Several months ago, I decided I needed to start looking for a summer job. In high school, I had acquired a significant number of piano students and had truly enjoyed having the opportunity to teach them, but because I only had about 3 months at home before having to return to Oberlin, acquiring new piano students this summer was out of the question. However, I managed to stumble upon the position for piano teaching assistant at Interlochen Arts Camp, having known several people who had worked as camp counselors there. I eagerly applied, not expecting to get the position.
However, I was ecstatic when I found out I would be spending 6 weeks of my summer up in beautiful northern Michigan teaching at a camp that I had always wanted to attend when I was younger. Most of what my job entailed was monitoring and giving assistance to students during their practice hours. On most days, this meant giving students advice on how to practice their pieces, whether it be The Happy Farmer or Ravel Piano Concerto. On less focused days this meant making sure all the kids just plain stayed in their prison cells...I mean, practice rooms!
I was assigned to one hour of junior practice hours (grades 3-6) and one hour of intermediate practice hours (grades 6-9). In addition, I was asked to teach a piano skills class of 4 intermediate students. I had never taught in a class setting before, so what I was most nervous about at first was figuring out how to manage a myriad of skill levels, personalities, and learning styles in one single classroom. The first day seemed to go pretty well.
However, on the second day of my piano skills class, one of the girls in my class began crying while I went around checking and correcting students' scale fingerings. She began shouting things like "I already learned this years ago. This class is a joke! This is so easy! Why are you treating us like babies?" Who knew my first classroom teaching experience would include a full-on tantrum?
At first, it was difficult not to take her exclamations personally and ask myself questions such as "What am I doing wrong? Is my class a joke?" Yet, after talking with her privately I realized stressors outside the classroom had even more of an effect on classroom behavior than I could have expected. Another struggle I found was that because I am young and like to be personable with the students, I had to work hard in the beginning to make sure students still saw me as an authority figure and teacher. Additionally, two of the students in my class were international and sometimes struggled with the English in the workbooks that I gave them, so I made sure to make them feel as welcome as possible by making one of our sight-reading exercises their national anthems.
At the end of my first session piano skills class, it was difficult watching the kids leave. Little did I know my second session piano skills class would be just as incredible and a completely different experience. My second session piano skills class was comprised of four extremely talented pianists, ages 13-15, a few of them already thinking about majoring in music. When I first evaluated their scales, sight-reading, ear training, and such and found that they were all incredibly skilled, I worried that I wouldn't have enough to teach them. These worries were cast aside as the days drew on and as I became excited to share advanced concepts with these students. One very fun thing that we did was phrase shading. We took pieces of music and shaded for the "intensity" of a musical phrase and would compare with one another. It was refreshing being able to integrate the more philosophical and interpretive aspects of piano playing into the class.
Not only did I have an incredible job, but I was in an incredible place. When I wasn't working, I was either practicing piano in the practice cabins next to the lake, sitting in on the organ classes, taking affordable piano lessons, climbing dunes, exploring the area around Traverse City, or relaxing on the beautiful Lake Michigan beaches.
I learned so much from working at Interlochen: about teaching, organization, lesson planning, and dealing with different types of students. A lot of the guidance and advice I gave to the students involved concepts that I was told in my own lessons and that were often equally applicable to my own piano pieces. Teaching students how to practice well reminded me to integrate these own ideas into my own practice, because as obvious as setting goals and targeting problem spots can be, it can also be easy to get lazy. Working with so many talented, motivated, and engaging students felt extremely meaningful and reminded me that teaching is definitely something I want to continue doing in the future.
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