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  • Elle Zee

My Greatest Lesson in Teaching this Year

As my own academic journey at Berklee has recently come to an end, I'm feeling fairly reflective lately. (Right, that - yes, I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Songwriting at the beginning of May. There was a virtual ceremony and everything which I got to watch with my boyfriend and my cat 🐱).

Many of you know this year was big for me - I finished my second undergraduate experience, was accepted to grad school, and exponentially ramped up my teaching business. It's been an interesting experience going from 16-hour a week student to 16-hour a week teacher. I've gained a real empathy, understanding, and deeper gratitude for my own teachers, especially the ones who have put so much love and dedication toward their students, as I try to do each lesson.

That is a great lesson, but still not my greatest.

I spend about as much time teaching each week as I do thinking about teaching each week - from creating individualized lesson plans, listening to music teacher podcasts, and participating in various teacher trainings, maybe I spend more time theorizing in reality. I've recently enrolled in the Lovetri Institute for Somatic Voicework(TM) and have become a member of the Inner Circle Piano Teaching Community, which I absolutely love. I continue to prove my own thoughtfulness, dedication, motivation, and ambition to myself (which I also love). However, I likely learned this from my parents, and simply reinforced it through my teaching practice.

All this talk about success is leading me to tell you my greatest lesson in teaching this year: how to fail.

As I took on more students than ever, I had to adapt and change to each one. I even started teaching children this year for the first time after primarily teaching adults, most of whom were my friends already, so the stakes were lower. And truly, if a kid is bored or frustrated with music, you tend to know a lot sooner than an adult is willing to admit to it. Plus, I generally teach children in their own homes, with their parents (those people who are paying me money to teach their children) listening in. So when I agreed to teach my first young students, I was honestly terrified, just really good at hiding it.

I would cry before and after each lesson. I had to constantly remind myself I was qualified to teach. I believe if I hadn't done this, I would have immediately disqualified myself from teaching.

Moreover, on my commute to each lesson, my mantra become, "I am willing to fail". I walked in to each lesson completely uncertain of whether what I brought with me would work or not. Often it did. At times it didn't.

But, at those times that it didn't, because I was willing to fail, it was actually okay. What I actually saw was what did not work and what to do better next time. I developed a keener ability to create lesson plans that my students would enjoy yet still find reasonably challenging. I became more open to what my students wanted than what I wanted. The work I put into expanding as a teacher of these students, helped all of my students, regardless of age.

Inevitably, because I was willing to fail at being a music teacher, I succeeded at being a music teacher. I've now gained the confidence, objectivity, and understanding, that I believe has gotten me to the point I am at now. By being okay with totally sucking.

P.S. I didn't totally suck. This is the review I got from the parent of those students: Elle meets young students where they are at, with playfulness and a professional attitude. She blends music theory into whatever music the kids are interested in, and she responds to their interests and finds sheet music appropriate for their levels. After just a few trial lessons, my daughter was applying music theory to her own beginner’s compositions.

I think music is a brilliant way to experience the lesson that it's ok to make mistakes, that sometimes, they can even sound beautiful.

What are you willing to fail at?

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