Teaching is More Than Just Dropping Information Off and Walking Away

Written by: April Vargo

People go into teaching for a myriad of reasons.  Some want to make a difference, some love working with people, some have a passion for something and want to share it, and some are in love with the hours and time off. 

That last point, the hours and time off, are absolutely a drawing point for some teachers.  There are plenty of teachers who clock in at a certain time and stay only as long as they have to.  They don't work any longer than absolutely necessary, sometimes beat the students out of the door, and take advantage of their free time.  Honestly, there are plenty of people in the corporate world who chose to do the same thing. 

I, unfortunately for my personal life, was never the person who ran for the door trying to leave as early as possible.  I have always been one of the last people out of the building when my work was completed.  Now that I run a business centered around the performing arts and teaching, my students get their scheduled time, but I also put in a lot of time outside of their lessons.  I am constantly thinking about who they are, what they're working towards, and how I can better help them.  I prep for their lessons, find new material, connect with parents, and research opportunities.  I'll be out and about, see something, and think, "oh my gosh, that would be a perfect song for (insert name) or this would help to explain that concept they are struggling with."

I wouldn't imagine doing anything else.  I enjoy what I do, and I get that it extends beyond the work day, or their scheduled lesson time.  The families and students I serve deserve that. 

I am a firm believer that if I accept money, you will get quality and you'll get all of me.  I'm not going to give you a half-assed product, roam social media during your lesson time, or tell you you should know how to do this already.  I am invested in what I'm doing and who I'm working with. 

Recently I've come in contact with some other professionals who have very different belief systems.  I am definitely not here to diminish another professional or say that my way is better.  That's arrogant and ignorant.  However, I get upset when I hear things like, "well there's nothing I could do for them," "they should know that already," "oh I actually don't have experience, just listen to this soundtrack and figure it out," "all (insert gender here) can do this, why can't you." 

That's not teaching, that's degrading another person.  You're not helping someone to learn or improve, you're tearing someone down and confusing them even more. In some cases you could be doing some serious damage if you're setting someone out to do a task they aren't ready for or equipped to do....the sad thing is they trust you because you're their teacher. 

People, whether it be children or adults, are not computers that you just import information in and walk away letting them program themselves.  You have to present knowledge, instill passion, and work to make sure they know how to use this newfound knowledge. 

A big part of teaching is playing detective.  Why don't you know something?  What's confusing you?  How do you feel about this?  What past experiences are you pulling from or are getting in your way?  How can we relate this to what you already know? 

Once you start getting answers, it's a matter of trial and error to figure out what sticks.  People are complicated, there are many factors at play when they come to a classroom or study with an instructor.  If something happened during their day that bothers them, that comes with them.  If there is something going on at home that's on their mind, that comes with them.  If they're worried about something, that comes with them.  If they haven't slept or eaten, that comes with them.  If something amazing just happened in their lives, that comes with them. 

You're not just teaching a person, you're teaching all of the baggage they carry around with them all day long.  You have to be willing to talk to them, help them sort things out, and then get some teaching in.  If you can figure out what's going on, you can relate your instruction to the individual themselves. 

I have been recently working with a group of students in an acting class.  They worked on monologues and we worked on connecting each individual to a character, technique, and method they are comfortable with.  I spent time asking each student a series of questions, praising work well done, and giving them points on how they could improve.  Several comments I received at the end of the section were, "no one's ever taken the time to ask me questions, or made me think about myself."  "I'm not usually a main character, I don't have experience in the spotlight, I got to see what it feels like." 

When these students had the chance to get to be the center of attention, get to focus on their strengths and improve upon their weaknesses they flourished and had their opportunity to shine. 

I just had a vocal student who I've been working with for a while tell me that it's been frustrating to find a vocal teacher to connect to  This individual had vocal teacher after vocal teacher telling them "you should know how to sing," "if you don't know this I can't teach you," "you're not doing it right let's just move on."  Never once did these teachers stop and say, "let's take some time to figure this out and get to the bottom of this," "how can I help you."  Maybe they are used to working with professionals, however, you should then only be accepting professional students, not someone who needs a different level of instruction. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being picky and saying I only work with (this type) of student.  I set age limits, and prefer to work with students who take their lessons seriously.  Experience level is not that important to me, passion and drive are.  If you don't have the passion and drive to succeed, that's something I can't teach or force you to do.  I prefer not to work with students who are forced to take lessons.  I will be upfront and honest with parents and say that I don't believe this is a good fit.  Honestly, I haven't had to do that very often, but it has come up from time to time.  If I'm not comfortable working with someone then I make it known.  

A teacher is someone who will make a difference in your life, leave a lasting impression - sometimes good, sometimes bad.  What type of legacy do you want to leave?  When you chose to teach someone something, you are giving them a part of who you are and trying to help them to be the best person they can possibly be.  Help people to grow and prosper, the world will thank you! 


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