“Pupils cannot be taught. All a teacher can do is love the pupil and give them the joy of study” -Juan Mascaro

I read this quote many, many years ago, and even though it made sense at an artistic level, at the practical level I always wondered about it. I mean imagine a teacher who is not teaching. Juan Mascaro further goes on to say –

“A good teacher with an indifferent method will do more than an indifferent teacher with a good method. It is the personality of the teacher that matters”

Even more baffling isn’t it? You expect teachers to have some tremendous method that can help a child learn. Well, in my life I have experienced a teacher who was everything society would put down as an average teacher. But today I understand her remarkability. She was my piano teacher. I met her when I was barely 12, and then I continued learning till maybe 18 or 19 and then life happened. 

She was a bohemian, and sometimes didn’t fit into societies ideas of life. Thankfully my parents cared little about those ideas and I studied under her. Sometimes, and often as a teenager, I would doubt her teaching methods. It seemed like she had none. (Please don’t get me wrong, she knew her subject well). But when it came to a method, often it seemed like a free way. I was a serious student and a couple of times the stray thought of doubting her did occur to me.

But never did I contemplate on replacing her. Because she loved me. There was no denying or doubting that. I may not have understood her methods, but how could I overlook the fact that after a hard days lesson, she would pack me in her car and take me out for a Mac. Music learning can be intense, and frustrating , there were days when I would have to sit through working on music theory. Sometimes I would be frustrated. She never said a word, she was always just there. Her home was always open, if I needed to practice or just sit around to clear my head and I would she never say no. There were days I would just be sitting in her living room till midnight, after making repeated mistakes with the same song.

At some point she would just walk in and say, it’s time for dinner, I made a dish you really like.(She knew some of my favourite foods). And then very gently she would offer to drop me back home or wait for my dad to pick me up. She was the kind of teacher, who helped me break into a music school at night to get the feel of a piano for an exam the following morning. Let me tell you that story. There is particular music school that had a strange policy, (They were the centre for music exams) they only allowed their own students to get a feel of the piano the exam would be conducted on.

Everyone else was not allowed this. It’s every important for one to get a little familiar with the musical instrument. Imagine just walking into a room sitting right away at a instrument you have never touched before. It was unfair. But my teacher would have none of that. So she drove me and two other students. It was late at night, she bribed the watchman. He allowed us in. And we played on the piano, I remember playing to our hearts content till 2 in the morning. 

Yes, that’s my favourite story ever. No, my teacher didn’t have any great method or technique, she only cared for us, and loved us. And it was really like magic, the music and the learning would just seep in. I went on to study advanced music, and I teach now as well. I have had other teachers later, and yes they had phenomenal techniques but I don’t remember much about them. Because they never had the power to love.

I would not have been able to study music  had it not been for this one teacher who would take me out for drives, buy a burger for me and yes she never once raised her voice. NEVER. I last met her on a flight, and she was as loving as ever as she hugged me. I do share messages with her every now and then. And she never fails to tell me, “come when you have the time and we will sit down like the good old days.”

When I teach  I try to remember how my teacher treated me. Truth is I  don’t have a method either. I just try to be kind and loving to my students.( Not to be mistaken that I don’t give them a piece of hell if they don’t work hard). But it is true, knowledge flows of its own accord, as a teacher you can only love.

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nandita basu

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