Most of the week I work with students individually. We sit in my studio and I can give immediate attention to questions, spot problems that are developing, notice and praise improvements as they play a piece.
Like a craftsman or artist, I can make fine changes to the student’s technique and sound. Like a counselor, I can ask questions, talk to them about their day, tell them a story that relates to a challenge they are facing. I am focused on them and their progress.
One morning a week, I teach at a school where I work with 2 different fiddle classes: K-2nd grade students and 3rd-5th graders.
It is a failure of language to have both of these jobs called by the same name: teacher. The goal is the same, but the skills employed and the way the work is handled are wildly different.
I have a memory of watching a variety show when I was a boy — Johnny Carson, perhaps — and seeing someone spin plates.
The performer placed a plate on the post and start it spinning. It took some effort to get the plate centered and spinning followed by some gentle nudges to get it into a spin with sufficient momentum.
Then he would go to the next post and start another plate spinning. He would center it on the post, spin it, nudge it, and observe that it was self-sufficient. His eye was on the preceding plate, too. After each new plate was going, he would quickly step back to the preceding plates and give them a bit more energy to keep them going.
The house band started playing music behind him to add to the drama as he carried on. Occasionally, a plate would wobble and he would dash over, give it a few swipes on its perimeter and restore it to self-sufficiency.
One by one, he managed to get 15 (or was it 25!) plates spinning. And not one fell to the ground and broke. At the end, he stood in the middle of these spinning plates with his arms in the air and the audience cheering.
When I teach groups of children the violin, I am a plate spinner. Students stand in a circle around me. I have the FiddleQuest song they are learning playing over a speaker. I move from child to child making sure that they have all the most important things happening — correct notes, technique, rhythm — and quickly move on to the next child.
I keep moving in a circle, gently nudging my fiddlers, until they are all playing self-sufficiently.
By the end of the song, if things are going well, I can simply stand in the middle of the group, pick up my violin and play along with them.
When I am with one student, I am a craftsman-counselor-teacher. When I am with a group, I am a plate-spinner-teacher. Clearly there needs to be better title for these 2 different jobs.