Mistakes Young Teachers Make or Do We Make our Students Nervous?

What do teachers and nursing mothers have in common?

Not long ago, I was asked to give a “master class” to the students of three young teachers who were also present. They had warned me in advance about some of their students being either nervous, rigid, stand-offish, shy and even having nervous tics, but when I taught them I saw none of this behavior at all. This struck me as odd as none of these children or adults had ever seen me before.

What was happening that made these teachers see their students that way? Thinking back to when I was a young teacher, I realized how much my approach to teaching has changed over the years. I came to the conclusion that these students were reacting in some way to their well-meaning, sincere and well prepared teachers who mistakenly (and understandably) think that their job is to teach the violin. Instead they should be teaching the student. 

What’s the difference? If the teacher is teaching the instrument, she is interested in the instrument being well played and how well she is doing teaching it. If she is teaching the student, she is interested in the student first as a human being and then in helping him to play the instrument well. Both children and adult students instinctively know the difference. In the first case they will react to a teacher’s stress, goals, insecurities and nervousness by manifesting all kinds of behavior or discomfort. In the second case, they will feel more free to be themselves and will be easier to teach as a result. Any nervous behavior that a student may still exhibit is thus NOT provoked by the teacher.

To teach a student effectively, you can’t give information until you get it. Teaching and learning is a two-way street. If the teacher is completely taken with what she wants to impart to her students, she is not effectively listening to them.

You have to listen with every pore of your body, your eyes, your ears, your sixth sense. Only then can you begin to have an idea of who your student is IN THAT MOMENT and what he needs to know, what he is receptive to learning and not what YOU need to teach him. “I’m here to listen to you” is quite different from, “I’m here to teach you something.”

To get to the answer to my original question, teachers and nursing mothers have one thing in common: they have to relax if they want to do the job well. If you have ever seen a mother cat or dog after they have just given birth for the first time, they are often confused and, thinking they have to do SOMETHING but not knowing what, walk around in circles until from utter exhaustion they accidentally do the right thing: they lie down to rest and their babies can then start to nurse. Many young teachers are so worried about what everyone thinks – the mother, the older student – and worrying if they are doing the right thing, that they become anxious and transmit this to their students. Result? Rigidity, nervousness, timidity and other reactions to the charged atmosphere. The student must feel you are interested in him, not in what you want him to learn or what his mother thinks. You don’t listen to what the student plays, you are listening to him playing it. Music is an expression of the human soul and heart. If we don’t listen to what is behind the sounds a child makes and only correct how he makes them, we are failing our students.

So back to nursing mothers, when you are giving a lesson, RELAX. You have to present a neutral open aspect so your student can reveal himself to you. THEN you can start teaching.


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3 February 2015

One thought on “Mistakes Young Teachers Make or Do We Make our Students Nervous?

  1. gipsika

    Brilliant, brilliantly written! Let’s say, I’ve observed the same shift over the years in my students from when I was a young, ambitious teacher to now, fostering young ambitious musicians. You expressed this so well in your post. :-)


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