I have run my piano teacher training course for a while now. During the whole course, there is one session in which I ask my student teachers what they want to achieve and who they want to be in their teaching career. I still recall one student teacher asked me what kind of teacher I regarded myself to be – she actually asked me if I thought I was/wanted to be a star teacher. At that time I could not pinpoint who I exactly was as a piano teacher. I just thought I wanted to be the greatest teacher I could ever be for my students, that’s it.
But today I know who I am and want to be.
I am a mentor for piano teachers and piano students. And I want to be a top-notch one.
What does it mean to be a mentor?
I believe there are many fine qualities that a true mentor (and teacher : note, it’s not limited to “piano teacher” but “teacher” in essence) must possess. But I have discussed about them in many of my posts already, so I don’t want to repeat myself here again. Instead, I want to talk about four essential ideas a true mentor : inform, encourage, empower and inspire.
Here I must stress that I deliberately use the word “inform” in lieu of “instruct”.
I personally believe in providing as much knowledge as my students (piano players and piano teachers) would need continually and gradually in wide varieties of topics and angles possible, with consistent support and guidance (again, instead of “instruction”), rather than spoon-feeding them and telling them that limited pool of knowledge would be all they need necessary to pass some exams or competitions or performance etc. There is certainly a structured framework and solid foundation I would provide and inform my students of their importance, yet there is also freedom and space for my students, even the young ones, to explore and discover for themselves in this music journey. In fact, it is exactly the essence of music learning: the spontaneity and creativity supported by a solid foundation and knowledge via a mastery of polished tools available for use anytime.
A lot of parents and teacher believe that in order to help students improve they must scold the kids and be mean and strict with them , or else there would be no or not enough progress. I beg to differ.
Personally I always believe in positive reinforcement and help in students to build an internal self-sufficient system that the students are the one to motivate themselves to work hard and diligently because they want to do it for themselves but not for others or to get out of blame, ridicule or punishment. Instead, the students are in for improving, progressing and achieving their own goals because they want it so bad they won’t do it otherwise. My role therefore is there to encourage them to keep doing it even when there is failure and obstacle. I am there to guide them and give them some guidance and solutions (or rather, help them to create their own solutions) so they know what to do on their own even when I am not around. They must know deep inside that they can do it because they have the ability, the willpower, and the drive to make it and to succeed, and I am there for them always.
I realise the reason why some students are so scared of taking on new challenges, whether it be learning a new piece or playing for other people: it is because they haven’t tasted the sweetness of success.
Scientific studies show that five positive experiences are required for a person to forget about one negative experiences. Our human brains are in fact wired to be so alert of mistakes and dangers, that this original good intention of our self-protective mechanism to prevent us from getting into dangerous or even life-threatening situation is however not helpful in encouraging us to take risks, step out of our comfort zones and progress.
I therefore decided to create more “mini-situations” for students to achieve some small successes before venturing into more serious situations with bigger successes. For instance, I would ask a couple students who know each other better in my studio (meaning my own students not the whole school) to play for each other (“super mini- situation”), before playing for other students in music gathering (“mini-situation”) and for other guest teacher in the upcoming masterclass (“a little bigger than mini situation”).
Gaining small successes help students to keep on trying, knowing that they have achieved something and are not afraid to try new challenges and bigger successes.
Successes stem from failures, and small successes lead to bigger successes.
I believe one of the most essential qualities of a great mentor is to inspire, to possess such capacity of helping her students to see and believe what they can achieve and who they can become in the future even when it seems far fetched right for them now. And in order to do so, the mentor must try many different ways in action and in speech – sometimes with seemingly radical or unfamiliar methods to her students. One can learn new things from almost any source if s/he is serious about learning and improving at the piano. Music is inseparable from our daily lives, even when what we learn is classical music. One can understand how one piano technique is improved by observing own action and actions of others on the street. One can get more ideas of musical expression by gaining ins