Teaching Joys & The "Best Excuses" from Students (Mel)

7:44:00 PM

This is my 7th year of receiving much chocolates and handmade cards on Teacher's Day and I think another popular gift this year would be rainbow looms. I really love receiving handmade gifts from the kids because most of them require no money, just a lot of love and effort. As I recollect the cute gifts I have received over the years, I also reflect on why I started teaching 7 years back and what made me decide to continue being a teacher despite it being a "tough job" to handle. Most of the time, you not only need to be a teacher but also a parent / big sister to the kids.

I'm blessed with great patience and that is one gift I must truly thank God for. 

I look back on how my piano lessons were like for me when I was younger. It was hell stressful, only my fellow peers from the same music school would understand. We had lessons 2-3 times a week, master classes once a month, concerts 1-3 times a year (depending on how pro you are) and had to finish 2 grades a year. If that wasn't enough, we were usually subjected to harsh remarks by teachers and even stood under the aircon as punishment if we couldn't answer questions. If you're unlucky, you might also need to dodge car keys or shoes that are sent flying your direction because you gave the wrong answer in class.

Don't know answer also wrong. Don't know yet try your luck also wrong. Think you know the answer but then end up answering wrongly... that one don't need to say la. Haha. 

My parents remind me though, that I wouldn't be where I am today if not for all these experiences. Hmm, quite true. I'm sure I had learnt a lot being there. I gained a lot of confidence and my ability to withstand low temperatures and tolerate criticisms should have increased from such training. Haha. That being said, I wouldn't want my students to undergo some of the "bad experiences" that I faced as a young kid (I'm not that sadistic. Haha) so I create opportunities for them to perform for each other 1-2 times a year and also make sure that they don't take advantage of my kindness. Haha.

I make it a point to inform parents (and I make their child hear it too) that I'm an expert at catching children who lie to me that they did practise when they actually didn't. Maybe it's because they understand that I'm going to find out if they didn't practise or do their homework so they start to find excuses to reason things out with me when they step in for lessons. This is where it gets funny.. Haha! Not the idea of them not practising lah, but oh my... these kids are starting to get really good at "smoking"!

"Sorry Teacher Melody I couldn't find time to practise this week, I had to watch my "Frozen"." 
- from a 5 year old. 

I totally understand and believe children who tell me that their mum / dad / school teacher has been piling much homework and assessment books on them especially during the exam period. Do you know that they don't really use this excuse anymore nowadays? They try to find new ways to push the "blame" to their parents, even though they actually enjoyed and appreciated what their parents did. Haha! It has advanced to...

"Yesterday my parents brought me to the zoo. So I couldn't practise this week." 
- from a 6 year old. 

Occasionally I do get parents calling me up to inform me that their child can't make it for lessons because they had fallen ill or had injured their hand / finger / leg / toe / can't walk / can't write etc. which I totally understand because they can be so hyperactive as seen from how they treat my sofas at home as slides and trampolines. I also had kids attempting to plank and balance on the top of the sofa. Amazing!

I don't advise parents to make their child continue lessons when they are sick (especially when they have a fever, runny nose, bad cough) because I have many students using the piano and I can't afford to spread the germs to them either. I do sanitise my piano keyboard after each lesson but some kids fire really huge slimes when they sneeze. They are again, A-ma-zing! So I think if parents do not inform me that their child is unwell and are still able to attend lessons as per normal, the kid will be normal and find right? 


"Teacher Melody, I can't play piano today because my tooth is shaky."
- from a 6 year old boy who proceeded to show me his shaky tooth

The lesson still carried on, obviously. Haha!

Kids can't tell your age from your appearance or dressing by the way. I've had children telling me they thought I was 15, and another kept asking how many kids I have of my own even though he knew I was not married. One night, a 9 year old student asked if I had shaved my chin hair (excuse me, chin hair?!?!?) because I had some bumps and marks and scars on my chin. Sigh, I had to explain what pimples and acne scars were. I don't blame her though, she's brought up by a single parent dad and must have seen similar red marks on his face after he had shaved.

And then another night as I was teaching a student at his home, his sister (who doesn't learn from me but entertains me with her funny conversations every lesson) innocently asked...

"Teacher Melody, your parents die already ah? They not around already ah? Dead ah?" 
- from a 5 year old. 

In which I had to explain that they are still breathing and living very healthily despite being close to their sixties.  

It's quite difficult to get angry with them especially when their questions or answers are so innocent, even though you might be quite offended by them. At times, I believe they might have heard their parents or friends asking in such a way and must have thought that it was alright to phrase it in such a way. With heavy influence from TV programs, the iPad and conversing with friends in school, the topics they sometimes engage me in can be rather challenging. Thank goodness I do update myself with the latest "slangs" and "cool topics" constantly so it is easier to answer their weekly quizzes.

But there are still a few topics that I'm bad in, especially games, robots, dragons and... dinosaurs. So a particular conversation with the above mentioned "shaky-tooth boy" went:

"This is the Tyrannosauras... the T-Rex lah! Then this is the... Triceratops... the Spinosauras... Brachiosauras..."

and as he went on and on it became..

"then this one is the 'Checheresauras', 'Bobortosauras', 'Dinosauras'... Huh you don't know meh?"

I conclude that anything that ends with "-sauras" belongs to the Dinosaur family.

And if you thought that only kids would ask weird questions, at times I get them from adults too (not youths, I mean 40+ year old students). My piano is placed in the living room of my home, which isn't an ideal location especially when kids can be very distracted with people walking in and out of the house especially on weekends. But due to space constraints, I have to make do with where lessons have to be carried out at. Once, an adult student who came over to my place saw people moving in and out of my house and she asked...

"You rented this house ah? Those people are other tenants living with you?"
- from a 40+ year old student.

Erm, those are my parents and sister leh. Don't like that leh.

What about the older kids. Yeah, surely they wouldn't give excuses right? 

You're wrong. 

I deal with teenagers even though majority of my students are 12 and below. Because our age gap isn't that huge (ok la, I like to think that I'm still young sometimes), I treat them like friends and tend to relate to their problems better. They are quite open with me about school, friendships and sometimes their love life. But they do know that they should never use "boyfriend" as an excuse for not turning up for lessons. So she decided to explain that her turning up 55 min late for lesson was because she had a really bad stomach ache when in actual fact her boyfriend overslept and she was waiting to meet him before coming over for lesson. I had spies around. But I didn't tell on her, her results reflected her actions and I asked for her to stop coming after a while because she was wasting her parents' money and wasting my time and efforts.

Starting out teaching when I was 18 wasn't easy.

I had to deal with parents' doubts about my age and experience. Then again, while some found that more important, others just wanted a teacher who was able to make lessons fun for the kids and get them interested in learning. A minority would request for the teacher to be patient, nice and understanding yet tells you where the cane is so that you can use it on the kid if they are behaving like a monkey. Hmmm... Sorry I don't do violence. Haha.

But I've learnt over the years on how to be a better teacher and how to improve myself not only in terms of qualifications but also by coming up with different ways to teach different students. Every student has a different rate of learning and it's not fair to say that the student is not doing well enough by looking at his or her results. That is why I do take it on myself when they do not score well because it also reflects on my teaching.

On this special day, I would like to thank my music teachers who have been such an inspiration in my life, those who have taught me in school and also out of school. Thank you to my students for all the gifts and wishes and for being my daily source of motivation (& entertainment too!). Haha

I would also like to thank Ben for being one of the greatest teachers in my life. He has taught me so much, from how to control my temper better and how to not let other's emotions affect mine. He made me understand why I should continue to help those who need my help even though they would never return their assistance when I need them most. He guided me when I was depressed, upset and didn't know which path I should take.

I hope that you will continue to inspire all those around you to be more like you.

Happy Teacher's Day to Us and let's touch more lives together :)

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  1. Hi, what age to start to learn piano? 3 or 4, 5? thanks.

  2. Replies
    1. Hi,

      it really depends on her concentration level though. 4 is possible if she's able to sit through for maybe a 30min lesson. If not then 5 might be a better age to start as she should have enough finger strength by then to play the piano (and not a keyboard).

  3. Hi Melody,

    I am really impressed by your blog post and it really made me reflect upon myself when I was a little younger.

    Honestly, I loathe my piano lessons. I really had no motivation for it since I was forced to play it as much as I loved the sound of the piano and all forms of classical music. But I guess it is also important for a child to learn how to embrace the beauty of playing instead of focusing on the importance of passing Grades after grades.

    I do wish that I could have met a piano teacher like you earlier before I gave up on my piano practice but I am glad that you are continuing your teaching journey to expose these young minds to a more wonderful world of music.

    Cheers to your amazing and very inspiring blogpost! And more so to your amazing skills towards teaching and embracing each and every student's learning abilities.

    P.S. Maybe one day I shall try and give my piano some much needed human touch again since it has been sitting in my room all day long ;)

    1. Hi,

      Thanks for the compliment. I think teachers play a very important role in creating interest and stirring passion in young minds. Not only when it comes to music but even studying for a particular subject in school or playing a sport.

      I don't have much good memories about my junior college life because I had teachers who would look down on the weaker students in class, which was me by the way. Haha. My name was always called out the last when the teacher gave out the exam scripts because I was zero percentile in the entire level. It was depressing.

      Hope your love with the instrument will rekindle. Thanks for reading :)


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