It is that stressful time of year when we often wonder why we ever wanted to become a music teacher in the first place.  We are in the middle of preparations for exams, followed by recitals, followed by summer program scheduling and planning for next year.  I sometimes think that if I were to give up sleeping, I might actually be able to get everything done.  At times like this, I find that I have to sit back and really think about what it is I actually do, and why my job is so important.  That’s when I realize that being a music teacher can be both one of the most truly fulfilling jobs, but also one that comes with the greatest of responsibilities.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Wilfrid Laurier University, and to hear the student orchestra play.  It was one of the most amazing performances I have ever had the pleasure to attend.  Sitting and listening to all of those talented and dedicated young people, it struck me that each of them was there because, somewhere along the road, a music teacher had a positive impact on their lives.  Someone who was passionate about music was able to pass on the joy of making music to their students or children!

The responsibility of being a child’s first music teacher is an enormous one!  If all goes well, music will be a joyful part of their lives, and they may even one day end up on that University stage.  If the first experience learning music is a traumatic one, however, the joy of making music may be lost to that child forever.  I know many adults who are afraid to sing because, as children, they were told to “just mouth the words”.  I’ve also had young children break down into tears when I’ve asked them to sing in music class because, at one point, they had tried out for their elementary school choir and were told that they weren’t good enough.

When I taught in the school system, there was a poster in the Kindergarten class that read “everything I need to know in life I learned in Kindergarten”. I think that you could use the same poster in music class.  There are so many skills that are learned through music – public presentation, exam taking, dealing with mistakes, math and reading, memorization, working together as a team, following instructions, listening, creativity, coordination, self-confidence, self-discipline, perseverance.  It seems like an overwhelming job at the best of times.  One of the most amazing things about being a music teacher is that you don’t have to pass your students on to someone else after only a year.  You have the opportunity to watch them grow and develop all of these skills, and to be a part of the process.  Having a student start in a preschool music and movement class and stay with you until they head off to University is like having all the joy of being a parent without the stress!

We all come to teaching in different ways.  Some of us know from the time we are young that teaching is what we want to do.  Some of us find the passion for teaching only after having children of our own.  Whatever route brings us to this point, being a teacher is an important vocation that is both challenging and rewarding.  Some of the trials and tribulations of being a music teacher are aptly portrayed in the musical comedy “Two Pianos – Four Hands”. It is a hilarious look into the frustrations of teaching … and learning … musical skills. I was deeply insulted, however, by the insinuation made in the second half of the play, that … “if you aren’t good enough to perform, you can always teach”. A good teacher is so much more than just a “failed performer”.  A good teacher passes on knowledge and skills that can enrich a child’s life.  A good teacher can truly make a difference.