Christie Felsing, Tal Schifter and friends at the 2012 conference

Christie Felsing, Tal Schifter and friends at the 2012 conference

In the past year, I’ve been privileged to attend both the biennial Suzuki Association of the Americas Conference in Minneapolis in 2012 and the SAA Leadership Retreat in Columbus, Ohio, in 2013. As a first-time attendee of both events, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, and was maybe even a bit nervous. I’m now convinced, however, that planning to attend SAA events the weekend before Memorial Day for professional development is one of the best things I can do, both for myself and for my teaching.

We Need Each Other

Teaching is all too often a solitary endeavor. We can go weeks or sometimes even months without coming in face-to-face contact with friends or colleagues who share our interests and our passions. There is, unfortunately, no Suzuki “water cooler” where we can gather regularly to bounce ideas off one another. All of that changes at the conference and retreat. We have the opportunity to be surrounded by our colleagues from all over North and South America, people who spend their time and energy doing exactly what we do every day.

We share a common desire, a common passion: to teach students to play beautiful music and enrich the lives of the students and parents we come in contact with. This creates an instant bond among all those we associate with at SAA events. I left the SAA Conference and the Leadership Retreat not just with new professional contacts, but with new friends. It was especially exciting to reconnect with some of them when I attended institute this past week, and I know that these are friendships that will continue throughout the years.

We Need the Inspiration

At the conference in Minneapolis, there were sessions on topics ranging from starting lessons with a three-year-old to the teaching points of the Bach Solo Sonatas and Partitas, and that was just for the violinists! We were treated to amazing concerts, lectures on pedagogy and philosophy that reached across the instrumental spectrum, panel discussions from those who studied with Dr. Suzuki, as well as delicious meals and social events.

At the Leadership Retreat, I was able to join in on conversations about the challenges of teaching adult students between sessions, Suzuki in the Schools during lunch, and how to balance our teaching lives with our family lives after dinner. I stayed up way too late far too many nights in a row, laughing and talking, simply because there were so many good ideas to be shared and I didn’t want to miss a single one! It is incredibly energizing at the end of a full year of teaching to return home with a notebook full of new ideas that I can implement to keep my teaching fresh and current. Just as a student may go to an institute and come away with one new idea that completely transforms her playing, I am a better and more complete teacher because of one or two ideas from these SAA events that I’ve been able to incorporate into my teaching.

We Are All Needed

I admit, being a relatively new Suzuki teacher (and doesn’t it seem that everyone who has been teaching less than ten or fifteen years is considered a “new” teacher?) and knowing very few people outside of my state organization, attending the SAA Conference and Leadership Retreat was somewhat intimidating. I felt a bit awe-struck at times while I mingled with teacher trainers whose courses I had taken and came face to face with people whose books and articles I had read and admired, but I was quickly impressed by how welcoming and willing to share everyone was. Not once did I feel like I wasn’t old enough or experienced enough to be there. On the contrary, I had a fantastic time sitting down with teachers from all over the country and both listening to and sharing ideas. It was fascinating to be among talented teachers of all instruments, and to be welcomed with open arms into such a caring and knowledgeable organization.

And the truth of it is, the SAA needs us. Our organization needs the excitement, enthusiasm and new ideas that younger teachers can bring. The SAA needs all kinds of teachers to contribute; there are roles for us to fill if we are willing to step up and participate. You probably have an idea or a suggestion that no one else has thought of! We will be enthusiastically welcomed and encouraged as we navigate our paths.

So come! Join us! Start planning and saving. The time, the money, and the effort will be well worth it, I promise. And if you’re nervous about not knowing anyone, come sit by me! We can swap stories about our newest batch of Twinklers together.