I met Sharon when I was living in San Jose, Ca. We had a lot of fun being snarky and passionate together, and grew to be fast friends. It was no wonder: we are both teachers, and teachers of teachers.
Sharon’s experiences have enlightened and encouraged me in my private studio and directing. Her not-so-sublte “well, just do this” approach has been the fire to my iron for many years.
She was kind enough to write a little blurb for you, my voice teacher friends! I trust her kind wisdom will encourage you, while reminding you of your awesomeness. She’s good at that.
Where Were You When One Cheek Left the Chair?
My first week teaching a class of 34 third grade students in a NYC public elementary school, I went in filled with enthusiasm and left every day in tears and with no voice. I would call my mother, who had taught for decades and worked as a teacher trainer, crying to her about how kids were running around the room, charging at each other with chairs held over their heads as weapons.
She asked me, over and over, “Where were you when one cheek left the chair?”
Whaaat? It took me years in the classroom, and then later years as a Principal and Staff Developer, to fully understand what she meant. And while I have never been a voice teacher (despite my off off off off Broadway production of the Ugly Duckling at P.S. 40), perhaps some of the lessons I learned about what makes a good teacher might be useful to all of you.
Great teachers are prepared. They learn their disciplines really well, and they are always open to learning new techniques and new methodologies. They develop ways to present the material that is exciting to the learners. I think that almost goes without saying, and that is the place that competent but not really talented teachers stop.
Great teachers celebrate their students achievements. Every learner, child or adult, comes with some insecurities and a need to know they are liked and appreciated and capable. Learning is so hard without connection, without caring, and without that sense of moving forward.
Great teachers build relationships with their students and know that self esteem is crucial to being open to learning. That first year teaching, when I had no idea what to do with students who had finished their work, Geovanny came over and whispered in my ear, “Tell them to read a book.” It turned out that Geovanny was himself a struggling reader, but I made him my special helper all year (he did, after all, save my life), and because of that connection, he was able to open himself up to learning and was successful. That was in 1984, and I am still grateful to Geovanny. 🙂
What my mother was really telling me is that great teachers listen and predict. The truly excellent teachers I have seen, sit down eagerly side by side with their students, excited to listen to what their students know and don’t know. Listening well, listening deeply, is crucial to teaching any subject. Great teachers are excited to unlock the puzzle of what their students need to learn next in order to move forward. Great teachers are detectives, noticing all the places their students still need help, and deciding which piece is the cornerstone, the key that will unlock all the next pieces. There is no path forward that works for all students, so great teachers are experts at assessing because they listen with such joy and excitement, and then use that information to inform their instruction.
After years in the classroom, I become truly skilled at engaging my students, at building deep connections to help my students flourish, and at listening carefully to what they knew and what they needed to learn next. And yes, I was finally right there when one cheek left the chair.