I am about to start teaching children in elementary school for the first time in 30 years. I have been teaching piano and harpsichord between then and now, but only to college students and adults. I was an adjunct professor of both instruments at Connecticut College in New London, from 1979 to 2015. Concurrently, I taught private lessons at home, and in several community music schools. From 1980 to around 2010, I taught around 30 young kids (Kindergarten through eighth grade) every week, but when the load at the college, my private cluster of adults, and my performance schedule got too be too much, I stopped taking new young children. Eventually, the ones I was still teaching got older, and many stopped taking lessons as they found other interests, or moved away, as often happens. I didn’t replace them, and didn’t renew my yearly contracts at the community music schools. We all sort of drifted away from each other; my preference at the time was to teach the older kids and adults, and I had a long list of them.
Well, I’ve missed little kids over these 30 years. I like kids, their energy and enthusiasm, their humor, their willing attachment to me. Many of them didn’t get much one-on-one time at home, as there were siblings involved and often parents worked outside the home. In addition, their teachers were often busy with large classes. So, I was basically it; they needed me, and we glommed onto each other in a way. They talked about their siblings and brought their stuffed animals and action figures to show me. I loved it!
Thus, when offered a position at a local elementary school a few weeks ago, I accepted eagerly. I came to the school to meet the resident music teacher and sat in on a class of 3rd and 4th graders, and had a wonderful time sitting on the floor with them!
However, I’ve been grappling with these questions: Am I still able to teach them, to get to their level and speak to them, after all this time? Am I too old, at 70? Will they look at me as strange, or will they accept me as a grandmother (or great grandmother) figure? Can I muster the energy needed to keep up with them, to teach maybe five or six lessons in a row? I teach “hands on,” often putting my hands on their shoulders and their sides to help them to sit straight, and sometimes covering their hands to teach proper hand position; is this even allowed anymore? Is it OK to touch a student? Do I need permission from parents for this? And, what fees do I charge the parents, running my own business, basically, under the roof and supervision (and guidance) of the school?
Well, I’ve been thinking about all this since my interview. Here’s what I know: Sitting in with that 3rd grade class reminded me that I easily talk to kids, and come down effortlessly to their level. But “down” is the wrong word; except in age, they are not beneath me, and talking and relating to them was a pleasure. It came as a great relief to realize that I am not too old; they accepted me right away, without judging me (another thing I like about children). They energized me, so having the energy to get through a teaching day seems easy enough. I don’t anticipate any difficulty, but will just have to see. The “hands on” issue will have to be addressed, both with the parents and the music teacher, perhaps with the principal of the school. And the price of lessons? I initially suggested what I found to be the going rate in a couple of community music schools in a large city near here, but immediately got feedback that this was too much. I think I will adopt a sliding scale, having done this before; these are hard times for many people, and my main concern is that kids who want to take piano lessons can have them, no? I will negotiate with each set of parents, for a fee that is fair to them, and fair to me too. I have to be recompensed for my knowledge, experience, time and energy, after all!
All in all, I think I have the bases covered. I do believe that I can fill this position and benefit the children studying with me. I can teach them not only to play piano, but to love music, to love listening and playing it. I can teach them a little history and music theory, so that someday when they go to hear live music or listen to music on the computer, they will understand better and appreciate more of what they are hearing. I can teach them to be better musicians, all around. It will be of tremendous benefit to me too: I will get back to doing something I love, enjoy the energy and fun of teaching kids, have a purpose to my life (not so easy at my age), and get paid to do it!
What could be better?