Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Advice to Future Teachers

 (In 20 minutes, I’ll have the supreme pleasure of giving an online Music Ed class to college students back East. Here are some thoughts as to how I’ll begin)


Remember when you were a kid and couldn’t wait to grow up? Finally get to decide your own bedtime and eat as much ice cream as you want? And now that you’re 18, 19 or 20 or even worse, 21 or 22 and out of college and into the working world, do you find yourself wishing you were a kid again? Yes, you’re happy to be more independent, to drive yourself instead of waiting for your Mom or Dad, to eat ice cream when you want and get a double scoop whenever you feel like it, to see the opposite (or same) sex as something more than a friend and finally understand (or not) what all the fuss is about. But independence means paying utility bills, owning your car means dealing with the ever-more expensive repairs, eating all the ice cream you want might bring pimples or an expanding waistline and let’s face it, relationships are complicated! It was much simpler to wander around the park with your friends and dig holes and skip stones and climb trees and play tag and get mad and then be friends again 10 minutes later.


We have no choice but to grow into adulthood, but we do have a choice as to how much of our childhood wonder and innocence and curiosity and spirit of fun and play we bring with us. So if you’re training to be a teacher, a few tips that might make your teaching more fun, more effective, more joyful:


1) Children are not adults in small bodies. Meet them where they are at each stage of development, align yourself with each age’s particular dignity and delight.


2) The best way to understand children’s ways of thinking and learning and living is to remember your own ways at the age and keep them alive in you. 


3) The best of your childlike (not childish) self is that sense of play, learning as a grand game and adventure that comes in not just through the mind but through the senses, through the body, through the social body, with humor and much laughter, just enough challenge to keep you engaged.


4) But teaching will also require the adult in the adult. The best of your adult self is the one who has traveled beyond the childish self, that merely impulsive, explosive, whiny, temper-tantrumish little brat who selfishly wants every need and want satisfied RIGHT NOW and believes whatever they think is true is true without having done the work to understand it more fully. There are far too many of these children in adult bodies in our public politics and our job is to train children to become caring, responsible, compassionate, intelligent, hard-working and kind adults who still carry their curiosity, humor , openness and sense of play with them. 


I’m here to testify that in 45 years of teaching some 6 or 7 classes a day to kids of all ages, I never once felt burnt-out because the whole grand adventure was one glorious romp in the playground. Of course, I had my moments when it didn’t feel like ice cream every day, when I waiting with longing for the weekend or summer vacation and goodness knows I never loved filling out report cards. But because I was lucky enough to not have to jump through any hoops excepts the ones I laid out on the floor, I was free to create the kind of games that both the kids and I needed and enjoyed. 


In my second year of retirement, I’m now back with kids once a week and no matter what the age, I notice how quickly they accept me and enjoy me as a teacher. I suspect that’s because within five minutes, these extremely intuitive and intelligent beings feel like I know them, that I like them, that I’m prepared to enjoy them, that I get them. 


If it turns out teaching is the call that was meant for your response, remember to play and have fun, to keep imagination side-by-side with the thousand details of learning, to get down on the floor with the kids and meet them where they are, helping them rise inch-by-inch to the kind of adult you hope them to be come. 


So let’s learn how to play the 12-bar blues in 20 minutes and start here: “Somebody stole my cookies from the cookie jar! Waaah! Was it YOU?!!!!!”

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