Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Once I get started...

On the weekend I was told "To set the record straight, this is not a 'teaching method'. You cannot buy ten volumes of Suzuki books and become a 'Suzuki Teacher'."
While I couldn't agree more with this statement and have had to explain this to many parents in the past (usually parents criticising Suzuki because they'd not had a 'true' Suzuki teacher), the reason for making this statement bothers me a little.

In the last few years, the violin repertoire has undergone major revisions. There are many more photographic illustrations, exercises, technical preparations and instructions contained in the new books. So many more that it is difficult to understand the necessity of the apprenticeship model and hours of observation required in teacher training. I feel that the new books (which come packaged with a cd) make it easier for teachers to access the repertoire and teach suzuki method.

Shouldn't I be jumping up and down and yelping for joy? Hooray, give me the book, I'll work through it diligently with each student, they'll be ever-so-well prepared and my life will be easy. I won't need to innovate, to identify potential technical hurdles, or even demonstrate good posture - it's all RIGHT HERE IN THIS BOOK!

Wrong. I feel that these new books make it easier for teachers to access the repertoire and teach suzuki method while having little or no understanding of the philosophy.

I feel that including so many photographs will make teachers lazy about demonstration and perhaps make parents a little lazy too - I don't need to watch other children, learn how to hold the bow, integrate this information into my own nervous system -Here! It's right here in the book! Look at that! Do it like that! (I know, I'm so cynical. You try teaching for ten years and let me know how your idealism fares.)

And the exercises. Hm. The problem here is that not every child needs every point prepared. Some children need one skill presented fifty different ways. Some don't. Overteaching is the quickest and easiest way to kill a child's interest. They will have different standards of perfection and it's not our job to impose OUR standards upon them. Rather, we need to keep modelling what we feel to be desirable and accept that their opinion may be different - they may not yet be capable of reproducing information at that level.

What's my real beef? I guess I feel that many teachers are not passionate about what they do. Or that they have become limited to a box of ideas and won't venture beyond it. I find reading the work of other educationalists fascinating. The way that Steiner and Montessori link to kinesiology and BrainGym; Glenn Doman and John Holt; Reggio Emilia  (and here ) and Suzuki's preschool and elementary school and the obvious resemblance to Kumon....

Ask why teachers teach what they do, why they do, how they do. And if they don't know, finding out may re-inspire them.


So I'm a Suzuki teacher. Not a "Oh, I teach Suzuki method violin" teacher, but a Suzuki philosophy teacher. Well, I try to be. It doesn't always go to plan, especially when I'm brought (or pushed) into proximity with other Suzuki teachers. The code goes like this: "Methhhhhoddddd" (with eye-rolling or tweaking fingers) or "Philosophy" (hushed, slightly reverent tones).

An incident is relayed in Suzuki Changed My Life by Masaaki Honda.in which one of Suzuki's nieces returned to the modest family home and said "Oh, on my way home I saw this poor man... and thought how nice it would be to invite him home where we have hot tea and good food." (I am paraphrasing because I can't currently find my copy of this book, but you get the point.) Instead of praising her for her kind thoughts, Suzuki pushed her back out the door and told her to find the man and bring him home. She did, and they fed him and kept him overnight before he resumed his journey the next day.  

While the action points to the value of karma and reciprocity, Suzuki said he was trying to teach the value of action. (Hello, Satyananda philosophy!) When we think Hey, wouldn't it be nice if... yep, ok, you're a great person for THINKING that, but it's meaningless and futile unless you get off your backside and DO it. So, the message? Thoughts are essentially without value unless they are acted upon and made real.  (The perfect illustration: Well, I was going to do x (where x = wash the dishes), and I was thinking about it, but then y (a phone call inviting me out to lunch) happened. Yes, so you lost your intent and x never actually happened.)

What's brought this to my mind was a funny incident on Sunday involving several Suzuki teachers. Meeting was meant to take place at location A but changed to location B (another teacher's studio) because of our warm weather and the availability of air-conditioning. 

At my house my studio is downstairs and semi-detached from the 'main' house; students need to come upstairs to use the bathroom, for a drink, etc. Same deal @ location B. The homeowner and her husband were at home and spent their Sunday in the garden and other activities around the house. 

I think that in a similar situation (i.e. location B being my home) I would leave the necessary items for lunch (we were in situ from 10am-4pm) such as plates, glasses, cups and cutlery on the kitchen bench or dining table so that the (four) working teachers could assemble their meals (from the food they had brought) and have a cup of tea before getting back to it. Well, I thought that would be a sensible approach. 

Clearly I'm afflicted by a very strange and perverted type of common-sense. It does, after all, make far more sense for the visiting teacher to bring cutlery, cups, glasses, plates, TEABAGS, sugar and coffee. And then pack them all away to wash up at home. 
MUCH more sense. What was I thinking? 

You will all be pleased to know that I have offered my studio space on multiple occasions. I even have five different types of herbal tea. However, living forty/fifty minutes from the city, it's clearly too far for other teachers to travel. Clearly. There are some days I just don't get it. Any of it.