Monthly Archives: August 2016

“Do I Have the Right Personality to Teach Music?” or, Letter to a Terrified Teacher

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On having a look at the statistics for my blog, my eye fell on “top searches” where I found this rather touching question: “Do I have the right personality to teach music?” I can’t help but imagine some terrified young musician who has been offered the chance to give music lessons but who has crippling self-doubt. This post is addressed to that searcher.

Dear Worried Teacher,

Welcome to the club! The fact that you are even asking this question is extremely positive. It means that you have some doubts about your suitability to teach and that you are wiling to examine yourself. You are right to be scared – teachers have a tremendous amount of power and potential to do serious harm to our charges. But, not to worry. You’ve got the right personality. How do I know this?

Because there there IS no right personality.

There is, however, right motivation and right attitude. If you have these, then your personality will modify itself to implement these these two essential qualities, which are bigger than you are. Remember, personality is a tool we use to exist in this world. It is a tendency that is given to us at birth which we can temporarily change and modify according to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. And you have already spent a lot of time learning to do this in order to interpret the music you play.

Right motivation: This is something all teachers should reflect on: why we do what we do. And I don’t mean reflect on it at the beginning of our careers. I mean on every single day and in every single lesson that this should be in the back or even the front of our minds. It’s what keeps us honest and on track. What is the right motivation? To do no harm and do what’s right for the student, not for yourself. This can be a toughie. For example: am I sending that student to a competition so that I will be recognized for the awesome teacher I am or because the student really needs that experience? Or both? Reflect, reflect and your personality won’t matter.

Right attitude: That I will do whatever is necessary to help my student achieve what he wants (whether or not he knows what that is yet), even if it means altering my normally sunny and pleasant disposition to snarly if that’s what my student needs in that moment (and these occasions really do arise, trust me). Or vice versa.

Thus, I’m sure you can look at 20 good teachers and find 20 completely different personalities. In fact if you are looking at only one good teacher in action, you may see 20 different personalities! So what do they all these different teachers and diverse personalities have in common? What brings them to have right motivation and right attitude? Continue reading

25 August 2016

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

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Recently I read a post By Eric Barker from his marvelous blog, “Barking Up The Wrong Tree,”* entitled: “Can One Personality Trait Determine Your Future?” It seems that research says that it can.

What is that trait?

Conscientiousness, defined in the article as being “efficient, organized, neat and systematic.” Apparently having this quality will almost guarantee you success in life – that is, if you define success in life as money, job satisfaction, marital satisfaction, and a healthier life. Well, that is a pretty good description of a successful life, I guess – until you ask where creativity and independence come in. The article asserts that while our schools talk up these two qualities, the students who have them do NOT get the best grades and are not teachers’ pets. School teachers apparently love highly conscientious students who, it so just happens, also score low on creativity. Conversely, students high in creativity seem to get the worst grades. This type of judgement also carries through into the workplace as well: conscientiousness is actually prized more than creativity, no matter how much bosses say creativity is valued.

To be clear, here is an excellent definition of creativity: “…..the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Creativity is characterised by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions.” (thanks to Creativityatwork.com.) Sounds like a pretty good quality to have in today’s ever changing world though, doesn’t it?

So how can we have both? Easy: learn to play the violin. (Okay, not so easy, but worthwhile.) One could easily take the word “creativity” out of the above definition of creativity and put in “Playing the Violin” and it would read just as true. It is an excellent definition of practicing and interpreting.

But why would we want to make all that effort to play the violin if conscientiousness is all you need to succeed in life and you can get that just by doing well in school? Continue reading

16 August 2016