Five Lessons I’ve Learned: #3: Respect Your Students

Nothing shuts students down more quickly than being disrespected in front of their peers. Being publically humiliated is a sure-fire recipe to make students stop paying attention to anything else you say that day and possibly in the future. On the other hand, there is no substitute for mutual respect between teacher and student. It’s the ingredient that brings all the pegagogy to life.

I will admit to publically humiliating students a few times with disastrous results. It never accomplished anything more than making me a villain and turning the students and some of their friends off to my program. (To be clear, I was trying to maintain discipline in the classroom but I wasn’t trying to humiliate anyone!)

I’ll never forget when I humiliated one of my best-ever star students in front of the class. Truthfully, he was getting a little big for his britches and was developing a habit of getting off task and distracting others. So I decided that just because he was a child prodigy that wouldn’t stop me from disciplining him. When he started talking while I was teaching, I made him pack up his instrument and leave, and I did it with an attitude that I wasn’t particularly proud of. Well, my actions backfired, and a few of the students who weren’t that enthusiastic about music in the first place decided to quit. Also, it took some effort on my part to restore my relationship with the rest of the class.

On the flip side, showing respect is more than just avoiding humiliation of your students. It’s also showing interest in them as people. In my first year of teaching, I guess I believed that it was a sin to utter a word on the podium that was not directly related to music pedagogy. Later that year, on the advice from a mentor, I took a moment on the podium to lightheartedly joke with a few students about an issue that had nothing to do with music. We had a good laugh, and I avoided the temptation to somehow turn the conversation into a teaching moment. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was connecting with the students on a level that transcended the subject matter. That 2-3 minute conversation worked wonders for my relationship with my students. Others told me later that it was that moment that became the turning point in how my students perceived me.

Since then, I’ve applied the wisdom from that lesson hundreds of times. Sometimes it’s from the podium; sometimes it’s off. But demonstrating this type of respect and building relationships with my students is now one of my favorite aspects of my job.

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2 thoughts on “Five Lessons I’ve Learned: #3: Respect Your Students

  1. I am enjoying these posts. I teach private lessons, and as a new teacher, I see myself making some of the mistakes you mention. It’s nice to read these bits of advice so I can correct my mistakes before they get out of control!

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