When I started teaching, I viewed myself as an instructor, someone with a program who planted information “in” a student. But now, I am nearly the opposite. I am an educator. The root meaning of this word is “to lead out.” Instead of merely putting information in, I am bringing unique gifts out. I am a gardener, offering sunlight and water to strange seeds I’ve never seen before.
So, I no longer teach by a “program.” The student is the program. If a student comes to me and we discover that he or she loves to write songs, or improvise, or compose, or arrange popular songs, I no longer impose a 19th century model of musicianship on them and require them to practice scales and play Clementi Sonatinas (though I also expose them to those possibilities). If a student is inclined to be a classical performer, then I still use the best of the 19th century approach.
I experience the greatest joy in teaching when I help students discover their unique gifts. Isn’t that the purpose of art? Don’t we admire Chopin and Debussy and Beethoven because they brought us something unique, someone no one else could? Isn’t the essential purpose of art to reveal and express uniqueness? An educator is a gardener, helping little seeds emerge from underground darkness and break into the light.