Great Teachers are not.

Inspiring Teachers vs. Great Teachers

Inspiring teachers step back and allow students to flourish. With their guidance, students are able to create, solve, and discover. They are easily replaced as teachers because the entire world becomes a source for student learning.  Creating both the inspiration and the opportunity for students to grow in their own unique direction is the highest form of teaching; being replaceable should be our ultimate goal as a teacher. When we evolve to become replaceable as a teacher, our seed of inspiration becomes the core of our students’ being, and therefore in terms of making a lifetime of difference, we are forever irreplaceable.

Great teachers, however, are not easily replaceable. They provide a solid daily lesson plan, structure, passion for their field, and the knowledge of what students must accomplish in order to become successful, well-rounded students. If great teachers are absent, the “source” is not available to the students. Students rely on great teachers to guide them toward their end result.

In traditional high school vocal music departments, great directors commonly have a fine select ensemble that is in high demand; everyone wants them to perform. The top ensemble performs at the local street fair, parades, the chamber of commerce, churches, temples, grand openings, not to mention all of the school-related evening and weekend activities. These great teachers are overworked and overextended.

Great teachers work very hard doing…….

Inspiring teachers focus their energy on motivating others to do……………..

If we choose to INSPIRE, we can make a far greater impact. If we choose to INSPIRE, we first have to realize that INSPIRING must be our primary focus…..not teaching.

The approach of an inspiring teacher is understanding that we, the teachers, are not responsible for being the main source for our students’ learning; we are responsible for planting the seed and then stepping back. From there, we guide them and help to find ways to motivate them to seek more from varied sources. We are just one of the many sources that they should be seeking.

Inspirers are the planters of seeds.

We plant the seeds, and occasionally water them. We have to be careful not to water them too often because the rain frequently provides the right amount on its own. We are fully aware when the rain hasn’t come for a while; this is when we provide the supplemental water.

The seeds that inspiring teachings are planting are not based in factual knowledge, developed skills, or great repertoire; these seeds inspire motivation and opportunity for students to want to learn factual knowledge, develop skills and expose themselves to great repertoire.

What’s the difference?

The difference between the two approaches may just seem like semantics, but as we dig deeper, they will lead us down totally different paths. Here is the difference in practical terms:

Teaching focuses on notes, rhythms, vocal technique, sight-reading, repertoire etc. We create a curriculum for our students and follow it; we hope they learn. We assess their skills.

Inspiring is realizing that students can theoretically learn notes, rhythms, vocal technique, sight-reading and great repertoire from YouTube, Soundcloud, articles, websites, etc. IF they were somehow motivated to do so.

Don’t get me wrong, I advocate for teaching foundational music skills in our rehearsals and classrooms; I’m simply stating that as inspirers, we must be fully aware that students in most cases have the ability to learn most fundamental skills on their own, should they wish to. In some cases, they might need some direction, some questions answered, but they have the ability to learn from sources other than us. The spark that we create is the seed and the direction we give is the occasional watering.

For great teachers, this approach may appear to threaten our very existence. “I’m the teacher and am paid to make sure they learn the RIGHT vocal technique, the RIGHT sight-reading approach, and I provide the RIGHT repertoire for them. I’m hired to teach my students to be musicians.”

Great teachers believe this and do a great job with the fundamental skills necessary to teach students up to their standard.Great teachers provide amazing resources and opportunities for their elite students.

Inspiring teachers realize their students have multiple ways of learning the overwhelming majority of what we are sharing with them. They realize that there isn’t only one good way to learn the material, nor is it the actual material that we teach that necessarily inspires our students.

Imagine if after our introduction of a new skill or new repertoire, every student went home and learned everything on their own that they possibly could; they read articles, watched YouTube videos on the topic, took some online quizzes, and practiced at the piano/keyboard; the next day they could theoretically return to us with questions that were far deeper than what we had introduced to them the previous day. We introduced the topic, planted the seed, and something inside of them was inspired to want to learn more about the subject.

Great teachers view what was just described as “homework”. They would say, “For homework, please go over the alto part with the part tape I provided you. Listen to the recording that I posted and circle the dynamics in the music.”  Inspiring teachers did not provide a homework assignment.  Students had no requirement.  Sure, not all students in an inspiring teacher’s class did any of the things I just described. Some did. Others may have researched the poetry, looked up the composer, or went on the a-cappella IPhone app and recorded all 4 parts themselves. Some students might not have been inspired yet. Inspiring teachers recognize that inspiration is contagious. It will reach more and more students.

Here are a few important thoughts about why GREAT TEACHERS ARE NOT replaceable:

1. They give the students too little credit.

Students rely on great teachers for everything.  Great teachers tell their students what to learn, how to learn it, and stop them from going too far. Great teachers assess them on information to insure they know it and usually make them keep their music in their cubbies so they don’t lose it.

2.  They take ownership of their students’ education

Students are waiting for the great teacher to provide for them the necessary curriculum: what they should learn, and how they should learn it. When we continually hand things to them, they learn to become takers.

3. Nobody can do what they can do

A great teacher’s approach is unique to them.  A substitute teacher can’t just come in and take over. Their students need them.  They must be the conductors at all concerts and events.  If they aren’t there, their group cannot organize and cannot sing.

How do we begin to “learn” how to be an inspiring teacher?

It is a lifelong journey.  It involves letting go:

1. Allow students to make mistakes

Students may forget their music because they left it home, put possibly because they were practicing their part on the piano for 2 hours, or singing all of the other parts. They may have decided to analyze the chordal structure, applying music theory knowledge, and as a result marked up the music beyond repair. It’s ok.

2. Give students ownership of their own education

We are still providing their basic curriculum, but our curriculum should be larger in scope, and allow great opportunity for student exploration.

3. Understand that many people can and should do what we can do

Teach students that they can learn from anybody and everybody.

If we want to inspire our students, they need to be the ones CREATING, SOLVING, DISCOVERING.

The big question:

So do we, as teachers, want to be replaceable?

YES! We want to be replaceable as teachers; we will not be replaceable as inspirers.  Our inspiration, like a seed that is planted, grows and grows and grows. The seed that is planted takes on a life of its own.  We didn’t teach sight-reading, vocal technique, and great repertoire; we opened the world of lifelong learning to our students.

Choral Clarity Blog will focus this month on INSPIRATION with articles that are intended to rethink our role in the classroom/rehearsal.

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