My son’s first cello teacher, Gilda Barston, died when he was 10. He warms up every day with a short song she taught him for getting his fingers in tune. He’s been playing the exercise for so long that it’s no longer an intonation exercise as much as a prayer. A prayer to teaching, I think.
Usually parents have their kid learn the instrument they played or the instrument the family needs for a trio, or the piano because there’s one in the living room. Cello is not a frequent choice because the violin is so much easier to carry around. But lots of parents told me they chose cello so their kid could have Gilda as a teacher.
At the time that sounded crazy. There was a time, really, when everything about cello sounded crazy to me. But I’m seeing more and more clearly that the teacher is what matters.
My older son has a lot of tutors. He is at the point where he can blow through curriculum if he has a good tutor, and if the tutor isn’t good we spend most of our time on logistics and teaching methods.
Also, he wants tutors in person. So I agreed to pay for a really passionate Shakespeare tutor because she was close and could come every day. For someone my son’s age, when there is so much in the world to learn, he has found that routine and enthusiasm are more important than the topic a particular tutor chooses.
My son’s favorite tutor prepared him for the the AP biology test and then left for medical school. My son missed him. And the tutor didn’t know physics or calculus well enough to tutor, so we decided on statistics. My son didn’t care about the topic. He just like working with this particular guy.
I think this is a good lesson for adult life as well. Who you work with matters so much more than what you do with that person. I coach people who spend so much time trying to find the right industry. But no industry is the right industry if you don’t have a good mentor and a good boss.
Teach kids to look for the right person to connect with. That’s how you build a network. And — I’m hoping! — that’s how kids create a support system once they leave home.