What do you actually do to grow in our profession? Because you know, once we are out of school, and if we are not teaching as a certified school teacher, there is nothing forcing us to do anything to develop anymore (and even in a school it isn’t always easy to find meaningful professional development opportunities as a string teacher). There are a lot of things we can do, however, which are easy, fun, educational, and even repeatable, to keep up our skills and learn new ones. That goes for both playing as well as teaching. And I am of the mind that we need different points of view to keep us honest and forward-moving, which we find when we get a little bit out of our familiar comfort zones. What follows are some easy string teacher tips for professional development.
First of all, we can read books. What was the last thing you read? I’m reading Talk Like Ted right now, and it is very enlightening if you want to learn how to give a speech. You might not think you need to speak in public as a teacher, but even in the classroom and when speaking to groups of parents or students, it is a critical skill that helps us convey messages more effectively.
Attend conferences or workshops We can also attend conferences in our cities, state, region or at the national or even international level. That is a sure way to learn something useful and help us expand our professional knowledge and experience.
Take a course
We could take a course, either a single course, a certificate or a degree program. Learning is something we ourselves need to engage in frequently and enthusiastically to be our best teaching selves. It is a great idea never to forget what it is like to be a beginner. Being a beginner is great, anyway, as it gives us a chance to be bad at something so we can learn from it and improve. Of course, it also helps us relate to our beginners more too.
By the way, don’t forget to sign up for clock-hours you can report to your school district as that is future money in the bank as you rise up the salary scale! Check with your district’s HR to find out if a course qualifies for clock hours. They are sometimes a bit flexible with string teachers.
Be active in or join an organisationWe could participate in an organisation that represents us, such as ESTA, ASTA, AUSTA, American Viola Society, or RSTA, the Royal String Teacher Association, where we can easily find curated materials on an on-going basis. There are wonderful opportunities to be had by joining a group.
We could take some lessons ourselves with another teacher for a different point of view. We might even learn to play a similar or closely related instrument, or hone our singing or accompaniment skills.
We might even mentor another teacher if we have some years of experience to draw from.
In the past year, I have had the chance to be a sounding board for a young teacher here in China who has entered the profession of teaching strings and is going to be a trainee to teach string music formally in a renowned international high school. It really is a monumental decision to enter this profession, as it is so encompassing of our lives.
If you have taken the plunge into teaching strings or music in school, you know this is not a light decision and the magnitude of learning which ensues really needs some extra support. I did not set out to become a teacher mentor, but I’m so glad I have had the chance to help! It is a good match, in that we are both international females teaching strings in China during the pandemic. It also teaches me a lot because it forces me to reflect on things I wouldn’t have thought of by myself. I remember back to the first year I was teaching orchestra in the US, and part of the program I was in included having monthly meetings with a mentor, and how much that meant to my survival!
To sum up, there are a handful of great ways to develop ourselves more as string teachers, including reading, attending workshops and events for teachers, taking a course or lessons, joinin organisations, and even mentoring. We don’t need to do all of these things all of the time, but it is certainly helpful – not to mention inspiring – to do at least a few or some of them on an on-going basis. You just might make a great friend or two and learn something valuable you didn’t expect to.
Have you learned something by reading a book, taking a course, attending a workshop or webinar, or having done mentoring lately? I would love to know what, and I will celebrate it with you!