Lessons from Almost a Half-Century of Teaching

I’ve spent over seven decades on earth, with participation in music in each of them. Like anyone who has lived this long, I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way. And now, after 49 years of teaching elementary music, junior high and middle school band, high school band and orchestra, university band and music education classes, and mentoring young directors and young musicians, I have come to a few conclusions.

Good teaching is good teaching.

Whether a teacher is discussing Macbeth, the Doppler Effect, quadratic functions, or the concert B-flat scale, there are approaches to communicating with students that are timeless. With this in mind, I have distilled my approach to good teaching into several pretty good rules.

I’ve learned some of these in the process of working with students of all ages. And whether or not they’re mentioned here, many of my rules, I’ve learned from the great teachers I’ve listened to throughout my career.

1. There is absolutely no substitute for musical expertise, excellent preparation, and passion for your work. None.

2. Great teaching takes tremendous energy. Energy to make it through the day, energy to repeatedly explain the same concepts (you might even call this persistence), energy to explain your methods again and again to leaders and parents who may not know anything about music, energy to reassess your own effectiveness.

3. If you want to teach, you must truly enjoy interacting with children and young adults. However, you also have to be in charge, which includes not becoming friends with your students. This doesn’t mean they won’t eventually love you and do everything in their power to please you, but that cannot—must not— be the primary goal.

4. You must genuinely believe that every child can learn. It is your job as the teacher to find ways for every student to experience some success. While all students are not academically or musically equal, they deserve equal opportunity and access to an education. This might mean that you rewrite music for a less talented student or create an individualized part for a child with a special need. If your high school is an International Baccalaureate campus, your rules for attendance at every rehearsal might have to be amended.

5. Be what you want from your students. If you want your band to be inspired, be inspiring. If you want them to be enthused, be enthusiastic. As John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

6. My husband Rick says, “Have a really good plan, don’t give up on it, and give it enough time to be successful.” Never, never, never give up. With that in mind, always arrive at rehearsal well prepared— every day. Students will immediately sense if their directors don’t know what they are doing. It can be like sharks to blood—do not voluntarily be lower on the food chain.

7. I believe the best classroom management/ discipline plan is one with few rules, but clear procedures. Some issues during rehearsal are not actually discipline problems. They are instead glitches in the process and procedure. If that’s the case, practice your procedures. During my first week at El Paso’s Morehead JH, I passed by an orderly line of children carrying stringed instruments. They were silently moving single-file past Ida Steadman (known for her persistence) to their chairs, learning the correct way to enter the orchestra room. Approach discipline for what it is—refining behavior to meet established criteria.

8. As my friend Lynne Jackson says, “Whatever is happening in your band hall, you are giving permission for it.” If there is lack of focus during rehearsal, students are chewing gum, or slouching in their chairs, you are giving permission for that. (Just because the students learned correct posture in beginning band doesn’t mean that they continue to demonstrate it without occasional reminders. I have been known to correct a slouching body posture even at the university level.) Conversely, when students arrive to practice during lunch, that’s also your fault.

Read lessons 9-15 here!

This is the second of 3 posts that were published as an article by Barbara Lambrecht in the January 2016 Southwestern Musician. The 2nd and 3rd parts will post on Saturday and Sunday. Please check back! It is being republished here with the author’s permission. 

Related Reading
Learning to Play the Flute in Tune (Also by Barbara Lambrecht)
Getting Band Students to Look Up
A Note Before a Rest…

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