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Grateful for Teaching

February 1, 2011

It has been such a joy teaching children how to play the piano.  When I was in Kindergarten, the idea suddenly popped into my head that I would like to learn.  I went upstairs where both of my parents were sitting in the living room and without any beating around the bush I asked them, “Can I have piano lessons?”

The smiled at each other and said, “OK!”

It still touches me that my parents had faith in me and didn’t treat it like a passing phase.  My mom went in search of a good teacher and located a concert pianist in our area.  He was getting quite old and after one lesson, he said it would probably be better if his son took over.  He just didn’t have the patience for small children anymore, but he did say he thought I had the potential to become a famous pianist.

That was my first experience smiling until my face hurt.  I rode up and down our sidewalk on my bigwheel thinking about how rich I was going to be.  I must have looked hilarious.

I was expecting my new teacher to be very young and was surprised to meet a bald, middle aged man who also wasn’t too fond of children, but he put up with me most of the time.  I just never felt that he liked me.  I stayed with him for 7 years just because I knew he was good and my mom says she never had to ask me to practice once.  In fact, there were times she had to tell me to stop practicing because I was driving myself nuts trying to get it right.

I was sure I would end up teaching someday, but it would have to be the right season for me.  Once I was ready for it, I found myself most excited for the kids to feel like I cared about them.  That would have made my experience so much better.  One of the parents said she doesn’t know how I do it, but this is the first time she hasn’t had to tell her kids to practice.  I try to find a teaching style that is right for each child and identify a song they will be passionate about.  They can accomplish so much more when they are motivated to play something.  I am also teaching an adult friend who was pleased when I told her to go ahead and start working on Canon in D after a few lessons.  It’s her favorite song.  Because she took a stab at it, she goes to easier songs and says, “Hey!  I know these notes!”

One of my students in Kindergarten is doing so well and her parents couldn’t be more thrilled.  Her dad was afraid buying a piano would be a huge purchasing mistake, but he loves hearing the music in their home.  I’m teaching her mom too and she loves plunking out melodies in the Hymns Made Easy book.  It’s her hope to be able to fill in someday at church when a pianist is needed.

I was so nervous that I wouldn’t be a good teacher, creating an awkward situation for friends in my ward.  I didn’t want them to feel bad if they needed to go with someone else, but they keep singing my praises and sending more people in my direction.  This led to my new challenge a couple weeks ago – a family of boys with ADHD.  I was up for the challenge, but a little unsure of myself as one boy in particular had such difficulty staying on task.  He kept pounding on the piano, pressing the pedal, drumming on things, etc.  I wasn’t ready to give up.  The next week he said it was going to be his last lesson, but he got into it as I used humor he could appreciate.  He ran upstairs and told his mom, “It wasn’t my last lesson!”  He was still all over the place, so I had to think about how to conquer that issue.

Today was amazing.  He only acted up twice once I started a point system.  I gave him a point for each exercise he followed through with.  When he started to act up a bit, I said, “I’m going to have to take away a point if you can’t behave.”  The second time, he caught himself and said, “Sorry.”  We managed to get through four or five songs!  It was so great and now he sees what he’s capable of.  Just before his lesson, he was having a meltdown over his homework, but he returned to it more focused.  I think music is really going to help him and I hope he’ll stick with it. 

I love the challenge of taking on a new student and watching them grow.  I just can’t stop feeling grateful for this part of my life.

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