What My Best Teachers Taught Me About Teaching Part 1

I sometimes wonder how things would have turned out had certain teachers not been in my life. I remember reading an article entitled ‘Joe Perry Opens Up About His Guitar Hero: Retired Math Teacher Steve Rose’. The title says it all and I could totally relate. I was certainly influenced by many great musicians but, it was a handful of teachers who truly inspired me to pursue music and music teaching as a career. In this post I want to start with my first private music teacher. My drum teacher.

Merv my drum teacher

I began learning drums prior to guitar when I was 13 years old at a local music store in suburban Sydney. My teacher’s name was Merv and he was I am guessing in his 30’s at the time. The experience only lasted about 6 months but it gave me a solid foundation in both music and as I would later come to appreciate, teaching. The only reason my lessons stopped was because Merv went on tour with a popular Australian music group at the time.

  1. Lesson 1. Building trust. I was quite nervous and excited as I entered the room for my first lesson. Merv was able to make me feel comfortable within minutes. He was confident and positive with a sense of humour. I have had many teachers over the years but few come close to Merv in this regard. Whether consciously or unconsciously he was gaining my trust through a combination of questions, listening and empathy. It was this trust that made him an effective teacher. I followed his instructions pretty much to the letter. Any teacher knows that their best students are usually the ones who follow their instructions. I progressed very quickly in those 6 months. The real lesson here was this. Begin by building student trust through listening and showing genuine interest in tour student’s goals and dreams. Once the trust is built your students will follow your instructions. Never underestimate the power of trust and always value their trust above all else.
  2. Lesson 2. Structured program. Merv started me on 2 books One called ‘Syncopation for the modern drummer’ and the other on drum rudiments. Syncopation was laid out in lessons with 12 exercises. The idea was to complete one lesson every few weeks. The rudiments book was about learning one new rudiment every week or two while also developing speed and accuracy. Merv was very clear about his program and the lessons were mostly focused on technique with a good dose of confidence building. I came to understand that structure was a common trait among my best teachers. The lesson here was to have a clear structured method of teaching. Know where you are taking every student each and every step of the way. You are the teacher and they are relying on your experience to lead them in the right direction. A structured method of learning shows you know where you are going.
  3. Lesson 3. Believe in your teaching ability. At my school was a boy who had been playing drums from a young age. He had also appeared on a national TV show so was a bit of a local hero. He was impressive to watch but also intimidating. I felt I had no chance of ever rising to his level of skill. In fact, I questioned my ability to learn drums almost daily in those early months. It was Merv who built my confidence. He did this not so much by telling me I could do it but, by through what I can only call ‘self belief’. In other words he believed in his own ability to teach. This is not something that I can easily explain or even teach you how to do. Its simply a belief in your own ability to produce great students. All I can say is, Merv made me aware of how believing in your own ability as a teacher can positively influence your students to believe in themselves.
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