Reflections on the Postgraduate Teaching Program

We would like to thank Allison Shinnick Keep for this insightful article on The New School for Music Study’s Postgraduate Teaching Program. Want to learn more about the Postgraduate Teaching Program? Learn more and apply by clicking here.

There are experiences in life that change you slowly over long periods of time, and others that seem to change you in an instant. My experience as a postgraduate fellow at The New School for Music study somehow did both. I experienced daily “lightbulb moments” while observing my mentors and colleagues and felt instantly changed. And yet, I was still surprised at the conclusion of the year: I had transformed. Not only had my teaching transformed, my approach to living life as a musician had transformed. Slowly, day by day, through teaching, observing, reflecting, and engaging, I was growing into a musician and teacher I’d only previously dreamed of becoming.

At the conclusion of my masters program, I found myself burnt out, tired, and aimless, as many young musicians might experience at the end of a degree. Even though my studies had been full of inspiring lessons, collaborative performances, and new teaching experiences, years of academia and striving for the next degree left me with a weary spirit. I knew I still loved and desired a life full of music, but I wasn’t sure how to keep on without burning out even more. Today, I enjoy a life that is filled to the brim with music teaching and performing, and I often forget that I faced those dark feelings nearly eight years ago. My time at The New School reignited my passion and provided me with pedagogical and professional tools that I continue to apply in each new iteration of my career.

Several mentors had encouraged me to apply for the Postgraduate Teaching Fellowship (now the Postgraduate Teaching Program) and I was well aware of the school’s reputation and deep pedagogical history. Even though my future was unclear, I thought “I know teaching piano will always be something I could do, so I might as well go somewhere I know I’ll be taught to do it well.” I can now confidently say that not only did I learn to do it well, but now teaching piano is indeed what I want to be doing. I laugh at my initial reluctance to move across the country, for what unfolded over the course of the next year became the most life-changing experience of my 20s.

I could compile a list of teaching tips, lesson plan guidelines, or favorite teaching repertoire—all of which I certainly gained through my time at the New School and utilize daily in my teaching; however, none of this could encapsulate the magic that’s found inside the walls of the New School. The most impactful aspect of the postgraduate fellowship program was being immersed in a community of loving, encouraging, and inspiring colleagues.

I was especially struck by the integrity and camaraderie of the faculty. Each faculty member is an outstanding teacher in their own right, yet among them you find true humility and a desire to share in the journey of teaching. The faculty at the New School are uniquely collaborative. As a fellow, I wasn’t considered second-tier, but I was immediately embraced as a member of the team. By co-teaching group classes and observing many different colleagues, I gained a coveted look behind the scenes of not just one, but of fifteen master teachers.

With a shared mission of excellence in teaching, the faculty at the New School are one in spirit and always willing to lend a hand or offer advice. As a young teacher, my knowledge of repertoire was limited, but when I had questions about appropriate pieces for my students, fellow faculty members were eager to offer suggestions and tips. I was inspired to see that though teachers set high standards for their students, joy was also found in the small victories in lessons with beginning and advanced students alike.

Prior to my fellowship year, I felt comfortable teaching particular pieces to particular age groups. By the end of my fellowship year, I felt equipped to tackle lessons with students of any age playing any level of repertoire. Through the generosity of my colleagues and their enthusiasm for sharing their own teaching expertise, in a year’s time, I benefited from decades of thoughtful, dedicated teaching practice.

Though life has now taken me away from New Jersey, the New School will always feel like home. It’s where I grew up as a teacher and inside it are many colleagues who have become life-long friends and mentors.

My time at the New School changed me. I truly cannot imagine what my life would look like had I not been a fellow at the New School. Not only did I gain invaluable practical skills and professional connections, I also absorbed the energy and love of teaching that surrounded me every day. I will be forever grateful for the mark that the New School has left on my life.

Learn more about teaching and professional development opportunities at The New School for Music Study by clicking here.

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