And Gladly Teche

Some musicians teach in order to support their performance or composition habits. That’s not me. I teach because, well, I’m a teacher. Awareness of that simple fact came early.

I was the class tutor for my 8th grade French class. Somehow our French teacher had figured out that I had a knack for explaining things. (I honestly don’t remember how that came about.) She asked me to tutor a chap who was having problems. We scheduled an after-school time in her classroom and got to it.

I still remember the visceral thrill that accompanied picking up the chalk and writing out the conjugation of devoir on the board, and then drilling my pupil until he had it memorized. We tried it in sentences, we talked French, and all went well. Before long his test scores had improved remarkably. It was a good gig.

By the 9th grade I was teaching some private piano lessons, although I have to admit that piano teaching has never really been my thing. I’m much more attuned to classroom work, and in particular I’m happiest when delivering lectures and explaining things to groups of people.

Pedagogy classes never meant much to me, nor do the dictates of “educators” who strike me as assemblers of glutinous verbiage rather than folks with anything concrete in particular to offer. I can’t recall ever benefitting from anything in a how-to-teach book, no matter how humble or how fancy-pants.

Teaching really isn’t something that you can learn out of a book or in a classroom. Like making a good loaf of bread or fashioning a clay pot, teaching is acquired by doing. It’s a practice, in other words. You get better over time as you find what works and, even more important, what doesn’t. Most young teachers of energy and imagination boil over with ideas and theories that they want to try out. And they should. But the older, wiser birds tend to simplify and streamline; we know by now that directness and clarity are the thing, combined with tolerance, humor, patience, repetition, and (as much as is possible) an ego checked at the door to one’s classroom or lecture hall.

If my calculations are correct, those afternoons at the French class chalkboard would have occurred in about 1968, thus getting on to 50 years. That’s a long time to practice. I have been a professional teacher for over 40 years. And just maybe I’m starting to get the hang of it, but every year invariably something will happen that makes me feel like a blundering novice all over again. That’s good. The day I start thinking that I’ve got this thing mastered, that’s the day to start the retirement process.

And the day that I write scholarly articles containing anything along the lines of: “Effectuated strategies for establishing hegemonic group technologies resulting in incentivized targeted learning outcome assessments”?

Shoot me, just shoot me right then and there.

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