Category Archives: Teaching

Recording a lesson

For my Suzuki Pedagogy class, my teacher insisted I record myself teaching so we could look at it in class and critique ourselves.  I chose to record a young student of mine (I didn’t have that many options right now) tonight.  I have been really stressed out about this!  I have been teaching for what, ten years or so, but I never WATCH myself teach.  Tomorrow in class we are going to watch part of the lesson.  We’ll see what the class thinks!

I have a hard time taking criticism or advice (it’s gotten worse as I’ve gotten older) so I am really stressed about watching the video tomorrow.  Hopefully I can handle it, and learn from the experience, versus having my confidence shaken again.  How many times can a person rise up after feeling beaten down?  (Luckily my teacher is not the beating down type, and more the nurturing type, but my own expectations are different.)

Fingers crossed for tomorrow then!

Struggling for balance

Somebody asked me recently if I taught or if I performed.  I answered that I do about half of each.  That’s really my goal right now.  I love teaching and I love performing, and for the past few years that balance has been reflected, both in my schedule and in my tax returns.

It’s funny.  I think most people struggle to achieve balance between their career and home life.  I am struggling to achieve balance in my career.  My home life has always been the time left over, and sometimes that balance is very much off (especially once you include practicing and lesson planning).  But that’s a story for another day!

When my work goes out of balance, I feel it.  For instance, there were many times last year when I was doing hardly any teaching.  I would talk to teaching colleagues who were full of stories about their students, and I felt left out, and frankly, sad.  I had just left about 20 students in Cleveland, and missed seeing them every week.  Lately I have been fortunate enough to have several new students (10 private, plus two small classes), and the teaching aspect of my life is feeling very much in balance.  Or has it?  Am I devoting too much of my recent time to teaching?

Last week I played with my orchestra in Columbus, ProMusica Chamber Orchestra for the first time this semester.  As we started rehearsing, I realized I had missed playing in orchestra.  I used to play a concert almost every week until I moved to St. Louis, and now I only play occasionally.  I do play many weddings and receptions, but its not the same feeling as orchestral playing.  My orchestral balance has been off.  Perhaps I need to make sure that at least half of my performing is through orchestra…so that would be at least 25 percent of my total work time.  Balance is a tricky thing, and the orchestral opportunities here (unless you are a symphony member) are few and far between.

I am a substitute player with the Columbus Symphony, but so far this fall I haven’t been able to play any of their concerts.  I love playing with the group, but it’s a trek from here to there, and it means canceling/missing everything I am doing here.  Between teaching, my pedagogy class, weddings, and other commitments in town, I just can’t make a trip out of town at this point (other than my already scheduled ProMusica concerts, of course).  I’m hoping in the spring that might be more possible.  Perhaps other orchestral opportunities closer to home will appear!
On a similar note, I recently was appointed Concertmaster of New Opera St. Louis (Winter Opera St. Louis) and I look forward to the season beginning in November.  It’s a very small orchestra, but I relish the thought that even in this economy,  new arts groups can survive, and hopefully thrive and grow.

Being myself

I’ve been observing quite a few other teachers recently, (and also taking a Suzuki pedagogy class) and have gotten so many great ideas.  The more I see other people teaching, the more I start to doubt myself and feel that I have been doing things wrong.  After all, these other teachers seem to be so much more organized, seem to know exactly what they want their students to do, and it seems that their students actually follow their directions and practice what they ask them to.

I definitely could be more organized.  I am working on putting together some practice charts or at least truly insisting that my students bring notebooks to lessons, rather than crudely scribbling things in the margins.

I also could be more insistent on control in the lessons.  I have a hard time getting some of my students to follow my directions, sometimes even a direction so simple as, “listen to me play, then repeat.”  I need to make more of an effort to train them to stop when I want them to so that we don’t waste as much time in the lessons.

However, as I was reading my notes tonight (and naturally beating myself up over what I didn’t think of), I realized that I am my own teacher, and my own person.  No matter what I observe other teachers doing, or other teachers’ students doing, I will be who I am in the lessons, and I’m sure I’ve been doing many things correct.  I need to take what I am learning and use it to complement what I have been doing rather than trying to start all over.  I need to stop second guessing myself and keep moving, and trust that I do know what I am doing at least, oh, 75 percent of the time.  And perhaps the next 25 percent will come, either this year, or in the next few decades.

And I really will print out some practice charts and give that a whirl.  I think that will be my goal for the next month–to be more specific with my students, whether that includes more specific practice assignments, or more specific within their piece.  That seems doable!  If any of my students are reading this, ask me about your chart next week, I’ll have a pile of them 🙂

New Year, New Students, New Hopes!

Each school year starts with a wonderful feeling of freshness and hope.  This year is no different.

I look at the calendar, filled with promises of new and more interesting jobs, and new students!  I will have two classes at St. Margaret’s, and I started teaching violin at the St. Louis School for Ballet, in addition to having some new private students.  So far all my new students are wonderful people and I look forward to our time together. I will be making an effort to stay more organized than in the past and be more methodical (in a good way, not in a plodding way) in my approach to teaching.

I am also taking a class on Suzuki Pedagogy.  So far each class has shown me how much more I have to learn about teaching.  I keep feeling like I have been teaching wrong all these years (my constant fear!) but I certainly hope that isn’t the case.   I will be teaching some Suzuki group classes in the near future, and know that that will be a huge learning experience as well.  Learning the violin is such a complex thing, and it is a constant challenge to make sure I am telling my students all I need to for them to thrive and grow.

Today I thought of some of my past students from Cleveland, and I really missed some of them.  I hope they are all doing well and continuing to enjoy their violin lessons and grow as musicians and people.  I can’t believe it has been over a year since I moved.  Some of them I taught for close to five years.  Someday I hope to have students I have taught for even longer, but for now, that is such a long time…

I have some interesting gigs ahead of me as well.  I will be branching out more into “non-classical” performances and I am eager for the challenge. I also hope to play more chamber music than I did last year!  And of course the usual orchestra performances, with a few Concertmaster opportunities as well, which should be great fun.

I wonder what else life will bring this year?  I hope I will continue to learn and grow, to be a better musician, teacher, and friend.

(This post turned a bit more soul-search-y than I usually feel.  Evidently I am becoming more introspective?)

Last two notes:  1) On the advice of a friend, I now possess Gaylord Yost’s Shifting Exercises.  20 pages of nothing but pure shifting…what a great exercise!  2) I just finished a marvelous book.  “Mindset” by Carol Dweck.  Very interesting, easy read about the “fixed mindset” versus the “growth mindset.”  I highly recommend it.

Aftermath of the Columbus Suzuki Institute

I had such a wonderful time at the Institute!  It was more inspiring than I could have imagined, and I look forward to attending it, or another Institute, next summer.  Carol Smith from Vanderbilt University was my teacher trainer, and I thought she was just fantastic.  In the past, I have had many experiences with the Suzuki method.  I grew up as a Suzuki student, and had also had training in the past, but it never really hit me what it was really about until this week.  I had had many preconceived notions about the Suzuki method, and I had worried being a Suzuki teacher would put me into a box and stifle my own creativity.  I was wrong.  I now feel that I want to be a true Suzuki teacher, and help parents and students learn together the joys of violin playing, and that within the philosophy and any program, I can still have my own individuality and creativity in teaching.

I learned so many specific things too, ways to improve my teaching, things I should have been teaching that I wasn’t, ways to inspire my students, ways to make things easier for them to learn…the whole week really made my head spin with all the new ideas I was learning!  I came home bursting at the seams, ready to go.  Unfortunately, I don’t have that many students at this time , but I am sure I will be able to keep these ideas with me for the future (also I took copious notes).

I also just had the privilege to observe at a small camp at SIUE.  After getting back from Columbus, Carol had encouraged me to get in touch with a variety of people in the area, and I was able to talk with Vera McCoy-Sulentic, who is the director of the Suzuki program there.  I might be teaching in the program in the future, and with this in mind, I observed the classes not only to learn hypothetically, but to really think about how I might run my own group classes, which is something I have never done in the past.  There are some other Suzuki teachers in the area that I hope to observe as well.

To sum it all up–I feel now like I am a better teacher than I have been in the past, and I look forward to learning more in the future, whether as a Suzuki teacher, or through my private studio.   My goal is to always grow and improve in my teaching so that my students will be able to learn as much as they can.  My main goal for my students is still the same–for them to become the best people they can, and to have music be a wonderful part of their lives.

Looking forward to the Columbus Suzuki Institute

Next week I am attending the Suzuki Institute in Columbus, Ohio for teacher training in Book two and three.  I am really excited about this opportunity.

Since I moved to St. Louis, I haven’t been doing as much teaching as before.  I learn so much from teaching every student, and I build on that knowledge for the next student.  Since I have had less contact with students, I feel maybe I have forgotten some things.  In addition, there may be many things that I never thought of before.  I went to school for performance, not education.  My teaching has always been based on my personal knowledge of performance versus a formal education in education.   I’m hoping to recharge, refresh, and come home from the week with more knowledge and ideas in my teaching “toolbox” than before!   I hope that everybody I work with benefits from this week, and I also hope that I will be able to go somewhere next summer as well to continue my training.

I feel very strongly about the importance of education past college and graduate school.  I try to continue learning by reading magazines and books and by talking with colleagues about a variety of topics.  I think it’s a wonderful time for me to continue my education in a more formal setting, and I hope the week is full of learning and enjoyment.  I’ll let you know what happens!