The job of every teacher is to make themselves obsolete. A teacher’s task is accomplished when their students can figure out how to solve a problem on their own, hold themselves accountable to the process needed to fix it, and continuously push to learn something new once they’ve mastered a new skill.
There is a process outlined by Patrick Lencioni in his book “The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive” which helps companies to create a productive culture. I think it’s interesting to note that every private studio is its own little community with a specific culture. Most teachers strive to create a culture in their studios which matches almost exactly the environment recommended in Lencioni’s book. Lencioni suggests only hiring people with the following characteristics: Humble, Hard-working, and Hungry. What’s interesting about these three values is that every student I’ve ever worked with has needed to develop one or more of these traits to become an independent, mature musician. In a sense, these are the three characteristics a teacher tries to create in each student beyond the straight up ability to play the instrument!
For example, I currently have one fantastic student who could be a whole lot better if he would just admit he wasn’t perfect. Humility would help him to be so much more teachable, which in turn would make him able to learn. If you can’t admit you have a problem, you aren’t going to fix it, that’s for sure!
I suppose the most common shortfall is in the area of hard-working. The discipline needed to become a really proficient player is monumental and most students lack in this area until they have taken the important step of identifying themselves as a musician. Once a student says, “I’m a violinist”, the discipline aspect often improves dramatically. However, the added concern in the area of disciplined practice is the actual know-how in establishing good practice tools. Again, creating a practice tool box and then choosing the right tool are two sides of the same coin.
The most fun students to teach are the hungry students. These are the driven ones, who want to compete, hang on your every word, and knock themselves out to be prepared for every lesson. When a student wants to learn and pushes themselves to be better, the sky is the limit. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the lazy, uninterested students who inevitably fall away on their own or get sent packing by the teacher once they’ve reached a point where they don’t have to put up with it anymore. That threshold for this kind of unprepared, lazy behavior varies wildly from teacher to teacher, but believe me, there always is one…
Circling back to the three skills I listed at the beginning of this blog and the Lencioni character traits, they are one and the same:
- Problem solving – Humble (willing to admit there’s a problem)
- Discipline – Hardworking (doing the practice with flying colors)
- Drive – Hungry (pushing the limits of learning)
Once these three skills are developed, a teacher can usually step back and say, “I’ve put myself out of business and I’m so proud of it! I can finally say I’m no longer needed here. Peace out!”