The beauty of private teaching is that you, the teacher, can be anything you want to be. We are all actors and can choose our roles. If you want to be an autocrat, go right ahead – axing your students or their parents when they don’t live up to your expectations. You can be a babysitter, wearily dragging along your students with uncooperative parents, just waiting for the half hour to be over. You can be the frustrated virtuoso who would rather be playing but has to teach to survive, and take out those frustrations on your less than perfect students. You can be your students’ best buddy, cultivating, above all, a wonderful and loving relationship with your students and to heck with any kind of discipline.
Or, like any good actor, you can be all things to all people. The bad actor is the one who can only play one role. That’s also a good description of a bad teacher, in my opinion. Yes, sometimes we have to be autocratic when the situation calls for it, i.e., when the student needs it, not when we need to do it; when the student needs to be waked up, not when we are thinking of our own comfort. Yes, we may have to be a confidante when students need this due to some trauma in their lives, not because we want or need them to love us. Yes, we may be a frustrated virtuoso, but we realize that true immortality lies in teaching so our frustrations are left outside the studio door – but we use our fabulous technique to our students’ advantage and not our own (i.e., showing off when it’s didactically necessary).
I am particularly disturbed by a recent thread on a music teaching forum where a young teacher wanted some ideas on how to deal with two hard-to-handle young students whose parents don’t cooperate. Many teachers gave great ideas, some practical and others just plain compassionate. But other ideas offered were simply, “You’re not a babysitter so get rid of them.”
Well, you’re only a babysitter if you want to be – or a dictator or any other role, for that matter. Show me another profession, however, where the professional tells his clients/patients, “Either do as I say or out you go!” Rarely would a doctor, lawyer, or dentist do such a thing. Actually, my grandfather, who was a dentist, did in his youth throw someone out of his studio. He had reason to bitterly regret this, learned to control his really pretty awful temper and became highly respected in his profession. He learned an important lesson: we are in a service profession. Meaning we serve, not we get served. Continue reading