Back on Bloor St., teaching a brand new course in Toronto, a city that has welcomed me back some 12 times in the past 15 years. I’ve taught several jazz courses, world music courses, Orff and poetry courses and now, a pedagogy course titled “Teach Like It’s Music.” Such a pleasure! I get to do any activity I want, drawing from the hundreds of lessons developed over 40 years and the connecting thread is not curricular sequence or style or media or aesthetic or cultural background, but the how and why of the what. A detailed look after the activity at how it developed, how we got from Point A to Point B to Point C and when we leaped over to Point Q and why, and what my thinking was behind my choices and what the larger ideas are behind my thinking. Time to stretch out in these conversations without being nervous that we need to get back to doing more. Which, of course, we do after so much talk, but a better balance than in the usual workshop.
In the course of the conversations, lots of great ideas and new language for the ideas popping up and it’s all I can do to try to jot them down to try to remember some. Yesterday, I taught an hour long class to 14 kids between 6 and 16 and in the post-class analysis, someone commented that I seemed so relaxed with the kids and was genuinely enjoying being around them. And they were right. Someone else noticed that I gave them lots of chances to express themselves, both verbally contributing ideas as to what we might do next and musically through improvisation. And so out of this emerged a little list of three vital qualities that qualify a person to join that exalted and noble profession we call teaching. As follows:
1. Enjoy the children, enjoy each child. This can’t be taught in the Education 101 University class. You either have a natural, intuitive pleasure in being around these curious and quirky little beings or you don’t. If you don’t, get a job in computers.
2. Know the children, know each child. No matter what you teach, your subject is a means to awaken the character and spirit of the kids, to help them discover who they are and who they might be by how they respond to the material, to help you discover the same so you can help them go deeper and reach higher. That means a teaching more enlightened than “sit down, shut up and give me the right answer.” More like “stand up and dance, open your mouth and talk and sing and shout and whisper, tell me the next question.” Know the children as a group, the particular chemistry each one has, and know each child within the group, helping them to reveal themselves through their writing and artwork and dancing and music-making and game-playing and working to clean up the classroom and their own unique way of understanding things and their own unique way of not understanding things.
3. Love the children, love each child: “Dance me to the end of love” sang Leonard Cohen. That dance of revealing the child’s character step-by-step ends in love and appreciation and admiration and letting the child know it all, that they are welcomed and valued and seen. We all yearn to be known and understood and when parents or teachers or friends or neighbors or schools or whole cultures don’t take the trouble to seek us out, we often are driven to be known by our acts of violence. It’s intolerable to be invisible. So organize your classes to get to know the children and help them to get to know themselves and each other, knowing that love awaits at the end of that road or indeed, in every step of the way that you are making a sincere effort.
It turns out that World Peace and Love is a frilly empty hope and dream without attending to the devilish details of how to give children a chance to reveal themselves. At the end of these reflections on effective music classes lies the way we can contribute to a present and future worthy of our children.
And so, with my fourth day of classes 30 minutes from now, I better attend to those details!