Compassionate Teaching

Would you be surprised to know that many times students are blamed for the teachers’ lack of ability to communicate effectively?It’s sad but true. They do not know how, as teachers of singing, to deliver compassionate teaching.

Students come in to see me with a laundry list of “things they do wrong”.

I like to hold my jaw.

I like to squeeze my throat.

I am always thinking too much.

I don’t let go of my tongue.

I’m very resistant.

My breathing is messed up.

I remind them that they are students. Students have to think a lot, and they don’t really understand how to do some of the things on this list which is why they are students. They should not have to carry a list of things they “do wrong”.

If you are a singing teacher and you get to a dead-end with a student and you cannot find a way to help the student improve, what do you do? Do you blame the student? I certainly hope not.

You could, if you were motivated, look for smaller clues. Go over the same thing again but with a more perceptive eye and ear. Stop trying to get the student to fit into your agenda of what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to sound and find out what they are doing and how they already sound. Look for simpler things that can be accomplished and request less obvious change. Be present with the student, with the student’s body and with the student’s voice. That should be enough.

You can also enlist the student. Say, “I seem to be out of options. Do you have any idea why you are not able to do what I’ve asked? Perhaps you could tell me what you think I want? Do you have any thoughts about how you could help me to help you? How do you experience our impasse?” You might be very surprised about the answer.

Do not forget to include all manner of things from the student’s past  that may seem to have no bearing on singing. Old accidents, dance training, instrumental training, old scolding about singing, old feelings about the voice, systemic physical illnesses that effect the entire body and require daily medication. Old surgeries (not vocal), old habits from childhood (speech issues?), family history (mom was always hoarse from yelling?) Sometimes being the child of a famous or successful singer is difficult. (“Could I be better than dad without making him angry? Maybe it’s better not to try that.”)

Dig a bit. Ask questions. Be creative. Be kind. Be gentle. Teach human beings not throats. Teach people not larynges. Teach vocalists not time slots or lesson appointments. Teach singing not sound-making behaviors. Teach with compassion. How can you possibly develop artistry in singers if you do not work within a philosophy of compassionate teaching?


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One thought on “Compassionate Teaching”

  1. Beautiful, Jeanie. A helpful reminder of how we can be of service, even if we think we are at the end of our rope.

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