Famous cellist Janos Starker said once that a musician should bring all the energy possible to his instrument but use as little of it as possible. In his opinion, too much energy given to a performance takes its toll on the performer and perhaps even on the music if the performer’s musicianship is not deep enough. I believe this brilliant thought should be applied to teaching – or to anything else where transmission is involved.
Instrument teachers are normally performers first and therefore have lots of the energy needed to put across the music to the public but must learn how to ration it. We all know and have probably seen the result of a teacher not putting enough energy into her work, but what happens however when you, the teacher, put too much energy into your teaching? Teacher Burnout:
- You get tired.
- You get emotionally drained.
- You can become ill as a result.
- Your efficacy comes into question.
- You start to hate your job – or what it does to you.
- You confuse your students.
So how can we learn to ration our energy so that we give just the right amount to our work? I suggest that it all depends on our attitude towards teaching and the reasons why we do it:
- You need the money. Nothing wrong with this at all.
- You like working with people. Great.
- You like sharing what you know with others. Wonderful.
- You want to give something back to the music community. Admirable.
- You want to show how good you are. This is good or bad, depending on how you use it. We all know that a little show–off-iness is useful to a musician – something has to get us up on that stage, after all. But once we start performing or teaching, showing off is either done at the expense of the music (sheer virtuosity with no feeling) or of our students (ditto). When performing we must think of the music instead of ourselves and when teaching we must think about the student instead of seeing him as a way to show how great we are.
- You want to prove to the world and yourself how good you are. This can be a problem. It’s one thing to show off, but if you are trying to prove yourself you certainly aren’t thinking about your student. How can you be when you are personally invested in the outcome? Your student’s success isn’t his – its YOURS. This is when teachers will do lots of free overtime, make up lessons they shouldn’t make up, get emotionally and physically exhausted and suffer some or all of the unpleasant consequences listed above.
Unfortunately, this last one is a mistake young teachers often (and understandably) make – trying to prove their worth to themselves and to the world via their students, which does little good to the student or the teacher in the long run. So how can we protect ourselves and our students? Continue reading