“Those that can’t do, teach.”
This loose remark ended up turning me away from teaching for close to twenty years! I was exposed to it during my sophomore year as a Music Education/Jazz Performance double major at NYU. It started to color how I looked at my peers in my Scholars in Education program.
No Respect For Teachers
Teaching gets no respect in today’s society and somehow and somewhere this statement, “Those that can’t do, teach” was spread and effectively turned off our highest performing graduates from ever going into education.
It took a long time for me to realize how stupid and wrong that statement is. Does that mean that the inverse is true? “Those that can do can also teach?” Absolutely not.
There are so many examples of excellent sports superstars, business leaders, and amazing musicians who cannot teach. It takes skill to be a teacher.
Teaching requires self-confidence without arrogance, openness, wonder and gratitude before one can be generous with their knowledge. But to write off all teachers as do-ers who failed is just tragic.
I’ve been a “multi-potentialite” – a renaissance soul, all my life. (See the excellent TED Talk on this.) It basically means I was able to go off on many adventures in my career – from being an actor on stage and television, to journalist, to film composer, to financial salesman to advertising creative director to teacher.
Along the way, I took many personality and aptitude tests, met with counselors, astrologists and even psychics in my vain search to find my one true calling. Again and again it showed that I was not a one path kind of guy. I was definitely a creative with an abundance of ideas, energy and passion to create new things and a gift for teaching and writing. I feel blessed to be able to share so many diverse experiences and examples with my students. But I’m not alone.
The Greatness of Teaching
What I want to show today is that there is a role for you as a teacher no matter what your skill level or experience. Teaching is a learnable skill. It does require one thing: passion for sharing. That’s it. You need to be generous and giving. What you learn and know can make a huge difference in someone’s life. And it may not be what you think it is.
Teaching is the reason why the world is what it is today. We’ve passed on our skills, knowledge and experience generation after generation creating the awesome wonder it is.
Three Kinds of Teachers
When I was starting out as a music teacher, I had a lot of self-doubt. Who was I to be the one to introduce the world of music? And yet, this was just an internal limiting belief.
What propelled me forward was my then four-year-old son who began asking for piano lessons. I interviewed local teachers to find the right fit and what I found was disappointing, uninspired and definitely not fun. So I started a deep dive back into pedagogy and rediscovered my love and passion for sharing and because it was for my son, it made it even more special.
What gave me confidence was an insight I had along the way; it was the idea that there’s not just one type of teacher. In fact, I believe there are at least three.
1) The Foundation Builder – this teacher is the one who teaches the basics and exposes the student to the world of your subject. Usually a generalist, s/he has a lot of passion, patience and loves to unveil the mysteries and wonder of their chosen subject.
2) The Next Level – this teacher can be a combination of generalist and specialist working with a student who has had the basic foundations already. For a music teacher, s/he could expand the foundational skills and concepts while perfecting technique, expression, hearing finer details, and adding more complexity.
3) The Wizard – This teacher is usually a specialist who propels the student into the highest levels by concentrating on minimizing specific weaknesses and accentuating the natural gifts of the student. S/he may also help the student to find their unique “voice” to go on to be a presence in the world. In sports, this would be like a Phil Jackson coaching the Chicago Bulls, especially the young Michael Jordan. In music, this could be Nadia Boulanger teaching and mentoring so many greats from Aaron Copland to Quincy Jones. Or it could be like Alberto Guerrero teaching the young Glenn Gould with a powerful new technique.
Finding your place in the world as a teacher is important. It can give you a sense of comfort, validation and identity. I definitely resonate with the Foundation Builder as a music teacher with my preschool students. I’ve sent many student on to a Next Level or Wizard when I felt the time was right. What kind of teacher are you?
Parents are already teachers whether they know it or not.
Last year, only months before her death, writer Maya Angelou said, “At our best, we are all teachers now, whether we know it or not.” I’d like to propose we use this as our new mantra now, striking out that old ignorant phrase of “Those that can’t do, teach,” replacing it with “We Are All Teachers Now.”
Do you have any personal stories about teachers and teaching? Please share in the comments below.
And if you are a musician or music teacher who would like to know HOW to teach I’m preparing to release the long-awaited training course The Musicolor Method™ sometime in early November. It is by far, the easiest, simplest method to teach anyone a musical instrument – even preschoolers.