by Amelia Wong


Being a passionate and committed teacher, I’ve always had this belief that my students should achieve and work towards excellence. They should leave their lessons with some useful musical nuggets from their classes – be it a new piece, ideas to work on mastering difficult passages or even something as simple as not to slouch when seated at the piano. However, in this day and age, wanting what’s best for your student doesn’t justify anymore, simply because they have no time!

Let me explain.

Student A, starts my week by being the first on my list. She’s the typical moaner, “I’ve so much homework to finish!”, “I’ve to study for my exams!”, “My Mum made me complete so many revision papers!” and the excuses just keep going on and on.

Weekly lessons are as they are, unprepared and accompanied by an attitude which would make any teacher want to vomit blood! It would get so bad at times that I would wonder, is my health worth risking for students like her? Many a times, I’ve lost it with her, in short, lessons were a burden and a torture to the both of us. We were both angry, miserable and above all, dreading to see each other, week after week! I then realized that, she was not going to change, at least not for now, what with all that was going on in her life! Something definitely needs to be done!

Initially Student A would come in feeling scared and miserable because she knew she had not practiced and therefore my reaction would be to scold and harp on it. So, this is what I did. I was determined to change that lesson experience for her. I wanted that one hour to be a time for her to just relax and chill, to be stress-free from the chores of school work, exams and everything that stresses out a kid! Did I mention it was PSLE year for her too?

I had a good talk with Student A, to get to know her, about her fears and all that made her tensed. I assured her that from now on, there will be no scoldings or negativity during lessons and that she can be herself to talk and share should she wish to, rant as much as she wanted or just talk rubbish.

Here’s what I did:

  1. I structured the lessons in such a way that she will still leave class with the necessary musical nuggets needed, (but I accepted that the following week, we would still have to work on them!)
  2. We worked on her technical issues, such as playing musical phrases or in a fixed tempo.
  3. We worked on her co-ordination playing hands together and a whole other myriad of issues.
  4. I simplified things for her by coloring notes and getting her to just play them according to specific ways,
  5. I worked with her, dividing her musical piece into shorter sections. 

Seems like a lot, but her attitude changed and I could see her enthusiasm and eagerness to start each class. She comes in smiling now, and chatty, takes out all her books and immediately starts her Hanon as her warm ups. She can see her own progress as well as her short comings. Most importantly, is that she’s more than willing to try and work on them instead of just ploughing through week after week without any progress or direction towards any specific goal. She leaves class positively charged which is exactly my intention for her, as she continues the rest of her afternoon with homework, tuitions, revisions etc.

How do I feel as her teacher? I don’t feel like vomiting blood anymore, classes are a lot more fun, we are on the way to creating a great teacher-student relationship, goals are reached (somewhat slow but that’s ok), and the overall learning experience is stress-free and positive. In order to have these and still maintain the standards of excellence I demand, I started to look at Student A with a different mind-set and decided, how can I make it better for her instead of for me.

I’ve forgotten how it feels to be a kid, so remembering and just being in their shoes can help bring us back to that “Once upon a time….” memory of how every scolding, every set back, every difficulty felt like the greatest failure ever. So it’s good to take a step back and be in that ‘zone’ and emphatize with them. If there is to be change, it starts with me!