Last week a new student asked me how long I had been teaching the piano. I did not know how to answer. For one thing, I had never counted how many years I had been teaching. And for the other, I had been teaching for so long I just could not recall the length of it.
I first started teaching when I was around 17 or 18, when I just began to study music full-time. One day, my Mother showed me a cut-out clip from a newspaper, and told me that I should apply for this part-time teaching post at a piano company located somewhere in the Kowloon side (I lived in the Hong Kong Island side). I did not know why I should go there to teach, but since my Mother said so, then I just had to do it.
This piano company was located in a tiny shopping mall/market building of a government housing estate in Po Lam, Tseung Kwan O. Back then, there was still no MTR to get there, so I had to take MTR to Tseung Kwan O then minibus up to Po Lam. The piano lessons I taught were on Sunday mornings; I had to get up early to get there. The environment there was quite poor: the teaching rooms were tiny, and the condition of the so-called mall was not something I was used to (in another words, bad).
Back in those days, I was studying full days, Mondays to Fridays at music school. Then Saturdays I was an accompanist for the ballet classes at an international school close by my music school; it was a whole-day job. Then Sundays I had to teach at this awful place, where I also had my first adult student among others.
After a few months or so, I was very reluctant to go teach at this place and so I told my Mother about discontinuing teaching there. So we made an excuse claiming that I would be studying overseas from the summer onwards. I taught there for a bit less than one year.
During my undergraduate study, I taught piano part-time privately.
There was one boy who was so reluctant to take his lessons (I taught him at his home) that he would hide somewhere before each lesson. Sometimes he was in the balcony, other times he was under the couch, every time new (I guess he was quite creative then!). One time it was most classic: we were in the middle of our lesson, I was telling him to play something, then guess what? He just suddenly “felt asleep” and rest his head on the piano keyboard! That was the end of our last lesson together.
I did not enjoy teaching that much (I was more into performance), as you could probably imagine and understand (judging from my experience). But one thing changed me: the piano pedagogy course I took during my graduate study in the States.
I was in fact studying piano performance then, but we also had to take pedagogy course. In that course, I had learnt some many things, unheard and untold before. I did not know there were so much knowledge and study about piano teaching at all! (For one thing, I did not know someone could earn a doctorate degree in piano pedagogy!) It was an eye-opening experience to me. In addition, my own Teacher showed me that there was indeed someone who was passionate about piano teaching, eager to teach and genuinely cared about his students. He became my model and inspiration. From then, I knew teaching was my mission and passion.
(For the period between now and the first day I came back to Hong Kong after my graduate study, I would need to use another post(s) to write about it.)
The youngest student I have ever taught was a 3 years’ old girl. Now she is 18(!), and she is a triathlete.
Her brother was my student as well. Now he is an accomplished young musician and is graduating from his first degree next year.
Another student studied with me quite some years back. Now he is a student at a conservatory majoring in performance. What I appreciate him most are his deep respect for me as his teacher, his integrity, and his passion about music and study.
Teaching is a life-time journey. I am teaching at the same time learning.