I started becoming a teacher the day I was born. From the earliest moments I (and you, for that matter) started collecting ideas, memories, skills, frameworks, that influence the way I (we) will teach forever.
But I didn’t make the decision to be a teacher until the summer after freshman year in high school.
That summer, I attended Bravo! Summer Music Camp at the University of Minnesota. We spent all of our waking hours doing music related things and hanging out with music related people. Practice, rehearsals, lessons, technique classes, master classes, and recitals all swirled together into a beautiful wash of effort and reward. I think I grew more in that month than I had in all of my work in violin put together.
One of my favorite activities while at Bravo! was attending master classes, which we were required to do every afternoon. I had a red spiral-bound notebook in which I would write down my observations of a student’s playing, the teachers response, and the resulting change in the student’s playing. At the time I think I thought I was taking notes in order to apply it to my own playing, but what I was really studying was teaching.
I knew, in that summer when the entirety of my day to day work aligned, that I wanted to pursue violin as a profession. And I knew that the way I felt most rewarded in my relationship with music was not in performing, or even practicing, but in teaching.
Because I was passionate about teaching I began gathering up all of the information about it I could. I was lucky enough to study with Tim and Kristi who had a robust teaching library that I borrowed from. I read The Practice Revolution, Mindsight by Carol Dweck, Helping Parent’s Practice by Ed Sprunger, and Teaching From the Balance Point by Ed Kreitman.
I attended master classes set up by the community of Suzuki teachers in Austin, but was far more excited about the guest teachers’ teaching styles than my opportunity to play for them. At this point I decided to start auditing teacher training workshops in Austin. Many were attended by Time and Kristi, my teachers, who then introduced me to other violin teachers in the area.
I couldn’t register any teacher training through the SAA until I was 18, but that didn’t stop me from auditing Book 3 teacher training with Ed Sprunger the summer before my senior year. The deeper I dove into teaching, the more I wanted to learn.
In Burnet, a small town in the Texas Hill Country, there are not many opportunities to teach classical violin lessons. The town doesn’t have a community music school, and the public school doesn’t have an orchestra. However, one of the assistant band directors successfully launched a sort of music appreciation course my junior year which invited many types of musicians (pianists, composers, guitarists, violinists) to participate. By playing violin in this class, work got around the school that I performed and could probably teach violin. When a few high school students approached me about taking lessons, I leapt at the offer.
Word around a small town travels fast, and by the end of my junior year I was teaching two high school students, a middle school students, and an elementary school student. Each of them were in there first few months with the instrument as old beginners, so we were doing the slow/scratchy work that comes with learning violin late in the game. But the value in starting my teaching at this point was that it got my gears turning. I began to think as a teacher, act as a teacher, and find joy in teaching.
I left those students when I went to the University of Texas to begin my undergraduate degree in violin performance. I didn’t start teaching right away, but I did start interning with the University of Texas String Project as soon as I could. There was a fortunate shortage of violin teachers, so by my spring semester I was already teaching classes of students solo.
It was at this time that I was also asked to baby sit the kids of a local Suzuki cello teacher named Beth Ringel. I would make my way over to Monarch Suzuki Academy (MSA) to babysit sit her son while she would teach a few lessons. After a few weeks, I was asked by Shana Guidi, violin teacher and director of MSA to babysit her daughter too. I had fun taking care of their kids and being closely affiliated with a great Suzuki school.
While Shana and Beth were driving me back and forth for babysitting we would discuss teaching. I would ask them the questions that were on my mind, and they would share experience and stories with me.
I signed up for Book 1 and Book 2 teacher training for the summer after my freshman year, and this also came into my discussions with Shana. At the time she was interviewing several people for teaching positions at MSA. After our many discussions of pedagogy and the opportunity to get to know each other outside of teaching as well, Shana offered me an interview as well. By the end of the year, after moving through the interview process, Shana invited me to teach at Monarch Suzuki Academy.
Over the summer I completed Book 1 teacher training with Dr. Scott and Book 2 teacher training with Dr. Sue Baer at the Greater Austin Suzuki Institute. I also interned in the middle of the summer with Austin Chamber Music Center which gave me a whole other perspective on teaching ensembles and working in music outside of the Suzuki realm. Between teacher training and GASI I was meeting more and more Suzuki teachers in the area and doing observations whenever I could.
By the fall of my sophomore year I hit the ground running. I was teaching a full roster of students every day of the week through Monarch Suzuki Academy and String Project. A had a good amount of teacher training under my belt, but was still looking to further my knowledge. And because String Project and MSA took care of contracts and payments with families I could focus my energy on my teaching skills.
By having a core group of students to work with from sophomore year to the end of undergrad, I was able to actually put what I was learning in class to work.
Everything I was learning, reading, and observing could be directly applied to the lessons I was teaching every afternoon. I was able to see changes in the way my students played as I learned more and more about teaching. Most importantly, by actually teaching in college I knew, with absolute certainty, that I wanted to be a private Suzuki violin teacher.
I didn’t have to wait until graduation to know that my choice of degree aligned with my choice of career which aligned with my passion.
I don’t share my own story here to brag or to persuade you to follow the exact same path.
I share my story because I want young teachers to know there is a path to teaching professionally as a freshman or sophomore in college (if not earlier), and that waiting for permission to teach is not necessary.
If I were to pull out four commonly applicable action steps from my story it would be these
Know what you want to do, learn everything you can about it
I don’t believe that each person has a singular “passion” that upon discovery and pursuit will lead you to lifelong happiness. However, I do believe there are realms of work in which, as individuals, we can feel deeply satisfied.
While growing up we have the opportunity to discover those satisfaction sweet spots, and to dive into them without risk. For me, that was teaching, but for you it might be something else.
I encourage you to study yourself intently. Work to know what it is that brings you joy. And once you know what it is, enjoying learning the heck out of it!
Don’t just follow the people who are doing what you want to do on instagram– hit the library to find the experts working in your field decades or centuries ago. What do they, the founders of your discipline, have to say about what brings both of you joy?
Follow your sparked curiosity. If you have a burning question about your field research it intently. If an author you respect recommends a book, READ IT. Follow the rabbit holes, find the dead ends. Ask your own questions, formulate your own answers, and see how they compare to the answers of the experts.
Have fun! If this part isn’t fun, then you probably haven’t found the work that actually brings you joy.
Make sure everyone you know knows what you want to do
Many of us have diametrically opposed goals.
We want everyone to know about and appreciate our work
We want to keep our work hidden and private until we think it is ready
The problem with these goals is that you will never be able to satisfy both. Either you do everything in private and no one knows the value of your work, or you do everything in public and you are vulnerable to the public gaze as you make mistakes.
The problem with the former is that if no one knows what you are up to, then no one can help you. And the beauty of the second is two-fold. People aren’t paying as close of attention to you as you think they are, and through iterating in public people will come to trust your growth and ability to learn as you go.
For these reasons, I think it is imperative for you to actively communicate with EVERYONE you know the one thing you are passionately pursuing.
Start with your family, move to close friends, mentors, and teachers. Tell friends, acquaintances and even people you are introducing yourself to.
When people think of you or talk about you, you them to immediately think about what it is you are passionately pursuing.
Things will start to change in your life when everyone thinks of you and then immediately thinks of something like ‘violin teacher.’ It is even more meaningful when they think of ‘violin teacher’ and immediately think of you.
Get to know everyone in your field
Chances are there are a lot of people excited about what you are excited about, so figure out who they are.
Look for blogs, social media accounts, books, and community organizations focused on what you are excited about. Know who is highly respected and why. Look for connections between people. Come to understand the way people in your community communicate – is it through forums, emails, journals, social media, or in person meet ups?
Once you know, get involved. Reach out to folks to say you are new and would love to meet folks and learn more.
When introducing yourself to people in your field, I feel it is easiest to start with asking intelligent questions…
One I ask all of the time is, “What books have changed the way you think about [your passion]?”
Asking questions can establish your credibility, show that you want to learn, and launch an awesome conversation.
Remember that people in the community are usually going to be further down the road than you in terms of thinking about your field. If you try to access the experts, they will generally be on a different conceptual/thinking plane than you are. Sometimes it makes the most sense to learn from and be close to the people who are just a few years ahead of where you are now.
Take the opportunity to set up reoccurring meetings with these people, provide as much value to the community as possible, and prioritize in person meetings over online connection.
Leap at opportunities that get you closer to what you want to do
If you build your knowledge base on what you are excited about, make sure everyone knows what you want to do, and actually engage with the people who are doing what you are doing, then opportunities will start to come your way. Make sure to hustle after them when they do, even if you don’t think you are quite ready. You will learn far more when you are on the field than when you are sitting on the sidelines.
Herein lies the paradoxical nature of pursuing your passion: it requires equal, well timed seasons of patience and hustle. No recipe will be exactly right; you will make blunders and yet you will be fine. Have utter confidence that because you want to do what you want to do, you will do what you want to do. Have fun and get after it. Know that if I’ve done it, you can too.