How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

I only teach piano, and that’s what I try to tell people when they ask me if I give fiddle/violin lessons. Some people won’t take no for an answer though.

I explain to them that I learned on my own and don’t feel comfortable teaching for fear of giving them bad information, or teaching them something wrong and unhealthy.

Am I giving myself a hard time? Or have I forgotten something about teaching music? I mean but really, I haven’t even gotten my vibrato down pat yet.

I don’t know anything about positions. I barely know anything about posture. I can only teach them what I’ve learned and that’s not much. Probably enough to fit into 2 half hour lessons…

…Sometimes I think I should just find some good teachers so when someone asks me I have someone to direct them to. Other times I think I should give them what I have, for free. What do you folks think?

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

Good for you for realising your limitations.
Your problem, as I see it, is nothing to do with music or teaching. It is to do with saying ‘No.’
If there is something beyond your capabilities, like having a baby, you would (presumably!) suffer no qualms in turning down a request to provide a surrogate child for someone. There is an in-built desire — perhaps need is not too strong a word — to help those who ask, or even those who do not. There is nothing surprising there — evolution has a way of ensuring survival, and gregarious animals such as ourselves have whole systems of help built into society.
Some people (my own mother was one) find it almost impossible to refuse, and as a result spend most of their lives doing or trying to do what other people want, and can be pretty miserable as a result. A single good deed can and does benefit all concerned; but a lifetime of complicity saps morale and is a barrier to happiness.
If you can develop the ability to say ‘no’ — or perhaps more appropriately, overcome the desire to say ‘yes’ — without associated bad feelings of inadequacy, guilt, shame, helplessness and such, you are well on the way to living your own life the way you want, and not the way other people want.
If someone asks you to do something you can not or do not wish to do, a simple, ‘Oh, no: I can’t. Sorry.’ is enough, No reasons or excuses are needed, and there is nothing wrong with refusing. As you already know, the person asking will probably benefit from your refusal, so you are actually helping them.
After a very short while, you will find no difficulty in refusing, and realise that it is no big deal — life goes on, and yours might even be a little happier.

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Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

Now there’s some sound advice that I could have done with 40 years ago.

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

A beginner (even one as skilled as you) giving away what he knows to another beginner is a terrible idea. It will damage a friendship and no-one will end up happy (trust me on this one). You will get resentful if it goes on for too long, and they will get upset if you stop, or when they realise they’ve been learning bad technique from another beginner. Find good teachers to direct them to instead. They won’t like it at first, but it’s for their own good! By the way, fair play to you Jerone for being so self-aware and mature, wish more people were like that!

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

"I learned on my own and don’t feel comfortable teaching for fear of giving them bad information…

I haven’t even gotten my vibrato down…

I don’t know anything about positions.

I can only teach them what I’ve learned…"

It’s refreshing to see someone who is humble and circumspect, what with so many bad players, people who don’t know the first thing about it, out there teaching!

In defence to your fitness for teaching, I should point out

1) anyone can only teach what they’ve learned; you’re in the same boat as every other teacher.
2) if you’re teaching a tradition that doesn’t use vibrato and doesn’t shift positions your inability to do these things doesn’t matter. They’re not coming for violin lessons! Of course you would refer them to a violin teacher if that’s what they want to learn.
3) having learned on your own gives you certain advantages as a teacher, I believe. You know what the struggle to learn is like, the process of acquiring information, the process of figuring things out. People who had everything spoonfed to them when they were learning won’t have your breadth of experiences to draw from when they become teachers.

In any case, if people are coming to you asking for lessons, you must be doing something right!

But for sure it’s great to know one’s limits as a teacher, and make these clear to potential students.

I’ve taught Highland pipes for many years but I’m clear about what I can and cannot do. I’m quite good at teaching the basics. My particular strength is listening very closely, figuring out what the person’s peculiar problem is (in a given passage of music), and devising stratagems and exercises to allow them to overcome their blockage. I’ve had people who moved on come back years later with a particular issue that neither they nor their current teacher (a much better player than me) could figure out how to fix.

However once I get a student to a certain point of competence, where they can look at the sheet music of any ordinary Highland pipe tune and play it correctly and competently on a well-tuned instrument, I tell them that it’s time for them to move on. If they want to play in a band they need to go to that band and learn that band’s repertoire and style; if they want to pursue solo piping competition they need to get under the instruction of one of the local piping judges, for only a judge knows the exact peculiarities of style that they, personally, are looking for, and a local judge knows all the other local judges and knows each of their peccadillos. You have to play to each judge, in other words, and I’m not competent to teach that.

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

I agree with The Cook. Teach what you know and be honest about what you don’t know. If you can fit everything you know into two half-hour lessons, then give them two half-hour lessons, before referring them on to a better qualified teacher. You will probably learn something in the process.

If there is a dearth of traditional music tuition in your area, one thing you could do is send them to a classical teacher for a 6 months or a year, to get some basic technique, then ‘convert’ them to traditional music whilst they’re still fresh, so to speak. For what it’s worth, I am in a somewhat similar boat in that I am self taught on the fiddle and know very little about ‘correct’ technique but, whilst I would not be comfortable teaching a complete beginner, I would be happy to give some guidance on playing traditional music (repertoire, feel, suggested bowing patterns) to someone already au fait with the instrument - always making it clear that it is only *my* way of doing things.

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

You won’t want to be teaching vibrato, anyway. :-)

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

Yes I had a "can’t say no" complex. At one point I began saying no when I realized something could turn out terribly for me and others if I agree with them. Throughout my youth I’ve been called selfish and lazy and after so much of that I learned to always consider what the other side might need from me.

I started learning how to say no when I learned that others might not always have my best interest(or their own best interest for that matter) at heart. But its only been recently. Like… Less than 2 years recent. I don’t like to leave people empty handed, but I’d rather leave it empty than give them a gun that they could potentially shoot me and themselves with…

I may not be a good violin/fiddle teacher, but I became a bit more resourceful when I went on the search for my own teacher. I live in a small college town with a few schools and couple of music shops, so finding where the teachers are won’t be too hard.

So this is what I figure…

"Sorry, I don’t give lessons, but if you(or "your child") would really like to learn fiddle/violin I know of someone that could help you."

Thanks for the replies :) I’ll check for more later.

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

To anyone who reads these pages, it is patently obvious that you are neither selfish nor lazy, Jerone. There is a clue to the motivation of the person(s) who called you those things in the rest of the sentence — "…after so much of that I learned to always consider what the other side might need from me."
In my experience, people rarely need anything from you, but only want. The American language is even losing the distinction, and you hear people say, "I need you to," when what they mean is, "I want you to, and I’m saying it in a way that will make it hard for you to refuse." The art of side-stepping such manipulation without ‘the other side’ having reason to argue, or even realising they have been thwarted, is one worth developing, if only for your own sanity. But then, you probably already know that.
As usual, your innate wisdom shows through

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Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

Thanks John. It use to be hard to tell the difference between someone needing something from me and wanting something from me. Usually a contradiction in their own judgment gives it away.

I remember earlier this year when I was getting settled in, my family had been planning on taking a vacation. Originally they were fine when I told them I wouldn’t be able to go because I was saving up for getting my own place. When they realized they "needed" another driver, they persistently tried to convince me to go with them, though before they had persistently been nagging me to save money and move out. Not all contradictions are as obvious as this one, but they’re becoming easier to notice.

I didn’t go on the trip and worked overtime days instead. They enjoyed their trip without me and now I have my own place and everyone is happy. I think that was the first time I gave a firm "No." No one has held it over my head for not going with them.

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

Richard D Cook-"My particular strength is listening very closely, figuring out what the person’s peculiar problem is (in a given passage of music), and devising stratagems and exercises to allow them to overcome their blockage. "
For me,this is the description of a great teacher.

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

Joe, tangent, why wouldn’t I want to teach vibrato? That frustrating huh?

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

It was just kind of a joke. One of the hallmarks of a non-traditional, orchestral-style player is the automatic use of vibrato.

Some will say vibrato isn’t traditional at all. I wouldn’t go that far, but from my listening to older players vibrato is used more sparingly than ‘classical’ players. I’ve heard it most often as a deliberate ornament on dotted quarter notes in slower tunes like airs, maybe as variety from doing a roll.

FWIW I use vibrato sometimes to ‘sweeten’ a note.

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

Sorry—tried to edit my comment for clarity and experienced user error. I was trying to say that one of the tell-tale signs of a ‘classical’ player at a session is their automatic use of vibrato, and that if you wanted to teach someone a pure drop traditional Irish fiddle style, you wouldn’t teach vibrato.

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

I htink you would be a good, conscientious teacher, Jerone, at helping someone get started. I think you would help people see that there is so much more to this than any one person can provide.

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

I’ve taken workshops with several of the best and they were to a man, horrible teachers. The only online lesson I thought valuable was one given by Niall Keegan. I think I could teach well things it took me many, many years to learn, but I have absolutely no interest in doing so. If you can help someone and wish to take them on, do so. If you only want to answer some questions, do that. If you don’t care to become a teacher, simply say so. I don’t see an issue, here. I think a simple, "Sorry, I don’t give lessons," will suffice. No further explanation necessary, nor expected.

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Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

Somebody offered to teach me how to do something today. Turned out I knew more about it than they did and it was a huge waste of time.

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

"Somebody offered to teach me how to do something today. Turned out I knew more about it than they did and it was a huge waste of time."

Did you pay them to teach you? If you did, it was a waste of money. If not, perhaps the ‘teacher’ learned something from you, in which case it was not a waste of time.

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

FL- Not to feel guilty. I have to do that all the time. People have seen me play at church and ask me to teach them, their kids, the dog…whatever.

I am self taught on piano and church organ. I think I know my limits and work within them. I don’t think it is fair to teach some poor unsuspecting soul my bad habits. I just graciously decline and hand the the card of a friend who is a consummate pianist as well as teacher. I am neither.

Life’s to short for Teacher and Student.

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Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

I’ve been asked several times to teach the harmonica and I always refuse. I’m completely self-taught and I just know that I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I believe I can show someone how to produce a good, loud tone and how to make sure they don’t crash out through lack of confidence. I can also show how to get the best out of any session you turn up at by way of good manners and etiquette. But I can’t show anyone how to tongue-block because I can’t do it myself. I can’t do throat vibrato either and I don’t do overblows. I can play a chromatic harmonica but not very well because Irish music gives me little motivation to get good on it. I usually get out of it by claiming I’m a one-trick pony, which isn’t strictly true, but it usually has the desired effect. I do write a regular article in Harmonica World about playing Irish tunes on the harmonica, but it has nothing to do with teaching the instrument, concentrating as it does more on how to get playing and enjoy yourself. That’s about my limit!

Re: How do you explain to someone in a western culture that struggling can be an opportunity to learn?

http://www.npr.org/2013/09/02/218067142/why-eastern-and-western-cultures-tackle-learning-differently

STIGLER: From very early ages, we see struggle as an indicator that you’re just not very smart. It’s a sign of low ability. People who are smart don’t struggle, they just naturally get it. It’s our folk theory, whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity.

SPIEGEL: In Eastern cultures, it’s just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. Everyone is expected to struggle. And, in a way, struggling is a chance to show that you have what it takes emotionally to overcome the problem by having the strength to persist through that struggle.

STIGLER: They’ve taught them that suffering can be a good thing.

SPIEGEL: Now, granting that there is plenty of diversity in these two cultures and it’s possible to point to counterexamples within each, the question still remains: Why, in general, do these two cultures see the experience of intellectual struggle so very differently?

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Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

Jerome. there are two sides to this. Firstly, I strongly agree with Gam’s original comment. But secondly I slightly disagree with your own assessment that you are unfit to be a teacher (Albeit a wise decision at the moment). Your posting interests me greatly and I intend to write you a personal response very shortly.

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

Good for you Jerone. Saying no is hard, but sending someone down the wrong path is worse.

That said though my observation, like that of some of the others here, is that you would be a good teacher because you know your limitations, and should you decide to teach you would go find out how to do it.

And that said I’d avoid the teaching unless you are very comfortable with it. Find the teachers in your town, find out who is good, and send the prospective students to that person. Then you can continue to develop your own playing and not get sidetracked!

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Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

That Stigler/Spiegel interview seems to be touching on something I was trying to say, about the struggles, the two-steps-forward-one-step-back, the detours down wrong paths, the process of acquiring information and integrating it actually making one a better teacher in the long run.

Some brilliant players are horrible teachers, I think, because they had so much talent that everything came easily to them; they never went through much of a conscious learning process.

I have still, on an old cassette tape, the audio of a workshop I attended back in the 1980s where a brilliant player spends 10 minutes or so talking in vague circles trying to explain what a triplet is. It’s an illuminating thing because it shows how this guy heard players doing something and just did it (flawlessly of course) and never gave a conscious thought to it… until he’s stuck in the position of teaching a workshop! He hasn’t any vocabulary to describe it, no conscious notion as to why he plays it at certain times but not others, and so forth. His mind has been working in a nonverbal world, but now he’s expected to verbalise things, and he can’t. (Nor can he read or write sheet music, another non-aural act.)

On the other hand a rather mediocre player might be extremely lucid at explaining what a triplet is, how to do it, and where to use it.

There are many teachers who can’t verbalise or break down into component parts their playing in the least. All their lessons consist of is "listen to me play; now do what I do" and after the student does his bit of mimicking the teacher has only two different responses, "that’s wrong" or "that’s right".

The teacher is incapable of telling the student WHAT is wrong, and the student has to play the entire piece over and over and over until (hopefully) everything is exactly right. To me this method wastes a tremendous amount of time.

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

"I don’t think it is fair to teach some poor unsuspecting soul my bad habits."

I couldn’t have said it better myself ;)

Some good replies up there. A lot of good points on both sides. I’ll be waiting for your response Gobby.

On a slightly different note, I am enrolling back into school next fall for Music Education. This time next year I’ll be learning how to be an educator :) I’m a bit nervous, maybe even a little fearful. I’ve heard some tough things about how our careers work… But I think I can handle it. I’ve also heard a lot good, and have already experienced a small taste of it.

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

Richard, the method of teaching I use is assessment + passing information + assessment + correction.

Seeing where the student is. Giving them information that I think would make sense to them. Seeing how well they receive the information. Correcting my delivery to better fit their reception.

Paying such close attention, its not hard to notice where their weaknesses are and what they need to fix. Sometimes all they need is time and practice. Other times they need in depth and thorough instruction on how things work and what all is going on. Whatever the case, correction is like… The biggest part of teaching right? I mean since most learning is trial and error? Teachers are suppose to shorten the error process.

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

@Richard Cook - Very well said, indeed.

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Re: How do you explain to yourself you’re fit to be a teacher?

The ‘biggest’ part of teaching/learning (it’s not a one way street) is learning how to learn.

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Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

Jerone: Good luck with the music education efforts. It can be a completely satisfying and totally frustrating experience. But if you keep the joy you obviously have in making music and learning about it fixed in front of you you can hardly do anything but succeed. Who knows, you might even become a musicologist :)

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Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

"Seeing where the student is. Giving them information that I think would make sense to them. Seeing how well they receive the information. Correcting my delivery to better fit their reception.

Paying such close attention, its not hard to notice where their weaknesses are and what they need to fix. Sometimes all they need is time and practice. Other times they need in depth and thorough instruction on how things work and what all is going on. Whatever the case, correction is like… The biggest part of teaching right? I mean since most learning is trial and error? Teachers are suppose to shorten the error process."

Well that sounds like an excellent teacher, to me!

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Because somebody can spend years muddling around on their own, and might or might not ever come to the point of understanding or being able to do something. What the teacher can do is shorten this tremendously by maximizing their practice time, so that (hopefully) all of their practice is leading to improvement rather than reinforcing and ingraining bad habits.

As you say each student might need a completely different approach.
I’ve had people who need all the basics. They have no technique and no listening background. Sometimes part (or all) of a lesson will be playing CDs and doing directed intense listening.

One guy was a professional sax/Boehm flute player who was stuck in the position of touring with an Irish band, playing the whistle. He had tremendous technique and musicianship but no idea of how to "sound Irish", no notion of the traditional whistle style. We took the tunes he performed in his band one by one and reworked them with rolls etc.

Some people have the basics down (on Irish whistle/flute) but need to develop their ear-playing. We put sheet music away and I’ll put on a CD and demonstrate how one picks up tunes at full speed on the fly… soon they’re playing along.

One guy (on Highland pipes) had been taught everything wrongly and had a huge number of ingrained errors. He couldn’t even play up the scale correctly. We had to go back to the very beginning as if he were a complete beginner (though he imagined himself a decent player). It was frustrating to him, but it had to be done, if he ever were to become an actual decent player. Kudos to him because he stuck with it and improved tremendously.

Re: How do you explain to someone that you’re not fit to be a teacher?

Ha! Lol, yes cboody, maybe one day :-)