Another elegant solution that seems to knit together disparate principles of philosophies of instruction into one is the simple phrase, “You be the teacher.”
Whenever I spring this instruction on students their eyes light. All of a sudden, the space between us is energized with potential. Sometimes students will look to the side to their parents, almost like they are seeking permission to take on the responsibility just bestowed.
Indeed, being a teacher is being responsible. Being a teacher implies taking responsibility for someone or something– so it isn’t so surprising that a child’s eyes would widen at the suggestion.
When I say, “You be the teacher,” I direct the student’s attention to either their parent, their own playing, or me. Each has its benefits.
The primary reason to use the phrase is it is a discerning tool for assessment.
If you want to test a student’s understanding of tone, posture, rhythm, correct bowings, etc just play the wring thing and see if they catch it. Then, even more telling, see if they can teach you how to perform the skill correctly.
You want to make sure they know that (A) a dropping scroll is alarming and intolerable, and (B) the way to solve the problem is to set the violin higher on the shoulder and with a positive incline.
Another skill to assess is the student’s general ability to recognize patterns, problems, and potential. Instead of telling a student in advance what skill you want them to teach, try leaving the direction completely open ended.
What will a student choose to work on when they have the opportunity to work on any aspect of violin playing they see fit. This is usually telling in an of itself, and a really interesting way to learn about the unique child in front of you.
Usually what they choose to work on is quite appropriate and surprisingly insightful. But if students are floundering and overwhelmed, or pretty far off the mark, gently guide them with leading questions to an appropriate skill to work on.
What you are really doing is assessing and training a student’s ability to direct their own practice. They must pay enough attention to recognize something to work on in their own playing (in a sea of possibilities), which is tough. Saying, “You be the teacher,” can be a first step in learning to practice well independently.
For this very preparation of independence, another reason to use, “You be the teacher,” unveils itself. It is an empowering statement.
By saying the words, “You be the teacher,” I’m signaling to the student that
- I think they are focused enough to recognize something important
- I trust they will make responsible decisions as they take care of their parent, their own playing, or me
- they already have enough skills to be a teacher.
The empowerment is deliberate and tangible. I trust my students to struggle but succeed in the arenas I put them in, and challenge them accordingly. Students enter into the challenges with courage and determination, and leave it with a sense of accomplishment and confidence. They move forward daringly, ready to tackle a more complex challenge next.
One final reason I use, “You be the teacher,” is that it invites the student to blur the line between student and teacher with me right from the beginning. As students try on the difficult role of teaching, they come to understand the framework from which I work. They also, inversely, come to realize that I am still a student, too.
Just as teachers teach and students learn, students teach and teachers learn.
“You be the teacher,” while a tool for assessment and empowerment, also disrupts the notion that the titles “student” and “teacher” are any more than inflections in the way we orient ourselves in lessons.
More elegant solutions right this way.