At that point I had become quite skilled as a performer having received lessons from a variety of teachers from the age of 8. I had learnt about many aspects of musical history, studied harmony, arranging, composing, I had played in an orchestra (on the violin) and sung in a number of choirs, but I had never had any training to be a teacher!
So back to that first lesson - it was on a Danemann piano in a large instrument cupboard (I am pretty sure you can picture the scene!). The student entered the room with her piano tutor book which was Piano Lessons Book One by Fanny Waterman and Marion Harewood. To gauge her level I asked her to play me something but it quickly became apparent that she understood very little of what was on the page. I had the dawning realisation that musical notation, my 'second language', meant absolutely nothing to this young student. My journey as a curious piano teacher had begun!
Over half of the teachers (55%) had started to teach the piano as the result of a musically motivated impetus. For many of these it was a love of the instrument and music that motivated them:
'Because I love music and the piano'. [R: 205]
'I started teaching the piano because I love the instrument'. [R: 296]
A quarter of the teachers considered themselves to be part of a musical continuum, whether that was because they came from a musical family, had been inspired by a teacher or felt the need to 'pass' on their love.
'I came from a music family, started learning piano at the age of four and had a very musical education'. [R: 510]
'I was stimulated by such wonderful past pedagogues'. [R: 25]
'My enjoyment and love of the instrument as well as the world of classical music have given me a desire to share it with others'. [R: 542]
Fifty-seven percent of the teachers mentioned motivational factors that were not musically related. These broke down into three main areas: teaching as a means of providing an income, the convenience of piano teaching and teachers' perceptions of themselves as having the appropriate skills and attitudes.
Teaching to provide an income
'Needed the money and preferred to do it by teaching piano'. [R: 160]
'I needed money! When you have a skill that can earn you money, why slave away in a bar job when you can earn triple in the comfort of your or your pupil's home?!' [R: 342]
Convenience of job
'It fitted in with bringing up a young family'. [R: 61]
'I love playing, and it was an ideal job when my children were very small as I could teach from home'. [R: 532]
'I began because I was out of work but could play the piano to a high level, seemed an obvious step forward and I haven't looked back'. [R: 396]
The success, or otherwise, that these teachers had in their early days of teaching was referred to by just one person who, rather wryly, reflected that:
'There was some demand, and I had the necessary skills - or at least some of them - looking back one is often rather appalled at some of those early lessons!' [R: 460]
I have to say that this statement resonates very strongly with me!!
Sixty-one percent of all the teachers left comments that referred to whether piano teaching had been a conscious career choice or something that had just 'happened'. Unsurprisingly there was no single, clear career path into teaching but the following remarks give a flavour of the ideas.
'I began teaching piano in secondary school, when I had the necessary pianistic ability (though not much pedagogical knowledge) and wanted to earn money to pay for uni. I've kept at it because I love it and have acquired enough pedagogical knowledge to be a good teacher'. [R: 263]
'I got made redundant, had wanted to teach the piano for a long time and this gave me the opportunity to do it'. [R: 279]
'It seemed like a natural progression alongside class teaching'. [R: 568]
Being asked to teach seemed to be quite a common starting point with over a quarter of all respondents referring to this.
'Someone who knew I was a grade 8 player asked me to teach their child!' [R: 22]
'An adult asked me to give her lessons on the piano, and I hadn't passed Grade 8 at that point, so decided to try and then liked it. She got through some grades so I couldn't have been that bad'. [R: 98]
'Friends started asking me to teach their children, and I found I enjoyed it and it suited my lifestyle'. [R: 125]
So, although the routes into teaching appear to be very diverse, a love for music and the piano comes through clearly as a strong driving force. The open access nature of the job is very apparent with individuals starting to teach at a variety of ages and playing skill levels; it is unlikely that without the necessary government legislation this situation is going to change in the near future.
What is more important for the profession to address I believe are two questions:
- How can we best support teachers new to the profession?
- How can more experienced teachers be encouraged to continue developing their teaching skills and knowledge?
(c) Sally Cathcart