Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Five Common Teaching Mistakes

I've taught music to students of all ages, from preschool music to private violin and viola lessons. I've also taught Language Arts and ESL for 6th-8th grade students. It's often rewarding, but I've had some tough times as well. Teaching is called an art or a gift, but in my experience, it's a skill that takes time and effort to master.

Mistakes are a part of the learning process, and I've made plenty of them. Here are some of my biggest mistakes and how I learned from them:

1. Not Establishing Clear Procedures 

You might not realize it at first, but students of all ages like predictable classroom/studio routines. This was my biggest failure as a middle school English teacher--I didn't get the students on a routine quick enough (though it was particularly hard since I came in during the middle of the year, and they'd already had three different teachers). Later on, I made sure to develop a consistent routine with my preschool children, and that made all the difference.

2. Losing Patience 

This was a big challenge for me at first. I found it easy to get frustrated with students' progress or their behavior. I lost focus on the learning process, which includes mistakes, plateaus, and struggles. But patience is a skill, and I worked on developing it. Once I could deal with my own frustrations, I felt better about my teaching and practicing, and I had more patience.

3. Not Using All My Tools 

It's easy to get stuck in your ways. When I first started teaching, I treated my students the same way my teachers treated me. In some ways that was great--I had some excellent teachers, especially in high school, that taught me to set high standards for myself. But other things I learned weren't so great, and I had some of my own prejudices. For example, I didn't enjoy learning music theory as a student, so I was initially reluctant to teach it to my students.

When I examined my teaching methods and thought them through, I recognized I needed to use all the tools at my disposal, from theory books to iPad apps to new strategies. All students are different, and what works for one child (or what worked for me as a kid), won't necessarily work for another. By embracing a wide selection of tools and strategies, I could reach students more effectively.

4. Taking it Personally

I love playing classical music on violin and viola. Symphonies, string quartets, Beethoven, Mozart--I love them. But it's not for everyone. I used to get frustrated and annoyed when kids didn't seem to enjoy classical music or were reluctant to play violin. Now, I take a step back. It's okay for them to want to learn other styles of music, and if a student doesn't want to play violin, I tell their parents to try a different activity. Maybe someday they'll learn to appreciate classical music or want to play violin, but until that day, there's no need to force them. 

5. Pushing Too Hard (or not hard enough)

I'm a bit of an overacheiver. I like to push myself and take risks. When I first started teaching, I figured most (if not all) of my students were like me--dedicated to performing and always looking for new challenges. Of course, some of my students are like that. But others want different things from music. They may want more "fun" pieces or less intense focus on technique. Now instead of teaching everyone the same way, I ask students what they'd like to work on, and try to figure out what they'd like out of their lessons.


  1. I read something somewhere about how parents these days are so keen to have their children jump through hoops with musical grading exams, the teachers are often left without time to help a child discover any enjoyment or passion in the music, and playing for the sake of playing. I think that's a real shame.
    Thanks for joining in with the Weekend Blog Share.