I spent my first few years as a Suzuki violin teacher wishing and wishing for younger students. I wanted to be a real Suzuki teacher and real Suzuki teachers had really young beginners. I was actually disappointed when I got a beginning student that was 11 or older because I thought they were taking space from the students I really wanted. That disappointed feeling never lasted very long. My middle and high school students always won me over with their enthusiasm, sarcasm, and vibrant personalities.
Now that I have achieved my goal of having a studio filled with younger students (which really is as fun as I thought it would be), I understand how wonderful it is to teach a teenage beginner. Since most of my Suzuki teacher training was aimed at very young beginners, it has taken some deliberate practice to know how to help an older beginner thrive. Five year olds and twelve year olds learn things very differently! I have learned that a variety of ages and levels in my students makes my teaching day more engaging and less exhausting.
Here are some of my favorite things about middle school students:
They have a musical support group. Many of my older beginners are playing in their school orchestra. There’s a reason performing in groups is a big part of the Suzuki philosophy– it helps them stay motivated, it makes them feel a sense of belonging to music, it pushes them to learn harder music and progress quickly. As far as participation in my group class; I worried about some of these students staying engaged, but as long as there’s 1-2 other students their age they have a great time.
They are funny. Maybe it says something about my maturity level, but I love that my teen students understand my sarcasm and respond in kind.
They are self-sufficient. While having an involved parent is extraordinarily helpful for an older beginner, it’s not as essential as it is for a younger student. Pre-teen and teen beginners can learn how to take their own notes and follow through on practice assignments.
They are available later in the evening. I love being able to fill up lesson slots that would be too late for a younger student. My children can be with their other parent, and I don’t have to arrange and pay for child care.
They have clear goals. While my younger students love to play, they often don’t have as clear of an idea of where they are going. My older students have pop songs they love, or youtube musicians they’re inspired by, or higher level orchestras they want to join. These dreams are an important first step of goal-making.
I used to think teenage students would all have bad attitudes, bad technique, and no motivation. Now I wouldn’t describe any of my students that way. They are intelligent, kind to the younger students in the studio, respectful to me, and beautiful players. I am lucky to have them.
What are your favorite ages to teach? What delights and challenges have you found in teaching pre-teens and teens?