Friday, July 31, 2015

Saying Goodbye to Students

Musicians often change jobs frequently. We have lots of short-term gigs, and our circumstances are always changing. I've spend three years working at a particular music school, but this year I couldn't make it work with my schedule. I'll have to say goodbye to students I've developed strong relationships with, after I've watched some of them develop from playing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star into young musicians playing pieces by Bach. So how do I say goodbye to my students when I can no longer teach them anymore?

I'm not sure of the answer to that question. I've been deeply touched by their heart-felt thanks, lovely parting gifts, and sweet, hand-drawn cards. I know I'm doing what's best for my family, and I hope that their new teachers will be kind and tough and inspiring. But I know that I'll miss them, for a while they'll miss me too.

This last week, I made sure to ask students if they had any last questions for me, or if there's anything we could work on that will help them practice on their own until they start lessons with their new teacher. I've tried to remind them of the tools they have at home to practice effectively, from their metronome and tuner to a mirror where they can check their hand positions. I tell them to keep practicing and remind them of all their progress. Still, I worry about them. 

Relationships between students and teachers are a delicate balance. Teachers need to care about their students, but we also need to have enough distance to assess their progress as objectively as possible. We need to encourage them, but also give them tough challenges and trust them to overcome them on their own. It's hard to find the right mix of compassion and tough love that keeps students excited and engaged without being overwhelmed. The longer you know your students, the easier it becomes to strike that balance. That's one of the things that makes teaching music such as challenge—each student is unique, and they bring their own strengths and weaknesses to every lesson. And for students, adjusting to a new teacher, who may have different methods, expectations, and personality, can be difficult.

Still, I hope that I've prepared my students well enough that they'll adapt to their new teachers no matter what methods they use. In some ways, a new teacher is just another challenge that they'll have to face. Anyway, it's a natural part of education—they get new school teachers every year, and new grade levels. As for me, I'll have plenty of new students myself, many of whom are nervous and excited to meet me, and maybe worried over how I'll compare to their old teachers. I'm sure we'll get along just fine. 

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