Teaching philosophy is one of the most immediate ways to give your prospective employer or student parents an idea of your teaching style and what you can offer in your lessons. It’s an important piece of information every professional music educator needs to have in their profile. It’s not always, but often requested when you apply for a teaching position.
Even if your employer doesn’t ask for it or if you are establishing your private studio, it’s always good to keep it in the file. It’s also an excellent way to help yourself clarifying your teaching style. Maintaining a page on your website about your approach in teaching is very essential.
When I used to work as an admin at a community music school in Taiwan, I asked the teachers to send their teaching philosophy for the use of our school website. Some of them have taught for more than a decade, even twenty years, but you’d be surprised how many teachers didn’t know what to write. I remember a teacher only wrote “learning happily” and submitted to me. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with learning happily. In fact, it’s important to have a happy learning environment, and didn’t know how or what to write in a teaching philosophy doesn’t mean they are not good teachers, but honestly, as an employer, I had second thoughts of those who didn’t have a well-constructed paragraph. Do they know how to teach? Do they have a plan? What can they offer our students? It’s all about the first impression.
Similar to your résumé and bio, you need to make updates and revisions of your teaching philosophy every once in a while, especially in the first few years. You will learn along the way, and your students will change you. Everything you experience throughout the years in your life could impact significantly in how you teach.
I’ve changed mine several times. You can click here to read my current version.
I wrote my very first teaching philosophy when I was still a grad student/adjunct piano faculty at NYU. I was only teaching adults and was getting good at it, so I specifically wrote my teaching philosophy in attracting prospective adult students. Here is my very first teaching philosophy:
“We often hear people say music is life. However, many don’t realise that life is also music because we hear the sound and the rhythm of music in our daily lives all the time. For me, the piano is an instrument, a gateway for us to learn how to balance our lives and open up new ways of thinking. I believe that everyone has a talent for learning the piano, so with me, it is never too late to start.
Every individual is like a piece of white paper at birth. Depending on students’ backgrounds, strengths, and personal interests, each paper has different pre-written information. To unlock one’s music talent code, finding what elements need to fill inside of the blanks is essential.
My teaching emphasises on building strength, flexibility, and control in the body, logical thinking in the mind along with emotional development in the heart. I set goals with my students and help them overcome obstacles through my unique strategies. I focus on efficient and effective methods, and my exercises provide a variety of fun, which is particularly helpful to students who have limited time to practice. Besides teaching the fundamentals, I also encourage my students to explore different music genres as well as other art forms to expand their visions as a part of their learning process.
Learning to play the piano is like building a relationship with a friend. My goal is to help my students understand how to communicate through the language of music. It is not only a lifetime enrichment, but also a way to pull yourself closer to the world – to learn about humanities, and most importantly, yourself.”
For a matter of fact, after I put this up on my old website, I was only receiving inquiries from adults who wanted to take piano lessons themselves!
Now it’s your turn. Below are a couple of questions you can ask yourself for brainstorming your first draft. (Note that I’ll refer prospective students and parents as “clients” or “customers”) :
What kind of teacher do you want to be? Go down your memory lane and try to remember the teachers you had.
Our teachers influenced us greatly either positive or negative, but of course, we want to stay on the positive side when constructing a teaching philosophy. Think of someone you admire. How were their approaches when they taught you? Were they patient and dedicated? Were they strict or flexible? Fun and passionate? You may very well inherit these qualities from them. You can also make a list of positive adjectives.
What are your focuses in your lessons? What are you good at as a teacher? Did your students give you any positive feedback?
Some teachers are prone to establishing their students with solid knowledge of music theory. Some concentrate on proper techniques. A few years ago, I was only teaching non-major university students who didn’t have much time to practice. However, they still want to make progress, so I developed a routine and gave them methods to practice efficiently. I include this as my specialities since many of my adult students benefited from it.
Also, unlike young children, adult students have more life experiences, so I was able to make analogies and metaphors to help them understand some concepts such as practising, score reading, and finger strength building. I included all of these into my first draft.
Do you teach all ages or mainly children? Consider the expectations of your clients.
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and think about what they expect to gain from you: This is easier if you are teaching in a city where you are intimate with culturally. If you are teaching abroad like me, try making friends with locals who are interested in learning the piano and get an idea. One of the biggest differences between western and Asian cultures is: In Chinese culture, many parents expect their children to take competitions and exams such as ABRSM, so helping students to get distinctions could attract potential clients. If you are an experienced teacher in preparing students for exams and competitions, you could merge it in your philosophy.
Since all my students in Shanghai are under fifteen of age, I modified the sentence: “I set goals with my students and help them overcome obstacles through my unique strategies. I focus on efficient and effective methods, and my exercises provide a variety of fun, which is particularly helpful to students who had limited time to practise” from my paragraph when my new employer requested my philosophy. In my opinion, this particular sentence isn’t applicable to children, and practising efficiently isn’t necessary what they need.
Check your grammar. Avoid unsuitable or negative words to your target clients. Substitute them with positive or neutral words.
You want to show that YOU are a professional, so check your grammar before you send it to anyone. I use Google extension Grammarly when I write. It supports both American and British English. So far it has been very helpful. I even bought the premium feature.
Also, we want to create a comfortable environment for the students. For example, I would use “encouraging my students to thrive” instead of “pushing my student to improve”; “discipline” and not “strict”..., etc.
Here is another particular example: When I first put up my teaching philosophy on my old website, Elizabeth, a sought-after violin pedagogue who I used to work with in NYC read mine. She kindly wrote me a message afterwards and suggested me to change the word “lover” into “friend” when I described our relationship with the instrument in my last paragraph. Although my targeted clients were adults, I realised “lover” wouldn’t suit if I eventually want to teach children. “Friend” is a neutral word and fits better.
Before you send or upload your philosophy to public, borrow a pair of fresh eyes. Ask someone to proofread for you!
Do not be who you are not.
You could be as general as possible. That would make the range of your target clients broad. Of course, you could be specific as well, but being specific could narrow your target customers. Or create a balance of the two – ultimately it’s your choice. As I mentioned at the beginning, your teaching philosophy creates the first impression. Just keep in mind: even if you know what your prospective clients are looking for in a teacher, don’t be a people pleaser. For example, if you hate the idea of students participating in competitions and exams, you can just briefly mention that you can coach students or completely leave it out. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not.
I hope this gives you a good start for your first draft! Please leave a comment if you find my tips useful, or if you want to add anything to the list.
Also published on Medium.