April 20, 2018

Quality? Or Quantity?

Teaching an instrument is an interesting thing. On one hand we get the opportunity to pass on a life experience and set of skills that was forged from passion. While on the other hand we get the chance to impart knowledge to a world that’s outside of everyday living. A world that is mirrored in almost every way but can still seem so distant to those that have not yet traversed it.

But somewhere we lost our way.

Somewhere it became more and more about how many students we could maintain and how many lessons were being taught. Keep the revolving door of clients circling. Individuality has no place as it only serves to crack the cog of massive corporate machine.  Doesn’t anyone remember “quality over quantity”!? Ever so subtly, the expectations for a music teacher were raised, while the appreciation diminished.  It became more and more about how fast a student could learn something, and how flawlessly they would play a high level piece for a room filled with judgmental spectators.  The insane ritual of practice time combined with recital preparation has become the distorted measure of ‘success’ or ‘talent’ and that is bloody ridiculous.

What happened to the high end teachers?  The crazy talented ones that seemed able to reach into your very psyche and pull out every insecurity and question?  Take those very items and wash them away with nothing but motivation while simultaneously instilling a large amount of self esteem?  Well they’re still out there. But they’re dying.

Perhaps it’s a matter of evolution of industry. I suppose some may think it’s just another example in the hugely debated topic, “Devaluation of the Music Industry.”  Honestly, I don’t think it’s that simple.

Those of us that are professionals could argue the facts of how long we spent training, or how many decades of teaching experience we have. It’s almost a sense of pride when you have multiple years under your belt.  I’ve seen teachers boast on the skill level of their students, how many students they have, or my personal favourite: how long their wait list is to get into lessons.  This does NOT make you an incredible teacher.

You know what I think makes you an incredible teacher? Each lesson. Each individual lesson. I think your worth as a teacher in this industry could be measured by every 30 minute lesson you give. Is your 3pm student getting the same as your 4:30pm student?  What about your 10am on a saturday after a gig student? If you take your job seriously, then the only answer to these examples is a loud and veracious, ‘Yes’. But how many of the teachers out there take it seriously? The answer is very few.

I could cite so many examples of the amazing and world class teachers I have had the privilege of meeting. Many of whom I have studied under. These people are game changers and trail blazers in every sense of the ridiculous cliches I use to describe them.  Each one of them is a champion in their industry. A leader in the field that they are choosing to educate others in. I’ve met them in chance encounters or through mutual friends and in professional circles. So where are they? I’ll tell you where they are: Buried deep in the sea of garbage and jesters posing as professionals of the same calibre.  It’s pathetic. For every one of these professionals I mentioned, you could easily find 20 of the jesters. It’s become an epidemic!  There are some instances where it could almost become comical to count up the mockery of lessons being thrown up to the unsuspecting victims of these ‘teachers’, but frankly, we have reached a crossroads where the professionals need to be distinguished from the amateurs for the safety of the student.

Now to be perfectly honest, and for the sake of transparency, I should state that when I got started in the industry I was terrible.  In fact, I would wager a guess that the negative examples I am referring to are mostly from personal experience. That should bring home my point.  I got my start at a music store in my local town that literally hired me to fill a room with unsuspecting students so they could make a few extra bucks per month.  How did I get hired?  What was my application process? How was my interview?  Here’s the truth, they knew me from buying strings from the sales clerk. That was it! I had no formal training in educating people or in music in general. I was barely able to understand a pretty simplistic theory concept let alone explain it to someone else.  The main difference? When I realized how bad I was, I quit.  Now that doesn’t mean I stopped teaching forever because obviously that’s not true.  What is true is that I no longer used that school as my source of income. I sought a professional training program that would teach me the actual profession of education, and I ramped up my own personal guitar lessons to prove how serious I was about this path. Once I completed my practicum, I then began teaching at a different school and slowly worked my way up to the largest music education centre in the country. Now I run my own music academy.

I don’t tell stories like this to impress you. Instead, I hope to impress upon you how serious I take my career. How serious those I know and consider educators in this field take this career. All of us take each and every lesson very seriously, and that level of commitment demands that we be isolated from the unqualified majority that is bombarding the industry.

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