Today we bring you a guest post by Eric Armstrong, who teaches voice, speech, and text at York University.
As a voice and speech teacher, I’ve been very lucky to have some great role models, mentors, colleagues and master teachers, all of whom have greatly influenced my approach to the art of teaching. I’ve also been very happy to have the opportunity to be a trainer of trainers, leading a speech and accent seminar as part of the now-closed Graduate Diploma in Voice Teaching at York University from 2003-2015.
Any voice/speech methodology that has a teacher training program needs to set clear learning expectations for those people learning to take on the methodology, whether it be part of a formal certification process, or in a less formal mentorship model. When people first start teaching in a certain mode, to some degree they may be “playing the recording in their head” of what their teacher said to them. Channel your teacher, and suddenly you get to share their greatness with your students. In some training programs, the degree to which you can parrot back the teaching style and content of the master teacher is seen as a sign of your own success with adopting the pedagogical model as your own.
But at some point, you have to turn that recording off. You have to own your teaching, find your own ways of expressing the goals of the work, and the steps needed to get there, to your students/clients. This is a scary place, a place without a net. And, this is an exhilarating experience, where what you’ve learned and experienced comes together to convey something needed in that very moment.
All the different voice and speech methodologies started, at some point, as an itch that needed to be scratched for the founder of the method. There was something lacking that needed to be found, a gap that needed to be filled. And so those somewhat dissatisfied teachers became explorers, inventors, researchers, questioners. They took a new path that lead them, step by step, to a new way of doing, of seeing, sounding, hearing, feeling, and a new means whereby they might share that experience with others.
At some point, we all have to do this. Leave the safe territory where we know what works, in order to address those parts of the terrain where the problems lie, the questions, the frustrations. As software engineers say, you have to “eat your own dog food”—you have to make your new product and test it yourself to see how exactly it works. What needs further refinement, what needs more polish, what needs to be rejected and tried anew?
Where does your own dissatisfaction lie? To what degree is every lesson an improvisation? How do you experiment with your teaching without getting lost in the weeds? How carefully do you track your successes and failures? If everything is an experiment, then what’s the foundation of your teaching? I’m curious to know about your experience with exploration in the classroom, studio or rehearsal hall, and how you’re doing with becoming your own kind of master teacher.
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