Part two of the "Finding Your Style" series focuses on how to be an engaging teacher while still remaining true to your personality. No matter what teaching style you ascribe to, students will only respond to you if you feel comfortable in your actions.
Step 1: Think back.
Who was your favorite teacher? This doesn't have to be limited to music; it could be someone who taught you to read when you were young or the driver's ed instructor who helped you finally figure out parallel parking. Think about what it was you responded to. Was it their knowledge level, their demeanor, their teaching studio/classroom, or something else? How did they make you feel about yourself? Did they motivate you through fear, anger, love, encouragement, or a simple expectation that you could do better? Which of these qualities do you see in yourself already, and which ones do you wish you had? These are clues as to the type of teacher you should be.
Step 2: Take a look at yourself.
What's your personality type? Are you outgoing and personable, or do you take a little while to warm up to new people? While it's fine to be more of an introvert, you must at least be able to take the lead during a lesson. Students look to you for cues about how to behave, and they need a certain amount of structure and leadership even if you aren't the dominant type.
Are you a morning person or a night owl? As much as you're able, schedule lessons for your most alert time of day. A sleepy or disengaged student will be more willing to suck it up and pay attention if you're bringing the energy. The simple act of being excited to be there is a major part of being a good teacher.
Step 3: Have a plan.
When I first started teaching privately, I planned out every lesson ahead of time. I made a list of topics I wanted to cover and made sure I had more than enough material to fill the time slot. At least in the beginning, it's easier to guide your student through the lesson if you have a safety net.
However, flexibility is key. There will be times when the activities you plan aren't workable for one reason or another and you need to move on to something different. Eventually, you will get to a point where you don't need to plan out your lessons because you know your students well and you have a wide variety of ways to troubleshoot any problems they might face, be it in articulation, tone, or body position.
Step 4: Watch the game tape.
Take a few notes as your student is packing up their instrument. Write down which activities went well and which ones were confusing or unhelpful. With the less successful teaching techniques, see if you can figure out what went wrong. Was there something you wish you had done differently? Did the student have any feedback that they shared with you as they were struggling?
File away the techniques that don't work the first time, but don't toss them entirely. They probably just need a couple tweaks to turn them into productive teaching tools. Ask your peers or your own teachers for ideas; improving as a teacher is a collaborative effort.
Step 5: Can it be simpler?
The hardest part about teaching is trying to communicate new knowledge to someone who has never encountered it before. You can't use industry jargon or slang because they don't know what that means. You have to break the concept down into its smallest, least challenging pieces of information in order to build the knowledge base your student needs.
For example, let's say you wanted to talk about major triads. The breakdown would go something like this:
As you can see, this breakdown process could take you all the way through known music theory, and each bullet point above could easily be expanded further into a full lesson. No matter what type of teaching personality you have, this skill must be a part of it.
Step 6: Teach!
The best way to figure out your personal teaching style is to teach as much as you can. Teach private students when you can get them, but don't stop there. The simple act of breaking an activity down into its most basic parts so that it can be understood by a novice is something that comes with repetition. Enlist the help of the people around you when you're trying to get some practice in this regard. Teach your friends how to assemble your instrument. Teach your coworkers the fine art of using the copy machine. Teach your roommate how to fix the leaky faucet. The more opportunities you take to communicate new knowledge to someone, the more comfortable you will be doing it.