So here we are in July (so much for writing more consistently) and not only is it Term 3, it's JKM's third birthday! Three excellent years of meeting new people, learning heaps and kicking student goals. One thing I've really come to appreciate about running JKM is the freedom is allows me when it comes to teaching. I've always believed that no two people learn the same way, and though I've developed particular methods that can be stretched to fit occasionally I come across a student who needs a whole new customised approach.
These kinds of challenges have really helped shape the way I teach. It's disheartening to me to see students blame themselves for not understanding a problem, or struggling to master a new technique. If I had a dollar for every person who's told me 'I'm just not musical', 'I'm tone deaf', 'I'm not the creative type' well...then...I'd have a lot of dollars.
At the end of the day it comes down to basic understanding and practical experience. Our whole lives we've had things we didn't understand explained to us. How to tell time, how to tie a shoe, how to do long division. If something is explained well, and you can practice it daily, it will become easier. For example, I can tell the time with ease, I can tie a shoe with finesse, I still cannot do long division. I blame this on the fact I've never had it explained to me and also I literally never ever use it.
Think back on some of your teachers. Have you ever had a teacher who inspired you to learn more about their subject? Who made you excited to tackle problems or do a really great job on your project? How about the opposite? The teachers who made lessons a blur and you don't remember learning anything from them? These are the teachers responsible for students giving up on a subject. For losing interest, or thinking themselves incapable. I know education isn't the same everywhere but the system I grew up in was based on a 'keep up or give up' kind of model.
I understand that it's difficult to try to provide a whole classroom of children with 30 different perspectives, I really do. It just makes me angry to think of how many people have given up on something just because the way the textbook (and thereby the teacher) explained it just didn't click with them. The creative industries are as guilty of this as any discipline. It was a commonly asked question at university: 'how do you teach creativity?'. It's a tricky question but that hasn't stopped the tried, true and sometimes tedious methods that are still taught in schools now.
Have you ever met anyone who's told you they can't sing? Do you yourself think you can't? I got news for you buddy, it's not an innate thing. If you tried once and it didn't go so well (or maybe someone told you it didn't) that doesn't mean you can't sing. It means you're not singing at the same level as the people who practice singing on a regular basis. This applies to literally everything. I've made a great rule for my younger students who are overly fond of saying 'I can't do it!' after one attempt. I tell them it's been proven that you have to try at something for 2 years before you know if you really can't do it. It goes like this:
Student: 'I can't do this scale!'
Me: 'Have you been trying for 2 years?'
Is it wrong to lie to small children? Probably. Do they generally succeed on their second or third attempt? Yes.
In a story I've told many times before (feel free to scroll if you already know it) the first time I showed my piano teacher a composition I'd made they said to me 'that's not what I told you to do this week.' This in no way inspired me to continue composing, however, my school music teacher (Mrs. Laycock, you always remember the good ones!) could not have been more encouraging or enthusiastic. I had a string of music teachers growing up, some good some bad but it's thanks to the good ones that I've gotten to where I am now, both with musicianship and teaching.
This is ever my goal, to inspire my students, to find the right approach that will help them learn. Sometimes I meet a student who's approach to music is well outside the box, but what is that but pure creativity? We're always told to think that way, so why is it when we actually do we're told it's wrong? I've learned so much from these students, different ways of thinking, new approaches to rhythm, melody, coordination, composition. I never understood musical theory growing up but now my understanding is damn near outstanding, having had to explain it countless different ways to countless different students.
If you have an interest in something, be it music, art, math, whatever, pursue it. It is 1000x more likely you'll be better at something you're interested in, as opposed to something that comes easily but is super boring. If you're not learning from your teacher, find a new teacher. It doesn't mean you can't learn, it means their method isn't working for you, and that's a-ok! Teachers are humans too, we're learning how to teach just as students are learning how to learn. It's well worth finding a teacher you really connect with, because they'll inspire you to do things you never suspected you were capable of. In the meantime, don't give up and if you find yourself stuck just ask yourself: 'have I been trying for 2 years?'