As a special Leap Day bonus here are excerpts from two examples of teaching bios found on the Berklee College of Music’s faculty page listings. I love that fact that at Berklee the faculty bios are all in first person—producing the effect of the faculty member speaking directly to prospective and current students and parents.

But writing in first person doesn’t guarantee that the writing will be engaging or compelling. It’s easy to write a bio or teaching philosophy statement using “I” and fill it up with what we think is relevant material but in fact be missing the target entirely.

So what IS the target?

With a teaching bio or statement, your intended reader may be a prospective student (or that student’s parent), or a prospective employer. What do these people want to know? How can you address their needs and interests?

Who are. Really
They want to know what it would be like to work with you:
  • Who you really are: what you’re like as a person
  • What matters most to you as a teacher: what you focus on
  • How you teach: what you’re like in the studio or classroom
So let’s analyze two examples from the Berklee faculty pages. Though these happen to be voice faculty, you’ll see if you peruse the site many other examples from various departmental areas. I chose these two because they’re not only excellent musicians and terrific people, but the excerpts are particularly revealing of the way they operate as educators.

After reading each excerpt answer three questions:

1. What is the main point being communicated here: what is this faculty member’s essential focus?

2. Imagine this instructor’s lessons or classes, based on this excerpt, how would you describe their teaching?

3. Based on this excerpt, what would you say the faculty member’s values are—what matters most to her in teaching?

excerpt #1

“I’m having so much fun teaching at Berklee. I look forward to seeing my students, and I know that I’m really doing my job when they’re excited to come to class and to prepare for it, and I’m seeing them progress. In my style labs, I say, ‘Be prepared to exist in this class outside of your comfort zone. If you’re within your comfort zone for the entire class, I’m not doing my job. My job is to take you out of your comfort zone so you can find a new comfort zone.’ And the students are willing to go on that journey with me, so I’m honored, and enjoying every second of it.”
Janice Pendarvis

Reading between these lines, what do you learn from this? If you are a prospective student or employer, what impression do you take away?

excerpt #2

“I teach my voice students to be independent and to think as musicians. To be able to understand, perform, and write music with the skills of an instrumentalist. And that is why I include in my teaching improvisation, rhythmic training, songwriting, and ear training techniques as well.
I love leading my students to the process of discovering their musical personality. To train their voice to be the instrument of their own imagination.”
Sofia Rei

And with Sofia’s excerpt, what do you learn? If you are a prospective student or employer, what impression do you take away?

My take on these:

With Janice, I get her sense of joy and discovery in her teaching and I get that it’s personal—she really loves the students and  the process and she sees it as a journey. The main focus that comes across is that of challenging her students and being upfront about it and that they respond well. Creating discomfort in order to create new expanded comfort zones is what her teaching is ultimately about.

With Sofia, the main focus I get is on helping singers develop the skills that instrumentalists have: I get the rigor and the multifaceted aspects (improvisation, ear training, etc.) and that all of this is aimed at helping her students discover their voices as creative artists. Sofia sees her role as leading students through a discovery process so they can more directly channel their imagination into artistry.

I find each of these inspiring and compelling. In just a few lines I get a real sense of the energy and personalities behind the teaching.

This is really the litmus test to give your own bio and teaching philosophy statement—ask yourself the same three analysis questions. How revealing are you about who you are, what you care about, and how you teach?

Because, unfortunately there are far too many bios and teaching statements that don’t reveal anything other than clichés, platitudes, generalizations, and lists of performances, experience, degrees, etc.

This week: take a look at your current teaching bio or philosophy statement and read between the lines the way a prospective student or employer would. What are you revealing?

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