Mrs. Austin on music and teaching…


I have been teaching private piano lessons for about forty years.  Sometimes, I ask  myself, “What has kept me at this job for so long?”  I don’t receive monetary bonuses or paid vacations, and I teach alone most of the time.  So, what keeps me coming backing year after year?  First, developing my craft.  I am challenged to practice and learn the literature because it sharpens and enhances my own pianistic skills not only for my own teaching but also for my own self as well.

Teaching is about change.  Every time a student comes in the door he or she is different.  To meet this head on is a challenge and one that I relish.  One of my students constantly came to lessons with a bad attitude and I decided to make an “attitude box.”  I told him to choose one of the words in the box that best described his attitude.  Then I asked him to place the word back in the box and leave that attitude behind.  I told him that if, after the lesson he wanted to pick up that same attitude he could, but as long as he was at the lesson his attitude needed to be better.  He smiled and from then on our times together were much more positive and productive .

I see my students as more than just people to whom I just teach musical skills.  They each have unique personalities, interests and needs and I enjoy getting to know them as individuals.  I remember vividly a student whom I had taught for many years.  One day he came to the lesson extremely distraught.  I chose to spend the hour listening as he poured out his personal problems.  Only much later did he tell me that the time we spent together literally saved his life.

Taking the music journey with a child is most rewarding.  Sometimes we work for months, sometimes years, and it seems that nothing significant is happening.  Then one day the student “gets it!”  To me it is like watching a butterfly coming out of its cocoon, wings spread, ready for the adventure ahead.  Experiencing this process over and over is both thrilling and a challenge.  What a joy this can be for both student and teacher!

As a private teacher I have the luxury of doing what I want to do without a boss looking over my shoulder.  However, I am the boss, and I use this fact to challenge myself to be as professionally responsible and creative in my job as possible. Over the years I have had the opportunity to expand my skills, my knowledge of music and my appreciation of my students and their families.  This keeps me excited and ready for new challenges.  The older I become the more I realize how much there is to learn.  The idea that we can keep learning throughout our lives is exhilarating, and striving to continually learn keeps my interest piqued in the world of teaching.  I hope that my passion for both music and my students will have a positive and lasting effect on them throughout their lives.