Thoughts On The Process of Choosing A Teacher

          Choosing a good teacher can be a time-consuming, frustrating process. But it is one of the most important things you’ll ever do for your child’s musical education (or your own).  There are, thankfully, a lot of really great places you can go on the web to get information on prospective teachers. These are generally sites that run by national organizations, or by teachers who understand the business side of teaching.If a teacher doesn’t have a website, that could be good or bad, depending on your perspective. No website could mean that the teacher’s schedule is full; there’s not much point in having a website if you can’t accept more students. No website could also mean that the teacher isn’t interested in technology or doesn’t understand it, or doesn’t think it’s important in today’s society. Or that s/he doesn’t have time to maintain one. Some teachers bypass maintenance of a website by listing themselves in teacher registries that are maintained by someone else; others take advantage of both sides of this advertising spectrum. There is also (unfortunately) a lot of junk on the web that really is not worth the time it took to click on the link to get there. To be fair, though, you really don’t know unless you click. There are a few teacher websites that are fakes — fronts for phishers or spammers — so be careful when you click.
          When you visit a prospective teacher’s website, some things that would raise red flags (for me, anyway) include: no information about the studio (mission statement, experience, methodology used, types of lessons offered, fees, etc.); information that is too general for the size and space available on the website; an excessive number of advertisements for other businesses. Taking into account your own experiences with the WWW, there are probably things that you are doubtful of or uncomfortable with as well — listen to your instincts and go with them, if that’s what you think you should do.
         I don’t claim to be the right teacher for every prospective student, but…I have had many years experience as a teacher and as a student. Many people set up a lesson time with the first teacher they find, online or elsewhere, with little or no forethought or research. I am deliberately not addressing lesson fees in this post. I’m assuming that if you’ve gotten to this point in the process, fees are not an issue for you. I may talk about fees another time, though. There are several other things to consider, besides fees, and specific questions you can ask yourself to help with the choice. I have listed a few here, but they are not in any particular order or hierarchy:

        Experience in teaching, consulting and coaching. There are many, many very good players who have neither the time, nor the patience, nor the gift to teach. Most of them, thankfully, have wisely chosen not to teach. There are few things more detrimental to a student’s development than a teacher who can’t stand teaching. There are just as many really good players who also have the gift of teaching, but haven’t been around long enough to built a solid base of experience. There are also teachers who play competently, but are probably better teachers than they are players (definitely not a bad thing!). For beginners of any age, it is critically important to find a teacher who insists on proper set-up (posture, balance, hand position, etc.) from the start and who can explain to you why it’s important. This will save you tons of frustration later.
       A reasonably well-trained ability to play the instrument being taught. Ideally, it’s important that a teacher know enough about the pieces being studied and the problems that could be encountered therein, and that usually involves being able to play them at a higher level than the student. Keep in mind that the teacher’s primary job is to analyze and solve problems. Playing ability and analytical skills are two different realms of expertise.
       Active engagement with students and enjoyment of lesson time. It is a great thing when one actually enjoys one’s job, and it has been my experience that this enjoyment shows (or not.) About the only way to measure this criterion is to observe the teacher interacting with other students during regular lessons. Some teachers welcome observation, some even require a certain amount of observation before a student is accepted, others have a “total privacy” policy. If a teacher is uncomfortable with or dismissive of a request to observe, that could be a red flag.
       On time scheduling. It’s hard to have a stress-free, productive lesson when you’re secretly fuming that the teacher ran over ten minutes, or that you had something else scheduled after the lesson and now you’ll be late. It helps to keep in mind that sometimes circumstances dictate that it’s necessary (or wise) to run over, but if it happens regularly, maybe a different lesson time would solve the issue.
       High standards for learning and teaching. You are paying for expertise and knowledge. The teacher, in turn, has a right to expect a student to do some work between lessons. Anything less is a waste of time and money, regardless of what side of the music stand you park on.  However, the teacher should be able to help you organize and implement a practice schedule that will fit in with the rest of your “life”.
       Other questions you might want to ask:
  • Does the teacher have a philosophy and/or mission statement, and am I comfortable with it?
  • In the case of webcam lessons, do I feel comfortable with the online “rules of engagement?”
  • Does the teacher have kids at home? How does his/her parenting style line out with mine?
  • Does s/he send progress reports to parents who can’t/aren’t required to attend lessons?
  • Does the teacher have clearly written, easily-understood studio policies?
  • Does s/he send home written instructions for the week’s practice assignment, or at least clearly state what should be accomplished for the next lesson?
  •          Finding the right teacher is time-consuming: research, interviews, observation, talking to other people or students. In the end, though, if you’ve done your homework you’ll find someone who will be both a mentor and a partner to you in the learning process.




















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