I spend way too much time traveling on airplanes. Much of it is exhausting. Lots of it is frustrating. Often it is debilitating. But last week I had a wonderfully illuminating experience. As I boarded the plane, I happened to notice that there were two flight attendants at the front of this very small regional jet that only needed one crew member in the cabin. As I settled in, it became quite apparent that one of them was a brand-new trainee — the equivalent of what we’d call a “student teacher” — and the other her “cooperating teacher.”

After figuring that out, which by the way wasn’t rocket science, I couldn’t take my eyes or ears off of them as I studied their interactions. The obvious dialogue was about safety protocols, airline regulations, and flight procedures. But the real reason I was so interested was the chance to study this obviously-gifted “teacher.” Though I wouldn’t know the correct sequence of actions during an emergency landing from a hole in the wall, I relished this opportunity to be reminded about great teaching, no matter the discipline. During this flight — a flight the experienced crew member had probably done hundreds and hundreds of times — this remarkable mentor offered a masterclass in what makes a great teacher.

She was truly and overtly patient, stayed at the student’s pace no matter how slow it was, praised every little positive step along the way, prioritized and sequenced everything to be taught, knew when to offer constructive criticism and when to hold it for a time when the student would be more willing or able to accept it, smiled and nodded often, truly listened to the student, answered questions with delight as she invited more of them, and a million other things, all the while remembering what it was like to be in that “student’s” position. It made me want to ask her if she’d come watch me teach a class or rehearsal. I bet she’d make me better in about two seconds. But just watching her was such a wonderful reminder of the teacher I want to be. Sadly, not the teacher I am, but the one I strive to be someday. Though I would never have guessed it, for me, that flight ended up being worth its weight in pure gold.

Peter Loel Boonshaft, Director of Education
KHS America

About the Author

Dr. Boonshaft, Director of Education for KHS America, is the author of the critically acclaimed best-selling books Teaching Music with Passion, Teaching Music with Purpose, and Teaching Music with Promise. He was honored by the National Association for Music Education and Music For All as the first recipient of the “George M. Parks Award for Leadership in Music Education.” Dr. Boonshaft was selected for the Center for Scholarly Research and Academic Excellence at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, where he is Professor Emeritus of Music.