In the past — and more recently — I’ve run across teachers who take some sort of glee in “getting” students. They seem to take some sort of twisted happiness when they catch students in mistakes or see them fail.

Our job is to point out errors, to be sure, but it is also to encourage students and to cheer them on. I need to remind myself of this sometimes.

I was talking to a colleague last night about how we love to teach. As I’ve written recently, in my “order of retirement” teaching will be what I give up last. I love the very talented oboists I teach. I also love the challenges. I am frequently energized teaching these young oboists, and they do bring me joy. Once they learn how to deal with my wacky jokes and start to joke back it’s great fun. And when they finally “get” something it’s truly exciting!

There are still old school teachers out there, I’m sure — the ones who teach by fear and intimidation. There are also some younger ones who seem to think that’s how you teach. I wonder, sometimes, why the younger teachers and directors want to teach this way. Were they taught that way? Did they really enjoy it? Is this somehow a way to “get back” at their old teachers. If so, it’s not the answer.

I’m at my best when I wish the best for my students, rather than approaching a lesson with the intention of hearing only the bad. I’m at my best when I can point out the areas that need improvement but, at the same time, point out where a student has already improved and what is being done correctly. I’m a very picky teacher*; I’m sure my students will tell you that! But I hope, too, that I encourage students to do their best. My goal is to help them succeed, not fail.

I guess that’s really the the point to keep in mind, isn’t it? Our goad, as teachers, is to help students succeed at whatever it is they are doing. I wonder why we often help them fail instead.

*I heard from a colleague quite some time ago, after she had run into a former student of mine. She said he told her I was good, but very strict. I’m not sure if he was talking about my demand that students show up on time and practice during the week, or if it was about something else. Part of me was concerned; I do hope I was encouraging at the same time. I wonder, now, if I was too hard on him. (He was an adult student … maybe I’m harder on them? Hmmm. Something for me to ponder.)


  1. In my undergrad degree my teacher and I would talk a lot about self talk, or chatter. That is, how your thoughts and inner “teaching” yourself effect you. I think a trap that can be fallen into as a teacher is forgetting to turn that off with your students.
    As professionals it is so easy to be critical of OURSELVES 24/7, but it can be really dangerous to take the same approach that you might with yourself, with your students too.
    I will kick my own butt up and down the street over reeds, music, etc. etc.– but once I get into teaching mode, I am in cheering mode as you say Patty 🙂

  2. It’s a balance, isn’t it, Caitlyn? We can’t just say it’s all good when it’s not, but we can’t be so entirely negative that students never think they do anything right. And pointing out what’s right is awfully encouraging. (Some conductors understand this, some don’t!)

    And sometimes I nearly do something ridiculously stupid like say to a student who is starting to learn something, “I find this particular section nearly impossible!” Why put that on a student … might be he/she doesn’t find it that way. Go figure.

  3. Oh … and one interesting thing I’ve noted quite recently was seeing a student who was now in a teaching position even SAY, “I really go them this time!” I found it so odd … I’m sure the student hated it when she felt like her teacher “got” her … why do we like to do what was improperly done to us to others, I wonder? And yet I’m guessing I’ve probably done the same. Sigh.

    More that thirty years in the biz and I’m still learning!

  4. I completely agree that students need to be encouraged. The oboe is difficult enough without having a lot of negative teaching techniques added. I also don’t like having a teacher who gives only negative comments about other players (oboists and other instrumentalists). It makes me wonder if the teacher talks about other players like that, what does he say about me to others? It’s sets up a whole atmosphere where you feel like nothing is good enough. There is always something to improve on, yes…. but it just seems like the wrong approach. A teacher like that may think “Oh well, they’ll get over it as they mature.” but I think the teacher’s voice stays with us for a long time.