I am told I am a good teacher, and I have been complimented on my patience level, but the truth is, I am naturally very, very impatient. This is something I work hard at cultivating. Sometimes during a lesson, I will have a look of calm expression on my face, but inside I am screaming, “Wrong finger!!! Why can’t you get this right??!!” and then I breathe deep and say softly, “That was great. Now try it like this…”
Patience must be the most difficult trait to develop during the beginning stages of teaching. In group psychology, there is a theory that when you get into any social situation (work, school, party, relationship, etc.) you will instinctually take on the same role you played in your family as a child. So if you were the oldest of 8 kids and your mom’s right-hand caregiver, then you probably are already conditioned to be incredibly patient. But if you grew up in a small family, and your primary form of communication was shouting and name-calling, you may have to work on this a bit.
I want to share a few things I do to help me stay calm and patient during those lessons when the kid has a defiant answer for everything, seems to use the wrong fingers just to spite me, and hates every single solo I put in front of them. Some of these tips are very simple, but I hope they will help you if you too are patience-challenged.
It took some time to develop, but I have trained myself to pause for a moment before responding to anything, especially if a student is acting bratty. During the first year of teaching, I noticed that a bratty student shot my sub-conscious back to my own playground years of being picked on, and my gut reaction was to say something snarky back. While it was interesting to learn about my own psychology, the music lesson is not the place to work through childhood traumas, so I began to train myself to stay quiet for a moment and breathe. If the student is very talkative and wants to fill up every empty space, I will stay quiet until they realize that I am waiting for them to stop. They get it after awhile. They always do. And once they do, I calmly say something like, “I want to talk, and I need you to listen to me. You may not speak while I am talking, ok?” My calm manner lets them know that I am serious, but I still love them. Pausing is good for avoiding the irritation to seep into the voice tone. If I don’t pause, I run the risk of sounding “mad” at them, and that is never effective. I have found that if a student feels like you are mad at them, they will either give up, get mean, or get depressed. Pausing and breathing gives me a chance to keep the tone nice and even.
Seriously. Run. Working one on one with children is just naturally maddening sometimes, and you have to get that extra edge off somehow. Running or high impact aerobics is a great way to calm your spirit and get you into a peaceful place for your lessons. I seriously recommend doing this before you begin your teaching schedule. I try to run 20-30 minutes a day, but sometimes I will just run around the block for 8 minutes right before getting ready for the work day. This does something to me. I can’t explain it, but it gives me a calm energy that makes it easy to be patient. Sometimes a walk is good too. Something about being outside and moving my body keeps me calm and patient throughout the day.
You don’t have to do any formal training for this. If you just spend 10 minutes a day with your eyes closed, sitting or lying in a comfortable position, and concentrating on the movement of air going in and out of your body, this will help you stay calm. Think of meditation the same way you think about musical practice. When you meditate, you are practicing being calm. In music studies, we practice our songs carefully so that when we perform, it comes out automatically. When we meditate, we are practicing self awareness so that when we are engaging with others, we are calm automatically.
4. Work Toward Your Own Musical Goals
This is the MOST important! Most of us remember an Art teacher or a Music teacher who was always so crabby and mean and you just know it was because they felt bitter about being a teacher as opposed to a creative do-er. Teaching takes up so much energy, and especially in the beginning, it can fill up all of our time. This leaves no energy or time for doing your own personal work. No one becomes a musician because they eventually want to teach. No way. We become musicians because we like to play! So if you are spending all of your creative energy on your lessons, you will eventually become bitter and resentful, and this will make it impossible to stay calm and patient. No matter what it is that makes you happy and fulfilled as a MUSICIAN (not a teacher) you MUST make this a priority. Not only will it make you happier, but it WILL make you a more effective teacher. Your students will be proud of your accomplishments and you will be happier and therefore more patient with your students.
So… how do you stay calm and patient?