….not where you are and not where you want them to be but where they really are
Sound advice for teachers from Frances Clark, American pianist and pedagogue. Too often teachers place unrealistic expectations and demands on their students, often further reinforced by pushy parents.
I struggled myself with this when I was fairly new to piano teaching. A perfectionist by nature who sets herself very high standards (and tries always to meet them), I found it difficult to accept that my students did not necessarily share my values. It took a comment from my husband, who said “Don’t expect the same of them. Remember the kids have plenty of other things in their lives apart from the piano“, to give me a sensible perspective and enabled me to balance the ability of my students with my expectations. Of course I wanted them to do well, to progress and, above all, enjoy the piano, but always within the context of their own capabilities. A shift of emphasis made for far more enjoyable teaching and students who were happy working at their own level.
As many in my piano teaching community regularly point out, children and young people are under tremendous pressure today, not least from the demands placed upon them by school – the need to meet and achieve targets, almost constant testing and other constraints on their time. Add a demanding piano teacher to the mix and one can end up with students who are unwilling or unable to fulfil the teacher’s expectations and a teacher who feels their students have “let them down” or who are “not achieiving”.
The ability to release expectations and accept your students for where they are in their attainment is an important skill for any teacher. I have tried always not to be overly prescriptive and to ask the student what he/she would like from their lessons rather than impose my own regime. This hands a greater part of the autonomy to the student and encourages confidence and self-determination – both important factors in motivation and independent learning. The positive knock-on effect is happier students who are more inclined to practise regularly and enjoy noticeable progress as a result, and a teacher who feels fulfilled by the student’s ongoing development.