The Million Dollar Plan

by - 9/22/2010

Last week, in my Tuesday night Piano Pedagogy Practicum class, the last thing our teacher said to us was "I have a proposition for you. I want to make a million dollars. If you can come to me next week with ideas on how I can make my million, I will split half the money with you." I was really confused as to how this was going to apply to a class about teaching piano, but I knew he had something up his sleeve.

When class rolled around again and he brought up the subject, I realized I had nothing prepared. I was very lucky though, because one of my friends came totally ready and took it away. She began explaining how he could make his fortune being a Mary Kay consultant. She told him the intricate details of how it would work, how he could build his "empire" from the ground up, and in the end he could have a team of salesmen doing the work for him while he was just rollin' in the dough.

Amid all our laughter at the thought of our 40-something male professor selling makeup and driving a pink Cadillac for a living, I checked the clock and realized we had taken a full 40 minutes of our one-hour class on this discussion. I started getting a little frustrated, because I still couldn't see what he was trying to get at.

He saw my eyes flit to the clock and seemed to read my mind. He said "Now, why have I taken more than half of our class time talking about this? Can anyone see what I'm trying to do? Sure, we have a great plan here. And lots of ideas on how to reach the goal. But do I possess the qualities needed to sell makeup to women? Yes, I want the million. But is this something I know how to do?"

I suddenly had a moment akin to that of an old cartoon - the light bulb had been lit right above my head. My frustration ebbed away as we turned our discussion toward the real topic at hand - teaching piano effectively. Our professor began listing of the requirements of a good and effective piano teacher:
  1. They must know their subject.
  2. They must have a "mission statement".
  3. They must be goal-oriented.
  4. They must possess the proper talents and abilities to be able to work with students, and teach them effectively.
  5. They must love what they're doing.
This was one of the first times I had felt completely riveted by what was being taught to me in a class. Because of his lengthy introduction, his point became much more profound. It was so profound, in fact, that I found myself questioning the way I've been teaching for the past 4 years.

I asked myself,
Why am I a teacher? Is it just because I have to do it to graduate in this major?
What do I want my students to learn? What do they deserve to learn from me?
Do I really know piano?
Do I really love it?

I was shocked out of my musings when my professor seemed to read my mind again. "This week," he said, his voice a reverent whisper that reflected how strongly he felt, "I want you to come up with a mission statement for your piano studios. Tell me what you want to accomplish with each student this semester, and how you plan to bring those accomplishments about. Tell me why you are a teacher and what it means to you."

We were then dismissed, and I was speechless. It was the first time walking home from a class that I had no desire to pull out my iPod. I was completely absorbed with what I'd just been taught. And I found in myself a new outlook on teaching. That one hour truly changed my life. I realize that even if my last time teaching is after I complete this course (although I really hope it isn't), I still want my students to learn as much as they can from me. Forget the money, or the credit I'm getting for the class. The bottom line is, my students deserve the best that I can give them. I don't want to be "that one bad teacher that ruined music" for anyone. I want my students to love music just as much as I do. And those thoughts suddenly stopped racing around my head and came together to form my mission statement:

My name is Ashley Benjamin and I am a piano teacher at the USU Youth Conservatory. It is my goal as a teacher to teach the basic skills of piano technique: rhythm, note-reading, and recognition of terms and symbols in music. These things will then be built upon to create artistic and meaningful playing. Lessons will be goal-oriented in such a way that small weekly goals will work toward bigger accomplishments. Students will be taught the value and rewards of hard work, and be able to enjoy doing so. Most importantly,
I wish to instill in my students a love for music that they can carry with them the rest of their lives.

Thanks, Professor Hirst. The way I teach has been changed forever.

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