two fundamental truths. And the memorable teacher makes the point not by telling but by helping the students discover on their own. Learning takes place through discovery, not when you're told something but when you figure it out for yourself. All a really fine teacher does is make suggestions, point out problems, above all, ask questions, and more questions, and more questions....
What should you ask of your professors? (1) Don't tell me things; let me find out for myself. (2) But when I need help, give it to me. (3) And when my work is poor, don't tell me it's good. Many professors would rather be liked than be understood; not a few find it easier to indulge the students than teach them. Don't accept from professors compliments when they owe you criticism. And love them when they're tough. Proverbs says, 'Rebuke a wise person, and you'll be loved, rebuke a fool and you'll be hated.' Show yourselves wise, and you'll get professors who care about what you know.
What should your professors ask of you? (1) Don't ask me to sell you my subject; let me explain it to you. Once you're in the classroom, relevance is a settled question: this is what you want to know; now let me teach it. (2) Don't stop work in the middle of the semester. It's easy to start with enthusiasm, and it's easy to end with commitment. But in the middle of a course, it's hard to sustain your work; the beginning is out of sight, the end and goal and purpose of the course not yet on the horizon. Do your best when the weather looks bleak. (3) Don't sit back and wait to be told things; stay with me and allow the logic of the course to guide us both; join me, think with me...."
(c) Douglas Yeo, www.yeodoug.com. All rights reserved, used with permission
Douglas Yeo is the bass trombonist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, an international Yamaha performing artist, and a faculty member at the New England Conservatory of Music. He is an active performer, teacher, and clinician throughout the world. He graciously granted permission for us to use this article in our Quick Notes. Many other tremendous brass resources can be found on his website: http://www.yeodoug.com
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