As a teacher, I have to face different kinds of students. I have encountered students of most diverse personalities, character, family/educational backgrounds and performance levels. The word ‘difficult’ cannot begin to describe how hard the job of a teacher could be. At times it makes me feel like I have the most exhausting and frustrating job in the whole wide world, while other times I find I am most blessed to take up the most rewarding and satisfying career. Both extreme situation could bring one to tears, yet the first one tears of depression and the second tears of rejoice.
To me, each and every student is unique and outstanding in his/her own way. Sometimes it is not so much of how well they play, but how much they have progressed as time passes. In the past I thought the most essential quality of a good student was diligence: student with some talent and wit could be lazy in practicing, believing mistakenly (or cunningly) that s/he could get away with less drills and effort since they are “smarter” (as a matter of fact, such act is reversibly a result of little intelligence), whilst diligent student’s persistence to practise would make up most of the genius in lacking even if his/her talent was found to be minimal. Today I have come to understand that, it is the PASSION that one has for playing the piano comes first and foremost in driving the student to learn, practise, and excel.
Nowadays kids(children and teenager students) have very strong mind and independent thinking, which quality I cherish wholeheartedly. However, sometimes they rebel against your idea of practice or learning module just for the sake of it. They are not mature enough to decide what is good or bad for them. They are way too emotional in handling how to learn and how to fail and keep going. In other words, they are not courageous. They are so self-conscious that they become very scared to make mistake, which they wrongly take as “failure”.
With a combined identity as an adult, a musician and a teacher I know all too well about mistake and failure. The process of growing up is a life-long experience of making mistakes and learning lessons from them. So is the process of playing the piano. As the old saying goes, “failure is the mother of success”, I firmly believe that there is no single successful pianist in the world who has never encountered obstacles in his/her career at least once or twice. I recall there was an occasion that I heard with much surprise that one famous pianist suddenly went blank and stopped in the middle of a piano concerto performance, and the conductor had to show him the score to refresh his memory so that the concert could continue! Yet he continued to perform after that incident and still remains a world-renowned concert pianist today.
Students are general very shy from trial and error. With much persuasion and positive reinforcement, I let them realize that there is simply nothing to lose when one tries, that there is no need to be embarrassed when one makes a mistake, and the chance of making mistakes leads to eventually an opportunity of success.
Having been teaching for quite some years, I feel myself becoming a motivational speaker. As a matter of fact, I was not at all a positive person myself. Quite on the contrary, I was too much of a perfectionist that I became very negative and self-critical, and therefore, pessimistic and easily frustrated. I also thought one needed to feel pain and much stress in order to play well and achieve anything. But I was at most times depressed and stressed out. I did not feel good about my playing or myself, even when others reminded me otherwise.
I do not recall how I become me now, the most positive teacher towards her students (still not that much about herself, but much better than before). I think I simply realize that in order to make my students believe in themselves and trust their own abilities and talents, I have to be positive for them. I have to let them know that they too can play the piano well and enjoy the music at the same time. And the same principle goes for other parts of their lives. It is not an easy path, but with much persistence and diligence, we know we are getting there. Also, let us focus on the process but not the goal. If we eye on the goal and forget about the process, we will never achieve the goal. Rather, if we focus on going through and understanding the process, we shall never fail and we will get to the goal someday, and usually, we can achieve a much bigger goal faster than we have ever expected.
Let us have faith in and be positive of ourselves.
Jan 23, 2010.