Teachers often say that they learn as much from their students as their students learn from them.
Let’s crack that open.
I’ve had a decent-sized trumpet studio in the past, but I’ve only got one private trumpet student right now. It would be great to grow my numbers a bit, but with the other commitments in my life, one student is about all I have time for.
This student is a pleasure to teach. He’s a fine high school player with all the tools necessary for musical success: a great sound, strong musical instincts, and most importantly by far, a willingness to work really hard.
When I ask him to prepare something for next week, he prepares it. Even when it’s hard (like practicing transposing up a major 3rd), he gets it done.
So what can I learn from him? I’m the one with the master’s degree. What can a high school player, even a good one, teach me?
That’s bad. No two ways about it.
Students, on the other hand, ask a lot of questions. Personally, I’m often surprised to find that I don’t have a ready-made answer for many of these questions. I sometimes realize I’ve never really thought about it before.
“What is this Clarke study supposed to work on?”
“If I don’t plan to play in an orchestra, why do I have to learn to transpose?”
“I’m having trouble with ________. How do I fix it?”
Teaching forces me to think about the answers to these questions, and those answers often make me think about my own playing and practicing in a new light.
It’s easy to get complacent about our playing, especially as we enter the working world. Teaching reminds us to demand constant improvement. Treading water won’t get the job done.
We are great rationalizers, and we often make excuses for ourselves that we wouldn’t accept from our students.
A student tells us they have no time to practice, and we tell them to get up an hour earlier. I don’t know about you, but I’m much better at prescribing that kind of medicine than taking it.
As teachers, we need to remember that what’s true for our students is just as true for us:
If we pay attention, we just might learn something.