Teaching a Student Older than Yourself

Abigail said: Mar 12, 2015
 2 posts

Hello everyone,

I am a very young suzuki cello teacher (only 17, but I do have ECC training and will be doing book 1in the spring). Both of my parents are suzuki teachers and I grew up in a suzuki cello studio (will be attending conservatory next year). I have had 5 student aged 7-13 for the last 2 years and the most advanced is now in book 5. Recently, a family friend of one of my students inquired as to whether or not I take adult students. I am confident in my cello skills and child-wrangling skills, but I have no idea how to teach a woman 3 times my age who is a complete beginner without sounding condescending or becoming embarrassed. Is she going to think I’m mad if I have her play Twinkle or make her do a book recital?

Any advice?

Much appreciated,

Laura Burgess said: Mar 17, 2015
Laura Burgess
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
32 posts

Hi Abby,

I have students who are all ages. It is different teaching adults but the repertoire works great for them, too! The main difference is that have already developed the motor control that we must foster in young people and some have absorbed many “I can’t” messages about what they can do. Treat the adult student as a collaborator, explain why we do what we do and you will do great.

Myriam Harvey said: Mar 18, 2015
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Cello, Viola
Lakeside, OR
6 posts

Dear Abigail,
First, congratulations on becoming a Suzuki teacher! You won’t regret it. I always tell my music families that I have the best job in the world.
I wrote a whole message to you and thought I sent it, but I clicked on “send” without selecting “post message.” So it didn’t…sigh. So much for computer skills (hey, I can play Vivaldi!).
The Reader’s Digest version: enjoy your older students’ rich life experience and allow them to advise you on yours, while you confidently share your technical skills and kind manners with them. Treat them as you would any older person of your acquaintance, with deference, but make allowances for their physical needs.
For example, our vision and hearing deteriorate as we age. Is there enough light in the studio (if using music) for them? Speak a little louder and slower, so you don’t have to repeat yourself. Sometimes older folks are embarrassed at having to ask a question twice, so they will just nod, while not getting the sense of what you just said at all.
Their lesson might be the only “extracurricular” activity they pursue. Are they learning at a slower pace than you would like? So what! It’s their time and money. If they want to tell you about their grandson’s graduation from technical school, that’s how they want to spend their time with you. But beware sharing so much of your personal life that the lesson time is used up chatting (personal issue here!). As I said above, older folks love to give advice, so let them. It makes them feel valuable.
I have taken classes on various subjects from teachers younger than myself, and I admire their knowledge, teaching ability, and drive. Share what you know in a loving way with students of all ages. Know that that teaching a wide variety of students teaches you to be a better teacher, and enjoy your job!-best wishes, Myriam


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