During the school year, my students and I have much to prepare for: audition recordings, live auditions, performances, adjudication festivals, recitals . . . All these events are great. Most students need these events to keep them focused on improving their playing skills and artistry. But sometimes, these events can feel like a grind. It can feel as though you’re just checking boxes in your practice, which can lead to burn-out and uninspired playing (and teaching!). So I like to make sure that we infuse an element of fun into our lessons, all year long, even when we’re working our hardest and have our noses to the grindstone. (Or our lips to the embouchure plate.)
Silliness is important in teaching. If you’re not willing to let your hair down a bit and laugh with your students, you’re missing out on something, and so are they. One of my college professors, an experienced music educator, often reminded us that “It’s ok for your students to see you being human.”
I have a bulletin board full of cards, notes, and silly pictures over my desk. Some are from friends and family. Others are from current and former students. I allow our kitten (almost grown-up) to follow students (except for the one who’s allergic to cats) into the studio and greet them, and we laugh at his antics, and when he makes for the door when we start playing. (I also have a Calico who performs interesting antics, and who has a liking for the piccolo. Go figure.) I use stickers, especially with younger students but also with my older ones, who claim to miss the stickers later and I like to compete with each other over who has the most (and coolest) stickers on her lesson notebook.
I have an odd looking, duck-shaped asparagus server, which I have never once used to serve asparagus, which sits on top of a hutch on the other side of the room. We pretend the duck is our audience member sitting way in the back of the hall, in the balcony. In any venue, I can say to one of my students, “Aim at the duck!” and they’ll know I mean they need to project better.
In my backyard, I have THE most bizarre, ugly looking metal buzzard named Floyd. My husband bought Floyd for me while he was on tour, to cheer me up after a particularly difficult time. (And he did. And does. He is perfectly ridiculous looking. Floyd, not my husband.) I have photos of Floyd “driving” the tour bus. Floyd sits on a stump in my back yard. So, one day, when a student of mine was having a particular sad day in the middle of a particularly sad time, we put our flutes down and walked out back, where I introduced her to Floyd. I now have a metalish-paper mache? rooster from this student on a shelf in my studio. It was her end-of-year teacher gift, and a very meaningful one, because this was her way of showing me that she GOT IT. Have fun. Even in the darkest times. I’ll never forget one of her family members saying to me, “We don’t know why that’s what she wanted to give you, but she insisted, so . . .”
Never underestimate how much your happiness and sense of humor can mean to the next student who walks in your door. Work intelligently, and have fun.
This is Floyd, decorated for our local Apple Blossom Festival. Isn’t he charming?