By John Gardner
This is a story about how a discouraging professor positively impacted my Philosophy of Education.
My college clarinet teacher didn’t want me in Music Education, arguing that with a ‘performance’ degree, I could teach anywhere “except in a public school”.
He unintentionally challenged me to use relationships and respect as pillars of how I teach. Here’s a paraphrase of what he said:
“You’re a decent clarinetist (in 4yrs, I don’t ever recall him saying I was ‘good’), but there are so many things you do without thinking about them — that you’ll be a terrible teacher. How will you explain playing in tune? You do it, but you can’t tell me how. What are you going to do when your band gets some technically difficult passage, just tell ’em to ‘play it’? How will you explain hearing what you see? A performer never has to explain those things. And besides, you don’t want to waste your time on teenagers. They are high maintenance, make stupid decisions and ruin their lives. And your failures will significantly out number your successes. Don’t do education. Be a performer and get paid for what you can do.”
I was crushed, defeated, depressed and discouraged, choosing to ignore his selfish speech while adapting some of his discouragements as positive aspects of my teaching.
He was a good teacher but a terrible human. He hated students, especially those who “wasted his time”. We learned out of fear, not respect. We never heard him perform, so we could never strive to reach his level. I remember waiting outside his studio, watching the girl exit in tears and crush her reed against the wall …. and then hear…. “Next”. (GULP!) One of his final comments to me, “I’ve wasted four years of my life on you.” But, that was because I ended up with a Music Education degree vs Clarinet Performance. He taught me the instrument and gave me motivation to never be like him.
He influenced me in the areas of Relationships and Respect. Here is an except from my Philosophy of Education.
I invest heavily in Relationship Building. I want to know my students. By knowing their situations outside of the classroom (family, financial, etc) I can better know how to effectively relate in the classroom. If I see online that the family cat died the night before, I can understand and empathize with a mood that could otherwise be misidentified as a bad attitude. A phrase I use periodically is that I “love, admire and respect” my students, and they know it. My office desk tends to be a hang out area before and after school and rehearsals. And when students are congregating in the band room, I often join them.
I want my students to Respect me because, 1) they know I care and have their best interests in mind, and 2) they know I know what I’m doing. Here’s a memorable example:
In a clarinet sectional, we were working on scales and I was trying to get students to play faster. One stopped me with, “That’s as fast as a clarinet can go.” That gave me an opportunity to demonstrate that a clarinet, could indeed, go faster.
So THEN…. they are willing to listen as I go into detail about WHY they need to practice scales and HOW to practice them to increase proficiency.
I DO education without ever telling a student that he/she wastes my time.
Thanks for reading.