On being an active educator again…

Yesterday I had the pleasure of coaching the cello section of the Floyd Central High School Orchestra (I’ve been coaching the cellos of the Floyd County Youth Symphony, and a music instructor for toddlers and pre-schoolers at Gymboree Play and Music since the fall of ’07) and being back in a high school setting brought back some fond (and not so fond) memories.

More importantly, helping budding young musicians in their craft is becoming a very rewarding experience for me. The most interesting thing about the experience is that the students are teaching me as much as I am teaching them.

Let me explain (and I’m sure many teachers and educators have this experience): having to actively show anyone how to do what you already know how to do is simply the penultimate indication of what you actually know about what you’re doing. In other words, the way I look at teaching is if I really know what I’m doing on the cello, then I should have no problem translating that knowledge into a workable skill for a student.

Obviously this doesn’t always work. Sometimes it just seems like you don’t have the right words, or can’t fully demonstrate exactly what you mean. But for me that implies that I am not exactly sure what I mean–which further implies that I’ve so long ago internalized how to do something like play the cello that I think very little of how I actually do it.

So this is where the kids teach me: if they don’t understand what I’ve showed them, or if my demonstration or pacing is too fast or imprecise for them to understand, then that means I better find another way to show or demonstrate to them.

Sure, I understand that there may very well be some lazy students; or students that just don’t give a darn; or perhaps a student that is being difficult just for the sake of being difficult; but until I know them better I can only give them the benefit of the doubt and assume I need to work on my skills as a coach. Certainly though, other learning opportunities from a pedagogical standpoint are available for the problematic students mentioned above.

My props, kudos, and respect go out to all the educators that do this on a regular basis–and get results–and all that (plus many “Thank You’s!!”) to all my former teachers, music instructors, coaches, orchestral directors since where else could I have learned what few skills I do have now for teaching music, eh?

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