Piano Lessons · Piano Teaching

Great Teachers Are Hard to Find

And I am speaking from my own experience.

I had had quite a few piano teachers in the past, since I started taking piano lessons at the age of 5. Most of them told me to keep taking lessons and practice, and practice more, but few possessed the ability to teach me proper technique, guide me how to practice and improve. Only one or two were inspiring, opened up my eyes, heart and mind to see and accept the beauty and complexity of music in general.

I have also experienced poor teaching in other areas. For instance, I had to take driving lessons in my late 30s and I had very terrible driving coach back in Hong Kong – the only thing they knew how was to tell (more like yell at) you keep doing the same thing over and over again without explaining why. Just keep doing it and you would get it. Unfortunately, I didn’t. They completely destroyed my confidence in driving. I am always the “bad” student who asks questions and wants to know why I should be doing this and how I can do better. Fortunately, I got a wonderful lady coach before my driving test when I moved here to Colorado and I realized it made a huge difference when you had someone who encouraged you to do better instead of tried to make you feel miserable about yourself and your ability.

I also had some swimming lessons in my late adulthood – I am still terrible at swimming because I just realized I didn’t have good swimming coach. I should say, excellent swimming coach, who understands my fear in the water and is able to guide me through it and develop proper skills. So, throughout the years, I had a few swimming coaches, I got better, but still not that great. I am still terrified to be in deeper water, but somehow I managed to go diving in deep sea and surf over some cool waves.

It daunts on me that excellent teachers are hard to find. There is an old saying that says, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” (I found out it’s from Bernard Shaw whose writing I enjoy but not this one). It is completely false. A lot of people can do things but they simply cannot teach. Someone who is an excellent cook (like my Mother) cannot teach me how to cook. Someone who is a football star doesn’t mean he can teach you how to become a superstar at football. Someone who is fluent in Spanish doesn’t mean she can teach you Spanish.

Teaching requires skills : not just skills to perform that subject, but skills to teach. Skills to guide, to communicate, to understand the student’s ability, needs and interest, an open mind to accept, encourage and inspire. No one is born a great teacher, it requires one to develop that “talent”, that ability to instruct over the years. In my whole life, I think I had only a handful of great teachers among dozens of “teachers” I encountered. Too many think they can just do it as a job, something they forget when they go home. Teaching is a duty, a responsibility. You simply don’t step away and call it good.

When you find a great teacher, you have to hold on to him/her, because, if you take that opportunity ever so lightly, the good chance is, you would lose it and never get it back.

And there goes my search for an excellent swimming coach.

I hope you all have a great holiday weekend.