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GOOD AND BAD TEACHERS

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  • #85158
    carl-swanson
    Participant

    The following is a response that I put on that interminable ‘Watkins on youtube thread’ which has wandered more than the Mississippi. I thought it would make a good topic for a new thread. This is in no way a veiled attempt to bash any one method or group of teachers. As I said on my post on the ‘Watkins thread’ there are good and bad teachers in all methods. And for those of us who teach students who have come from other teachers, I’d be interested in hearing what problems students have brought you from other teachers. My aim in posing this question is to give students, particularly new students to the harp, some guidelines in figuring out if they are studying with a good or a bad teacher. Here’s what I wrote on the other thread.

    A good teacher will actively teach you how to get around the instrument, produce a clear strong tone, have a wide dynamic range, dexterity and speed. A good teacher will guide you systematically into harder repertoire by small logical steps in a logical progression. Most importantly, a good teacher will customize a technique to your hand and your abilities, drawn from his/her years of experience and knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. A good teacher will be a strict school marm at the beginner level so that you don’t have a lot of bad habits to unlearn later on. A good teacher will encourage you to hear other players, to attend gatherings of harpists, both locally and nationally, so that you develope a larger sense of the harp community and so that you hear many different ways of playing the instrument.

    A bad teacher will either tie you into knots with dogma about how ‘This is the ONLY way to play the harp,” or will sit back and let you do anything at all with your hands so that the next teacher that you have, if you haven’t given up the instrument in despair and frustration, will have to spend two years untangling the mess the previous teacher allowed to develope. A bad teacher will skip levels of difficulty and give you pieces to work on that are way beyond you, and on which you will work for 8, 10, or 12 months or more, all the while telling you how beautifully you are doing. A bad teacher in point of fact can’t really play the instrument very well him/herself. A bad teacher will isolate you, telling you that changing to a teacher who plays another method will’ruin’ you. A bad teacher doesn’t encourage you to hear anybody else, or to participate in any way with other harpists. And a bad teacher spends a great deal of time bad-mouthing other harpists and teachers.

    #85159
    barbara-brundage
    Participant

    Well, you know, Carl, the one thing I’d take issue with is this:

    >A bad teacher in point of fact can’t really play the instrument very well him/herself.

    I’ve known people who were incredible players who weren’t much as teachers, probably because they never had to struggle while learning.

    #85160
    carl-swanson
    Participant

    You’re right Barbara. In fact, it’s the rare virtuoso who can explain what they are doing. Sometimes the best players make the worst teachers. But there are tons of teachers out there who are teaching literally after having had 10 lessons themselves, and they have never worked up to even an intermediate level. I tend to think that some of the best teachers are the ones who, through much determination and perserverence, manage to work their playing into a fairly advanced level, inspite of only modest talent.

    #85161
    Jerusha Amado
    Participant

    Carl,

    Do you think that a good teacher should have a degree in harp performance?

    #85162
    Jerusha Amado
    Participant

    I should have added that it may not be necessary to have a degree, but at least some college training in the field would be good.

    #85163
    carl-swanson
    Participant

    College training is no guarantee. As an example, Jan Jennings never went to music school. But she had excellent training from a private teacher as she was growing up, and Jan is an excellent teacher of classical technique and repertoire. I think there is a fundamental ability to teach that is either there or not. I you have it, you can become a better teacher with experience. If you don’t, you’ll neveer be a good teacher. There’s a stellar example of that in Boston. But I won’t mention any names.

    #85164
    tony-morosco
    Member

    #85165

    I

    #85166
    diane-michaels
    Spectator

    My brother in law made a great observation many years ago when he was teaching as a Peace Corp volunteer.

    #85167
    Jerusha Amado
    Participant

    Carl,

    Do you happen to know if Jan plays jazz on her lever harp?

    #85168
    Tacye
    Participant

    I would like to add that a good teacher will know his or her limitations.

    #85169
    carl-swanson
    Participant

    Tacye- You bring up a good point, and that is that a good teacher at one level may not be a good teacher at another level. There are (only a few) teachers who are wonderful at polishing a technically advanced student, but are really not good at getting a student from the lower levels up to an advanced level. More often, there are teachers who are great at starting beginners but then don’t know what to do with them after that. The wise teacher is one who understands his/her limitations and will let go of the student when it is time to go on to a different kind of teacher.

    A bad teacher will hold on to a student year after year, ignoring completely that this student is not learning anything, has not advanced at all, and is being seriously held back by the teacher.

    #85170
    carl-swanson
    Participant

    I want to add here that I think it’s as important to identify the traits and characteristics of a bad teacher as much as it is to list the qualities of a good teacher. If this discussion is going to be of any use to students and teachers, both sides of the equation have to be openly discussed. Also, I didn’t mean to imply in my first post here that all bad teachers do all of the things listed there. But I think that the characteristics of a particular bad teacher can be found on that list.

    To add one more trait to the discussion, a bad teacher can be either very domineering and controling, and maybe even mean, or can be a really very nice person who simply cannot teach.

    #85171

    You simply can’t define a Good and a Bad teacher in any categorical way. Each good one is good in different ways, and each bad one is bad in the same way. (or different). Dogma has nothing to do with it. A good teacher will do the very best they can for each student and not just fill the time. A bad teacher will do many things wrong.

    #85172
    carl-swanson
    Participant

    I think that there are some underlying principals that make good teachers good and bad teachers bad. I think that the best test of whether a teacher is a good teacher or a bad one is whether their students make progress or not. A bad teacher never seems to grasp this. So it becomes the job of the student to take inventory once in a while, perhaps once a year, and see if he/she is playing better now than a year ago. If not, in spite of the fact that the student has been trying, then the student needs to address this.

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