David Froom dfroom at smcm.edu
Fri Mar 27 07:28:41 PDT 2009

On 26 Mar 2009, at 9:51 PM, TIMOTHY SULLIVAN wrote:

> I will make some blunt statements regarding both teaching and  
> creating art:
> 1. There is no reason to believe that an accomplished artist,  
> regardless of discipline,
> has the ability to teach;
> 2. There is no reason to believe that an accomplished teacher,  
> regardless of discipline,
> has the ability to create art;
> 3. There is reason to believe that an accomplished artist, who is  
> also a trained teacher,
> or an accomplished teacher, who is also a trained artist, will have  
> the ability to both
> teach and create art.

I am a composer, and had good teachers and bad teachers. I also  
studied with accomplished artists and people of modest accomplishment.

I can say, unreservedly, that studying with a poor teacher of modest  
accomplishment is a waste of time.

I can say, unreservedly, that a poor teacher who is an accomplished  
artist is someone from whom one can learn a great deal -- if nothing  
else, to have contact with and the opportunity to ask questions of  
someone of stature.

Of course, the best are the good teachers who also are accomplished  

> Pedagogy is the craft of teaching. It is, I believe, a craft that  
> should be learned/practised
> by any/all those who would present themselves professionally as  
> teachers, whether of piano, composition, music theory, music  
> education or any other discipline.

Perhaps the argument is with the way that pedagogy curricula are  
currently formed (at least, for me, in the US, as my knowledge of  
pedagogy curricula in other countries is non-existent).
> Composition is both craft and art. The Craft involves much more than  
> melody writing, counterpoint or orchestration, and the Art involves  
> much more than analysis, imitation and experiment. Above all, the  
> TEACHING of composition requires someone who is both artist and  
> teacher, who can organise, integrate and elucidate a course of  
> instructional
> experience for the student that systematically develops craft whilst  
> scaffolding artistic
> expression. This is indeed rare. For most students this is very much  
> a "hit and miss" process,
> with many of the gaps that remain after the "Bachelor" or "Masters"  
> degree, having to be filled in (or not) through self-study and  
> through fortuitous discovery once they begin to "teach"
> others themselves.

Is it possible that courses in pedagogy will not help someone become a  
good teacher, no matter how well organized their course of instruction?

I recommend a New Yorker article (Dec 15, 2008) by Malcolm Gladwell,  
"Most Likely to Succeed"


Here is a key paragraph:

> A group of researchers—Thomas J. Kane, an economist at Harvard’s  
> school of education; Douglas Staiger, an economist at Dartmouth; and  
> Robert Gordon, a policy analyst at the Center for American  
> Progress—have investigated whether it helps to have a teacher who  
> has earned a teaching certification or a master’s degree. Both are  
> expensive, time-consuming credentials that almost every district  
> expects teachers to acquire; neither makes a difference in the  
> classroom. Test scores, graduate degrees, and certifications—as much  
> as they appear related to teaching prowess—turn out to be about as  
> useful in predicting success as having a quarterback throw footballs  
> into a bunch of garbage cans.

Good teachers have an ability to communicate well, understand students  
needs, respond effectively to those needs, keep students engaged and  
excited.  These thing might be able to be taught -- but sadly, for the  
most part, it seems they are not.

For me, teaching was learned by using my best teachers as models.

> Do not denigrate "pedagogy". Do not relegate it to "music education"  
> or "music educators",
> lest you expose your own ignorance. Those who can teach, do, those  
> who cannot, should
> not.

My experience is that good teachers become good through some  
combination of background and "natural" ability.  They typically are  
quite good from the very beginning of their teaching careers.  None of  
the best teachers in my past were instructed in pedagogy -- and some  
of the worst teachers I've seen (colleagues at various institutions)  
were Education professors.  (There were some Education professors who  
were terrific teachers.)

My experience is that some kinds of instruction and guidance can  
improve bad teachers (most typically one-on-one mentoring).  That  
improvement, it seems to me, moves them to the level of being  
adequate, but never great.  And I have heard repeatedly from students  
of mine who have gone through pedagogy or certification programs that  
they learned little if anything about teaching from those courses.

David Froom
Composer and teacher
Professor and Chair
St. Mary's College of Maryland
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