This week is going to be short and sweet! (At the bottom are links to the other posts in this series if you need to catch up)
When I taught piano lessons to other people’s children, it was very important to me that I looked nice and that my house looked nice. Sensible enough. These people are paying me, I’m exerting some measure of influence over this child, and I want to look the part.
I think the same should be true, even when you’re teaching your own child.
Prepare yourself and your house as carefully as you would if you were teaching someone else’s child.
Obviously, I try as a rule to be dressed and looking nice during the day just for my girls. But there are days where my appearance and perhaps even the status of my shower-ed-ness is less than desirable. But not on piano lesson day.
If the morning was rushed and I was unable to get ready, then I will take fifteen minutes before Hope’s lesson to do my make-up, earrings, outfit. I want her to know that this is important to me; I also want to help myself take it seriously even on days when I’m tired or other things around the house aren’t quite up to par.
Would I be okay looking like this if another kid was coming for a lesson?
Then there’s the house. Thankfully for us, Hope’s lessons are on Monday afternoons. Monday is after Sunday; and that means that Monday morning is basically clean up from the aftermath of Sunday time. All that to say, there’s not usually too much for me to straighten before the lesson. However, after I put the little girls down for their naps, I take a look around and try to put things away until it looks presentable.
I’m not sure that Hope notices any of this. But I know that it helps me and my mindset. I want to give her my best, to be serious and committed. And for lesson day, that means looking put together personally and having a house that’s neat.
Any other thoughts on how to be professional while teaching your own child?
Here are the links to the other posts in this series:
Well, hello again! I have been teaching my daughter Hope piano lessons for twelve weeks now. Knowing that it would be a challenge, I decided to chronicle the happenings here. It’s been great for encouragement and reflection and hopefully even helpful for you as well.
The first post in the series dealt with a little trick I call The Name Game.
Today, I’m going to share some helpful tips I’ve learned about practicing with your child during the week, as the mom and NOT the teacher.
Tip #1: Take a different posture than you do while teaching.
If you usually stand while teaching, try during the week to sit down while they practice. If you’re the teacher who prefers to sit, trying standing while they practice.
This might seem so small, but it has made a huge difference for me.
The first few weeks of practicing with Hope during the week were really rough for me. I was trying so hard to not be “teachery,” but having trouble! I know one day I literally chewed a great big spot in my cheek. (It hurt!) Everything in me wanted to be correcting and instructing, moving her hands and straightening her back, and ugh. Something had to happen. So one day, probably the day after I chewed the inside of my cheek off, I decided to pull up an ottoman and sit down next to her instead of standing. (I always stand up when giving lessons) It was amazing how this small change gave me a totally different perspective. Instead of being a teacher, now I was just a mom. Listening, helping her know what to practice next, making sure she wasn’t dawdling in between assignments, but other than that, just being there and watching her play. Sometimes I hold a hot cup of coffee and just sit there; it’s actually kind of relaxing.
Tip #2: As a general rule, only correct what an ordinary parent would know to correct.
Yes, while I’m watching Hope practice, there are a thousand things that I know “Mrs. _____” would say if she was listening, but during that time, I’m not her teacher, I’m her mom. Especially at this early stage, I’ll do more damage than good by using my “pianist knowledge” with her as she practices. I would much rather her come ask me for extra help, then wish that I would put a cork in it.
When she’s practicing, and I think I should remark about something she’s doing wrong, I ask myself, “Would an ordinary parent know to say that?” And if I think yes, then I go ahead and try to help. If not, then I leave it alone. After all, we wouldn’t “Mrs. _____” to not have any work to do during the lesson.
Tip #3: Focus on developing good concentration skills and work ethic.
I feel that a parent’s “supervisor” role should have as it’s focus their child’s concentration skills and work ethic. Do I want Hope to learn to play that D Major scale correctly? Yes! But I can artificially teach her how to play it perfectly. As a parent, it’s more important to me that she begin to learn good character as it regards to learning and practicing.
Here’s an example, I won’t correct every wrong note or note value that she plays; but I do work on her dawdling in between songs, playing what I call “whatever music” (just random notes on the piano).
“Hope, this is your time to practice your lesson. That is not your lesson. We only have so much time, and you need to work on only the things that are written in your assignment book. When you finish one thing, you go right to the next.”
I’m all for being creative. I regularly let Hope have time at the piano to just “play.” She likes to experiment with sounds and intervals and ups and downs and everything. That is good and that is helpful. But when it’s time to practice the lesson, she must be focused.
This might sound like a lot to ask from a five-year old, but I’m not actually expecting her to do it perfectly now (that’s why I’m here), I’m just trying to plant the seeds of how to focus on a task you’ve been given. This translates to chores, schoolwork, and even games.
The same could be said of work ethic. I have the chance to watch her and gauge her diligence and effort. Even now, I want to encourage her to give her best. It’s a huge lesson in life to learn that a major way to respond with thankfulness for opportunities is to engage yourself in them with all your heart. Thankfully, she does pretty good at this right now, because she’s still loving it.
These things, concentration and work ethic (thought I might not use those exact terms with her), are things that I will comment on as I see the need. I feel that as the parent, these are things that fall under our concern. We’re uniquely able to deal with these issues as we oversee the practice time during the week.
Tip #4: Try not to make up for your child’s memory just because you are also the teacher.
This in some ways is a sub-point under the last tip. I’ll try to make it short. = ) A teacher has to be very careful and clear about what they want during the week. The child’s responsibility is to remember. If something is extremely important and the teacher thinks the student might need help remembering, they will probably make an extra note on the assignment book so the parent will be aware of the instructions as well. This way the parent can also help the child remember.
As far as Hope and I go, if it’s not expressly written in her assignment book and she doesn’t remember what Mrs. _____ said during the lesson, I don’t remind her (even though I am technically Mrs. _____ and know what she’s supposed to do). She needs to be accountable for remembering and she needs to feel the consequences of not remembering at the lesson if she didn’t follow through.
I hope these have been helpful and thought-provoking. As I already said, it’s been good for me to think through the different challenges of teaching your own child; and it’s been fun to figure out solutions to those challenges.
I can only imagine what we’ll learn together in the future! = )
(Next time we’ll talk about preparing yourself and your house to be “teacher-like” on lesson day)
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments.
If you haven’t seen it already, check out the first post in this series: The Name Game.
If you were to ask me as a piano teacher, “What is the one common denominator among happy, successful beginning piano students?”
The answer would be easy: “Parents who are involved with the child as they practice.”
It took about two weeks of being Hope’s piano teacher and her mom to realize, “Wow! This being the mom of a child taking piano lessons is hard work! The teachers have it way easier.”
My hat (that one that everyone carries around for the sole purpose of saluting) immediately went off to all the parents of my past students. They had been the ones responsible for their children’s accomplishments. With that little mental ceremony over, it was time to face reality: I wasn’t just a teacher any more, now I was a mom.
And with my sweet little Hope taking piano lessons, it was my job to help her practice.
Being your child’s teacher does not exclude you from being their mom during the week.
I now have to live up to the expectations that I placed on parents:
*Help your child practice every day
*Make sure they closely follow their given assignment
*Assist them with any theory work
*Be there to answer questions and give common sense guidance
It takes work to build a daily practice time into your already busy schedule. It was quite a challenge for me during those first few weeks. I would think, “I already did the lesson, now we have to practice, too?” Yes, you spoiled person; just like you made all those other people, now you have to practice, too.
Currently, she’s dying to practice every second of the day, so that makes things a little easier. I do try to not just put her off when it’s not a good time, but explain that we will do it later and then follow through with what I’ve said. Most of the time, practice happens while the little girls nap, and I sit right with her. Sometimes it happens when the others are awake, and I’m just barely supervising her work, and sometimes I let her practice by herself while the little girls get baths.
It’s quite the juggling act, but we’re determined to make it work.
And one more thing, it is hard to not jump back into that teacher mode during the week. I have discovered a few things that have been helpful, and I’ll share them next time!
For a few years I’ve put off teaching my oldest daughter piano lessons because I didn’t want to do a bad job. The stereotype seems to be that most piano teachers do not have success with their own children. It’s challenging to play the role of parent and teacher simultaneously.
However, I also dearly love teaching children and am extremely picky passionate about how they are taught. I haven’t really run in the piano teacher circles since our move, so I didn’t have any good choices that I knew of for Hope. Besides that, right now, it would be best to have a teacher that was free.
A few months before Hopey turned five, I knew it was time to stop stalling. People had been asking for years when I was going to start teaching her and she had begun asking to play constantly. We decided that this would be one of her birthday presents; I ordered the books online before I could change my mind.
My piano pedagogy professor in college went through all the reasons why it’s not wise to teach your own children the piano. I do remember him saying something like, “The only person I ever knew it worked for would make her girls go out the door, walk around the block, and come back in for their lesson. They were required to call her Mrs. Swaim.”
This idea stuck with me, and I decided to try it. Since I had everything else going against me, I figured this was my only chance.
I told Hope that she would have to go out the door, and then knock to come in for her lesson. She would have to call her teacher Mrs. Mylastname and that she was to be very well-behaved. Her eyes lit up as she caught on.
Not quite knowing what to expect, imagine my pleasure when she walked in the door with the most adorable smile on her face and twinkle in her eye, “Hello, Mrs. ________.”
This little game has actually helped me a lot. I’ve been able to look at her like any other student. It’s been so fun to realize, Wow, she’s just like other kids; doing cute things, annoying things, childish things… she’s just my piano student for that hour.
After her lesson, I send her out the door again. When she comes back in, I ask her how her lesson was and she tells me all about it and shows me what she has to do for that week.
We’ve been going for at least two months now, and it’s been great. The name game has really helped.
Obviously, there’s still a long road ahead filled with many challenges. But since we’re on the way, I figured why not blog about it.
Hope you enjoy! Next time I’ll talk about why teachers really have it better.
Don’t want to miss this series? Follow my blog if you’re on WordPress, or sign up to receive posts through email. Do you have any experiences teaching your own children music lessons? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments! Thanks so much for reading and have a lovely day.