“I only practice on the days I eat.” The words of Dr. Suzuki, the father of the Suzuki music teaching method, ring through my head as I struggle to motivate my son to play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star on the piano. How is that I, as an educator and pianist, struggle so much to teach my son to play such a simple melody? It isn’t for lack of effort or creativity, nor even lack of patience. The practice finishes with him asking, “Mommy, can I just practice the piano at the teacher’s house? I like practicing with her better.” I am crestfallen but manage a composed, “Honey, it’s important to practice every day or you will not be ready to see your teacher,” but the truth was, his words hurt. The experience got me thinking… thinking back through the scores of students I have tutored over the past 15 years at Oxford Tutoring. I remember the sophomore whose mother was a PhD in English, who brought her 16 year-old son to study English with me, and the 4th grader whose mother was a special education teacher who brought her daughter, a delightful child with severe dyslexia, to see me, a young woman in college at the time. These mothers were highly-skilled, professional women who without a doubt were more skilled than I. What value did they see in what I was doing, and what did they know that I have yet to learn for my own son’s sake?
The question is difficult. The most obvious answer is that the parent-child relationship is often complex and “high stakes.” The parent brings a vision for his or her child’s future, a deep gut-wrenching desire for the child to be successful, a history of positive and negative interactions, and expectations that on a good day are high, and on a tough day perhaps insurmountable. Furthermore, parents and children bring their day with them into the room: the child brings the exhaustion, excitement, and frustrations of school, peers and teachers; the parent brings the challenges of bosses and deadlines and all the pressures we put on ourselves. It all leaks in. It leaks into our tone of voice, our questions and answers, how constructive our criticism is, and how heartfelt our accolades are. Furthermore, when the assignment is done, there’s no cheering. The crowd doesn’t go wild because you gave it your all. The book closes, the pencil rests, and no one is watching. Everyone is just relieved. The homework is done.
But in thinking about it further, there is more to the question than stressed parents and kids. Dr. Suzuki described an exchange between himself and the parent of one of his students. The parent asked, “Professor, will my boy amount to something?” and Dr. Suzuki jokingly replied, “No, he will not become ‘something’.” Her shock forced him to continue seriously, “He will become a noble person through his violin playing.” His words awakened my mind. The mothers of my students didn’t come to me just because they were too tired or their children were too difficult. They came because they were in the business of building a fine young man and a fine young woman of noble characters. They understand that it takes a village, as some say, to raise a child, and that association with quality people builds beauty of character. It builds strength and resolve. It builds understanding and commitment. And ultimately, it provides purpose. Over these long years, I have been given the gift of an opportunity to participate in that effort, and now, as administrator and instructor at Oxford Tutoring, I have the opportunity through the wisdom and strength of our instructors, to further that effort: an effort I will need for my own child, and an effort we will nurture for yours.
Special thanks to the writings of Dr. Suzuki, founder of the Talent Education approach to teaching children music. Story excerpted from his seminal text, Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education by Shinichi Suzuki.
Meet the author: Rebekah, an ELA/SAT/ACT instructor and administrator at Oxford Tutoring has over 15 years of tutoring experience. As a parent, her passion for furthering her student’s education stems from a first-hand understanding of the importance of learning in the lives of students. Combining her years of experience as a tutor and parent, Rebekah reaches her students through encouragement, incorporating various learning styles, and an awareness of tutoring methods that makes the learning experience personal and relatable to her students.
© Oxford Tutoring 2015