The Impact of a Great Teacher – Student Relationship

Dr. Charles T. Menghini • February 2022MAC Corner • February 23, 2022

I’m at that point in life when I look back and try to figure out who those people were that helped me make it along the way. Those people who were responsible for my growth and development as a young trumpet player, student, teacher, husband and human being. In taking inventory, I find my parents were at the top of the list followed closely by my wife of 41 years.  Then comes a long line of people who took an interest in me, some by choice and others who had the pleasure (or displeasure) of seeing my name appear on their roll sheets at the beginning of a semester. Those hearty souls who I call my teachers, my mentors. I owe everything to them. 

Perhaps I am suffering from a bit of melancholy right now as I think about teachers and the teaching profession in this time of Covid. It is impossible for me to wrap my arms around what the wonderful men and women who made it their life’s calling to teach music (or any subject for that matter) have been battling with the for the past two years.

During this time, I have talked to hundreds of teachers and have asked them, “How are you dealing with it? How are you teaching music in this Covid world?” The answers have been astonishing. The answers have been inspiring. The answers have been powerful. 

In every case I discovered a professional who was determined to meet the challenge head-on and adapt to the best of their ability to continue to engage their students in the study of music. When playing the instrument was not possible, the shift to the study of theory and composition filled the void for some. For others, it was dedicated listening sessions and for others, it was a time of engagement where communication with students on a topic related to music seemed to organically emerge. Covid may have altered the course, but it has not deterred music teachers from staying the course.

Covid has changed the world and we are coming up on two years of distance learning, mask mandates, social distancing, vaccine debates and Zoom conferences. As much as I want it all to go away, I am coming to the realization it is here to stay. Like the common cold or the flu, Covid is going to stick around and the longer it does, the better we will all be able to deal with it.

This has been a trying time for the profession, and many have questioned why they ever got into teaching in the first place or how much longer they can continue to teach. For those of you who are searching for that answer, it can be found in the faces of those children or young adults who are there for one reason, YOU! They may have an interest or talent in music, but that interest or talent pales in comparison to the value they place in having you as a part of their world. You are the conduit that links them to the magic of music, in many cases, you are their lifeline.

Students stay involved in music because of their teacher(s). It is the teacher in the classroom or rehearsal hall that makes all the difference. In as much as you may not want to admit it, you need to realize that you are influencing lives through the power of music education. Through the experiences you provide, your students are learning and growing and realizing their self-worth through music and through their participation in band and orchestra. Music teachers, we need you now more than ever!

It is hard for me to imagine who I would have become or what I would have done for a living if it had not been for the multitude of teachers, and mostly music teachers, in my life. As I take stock of their influence, I share with you some of the things I feel are key to developing a great teacher – student relationship.

Set the example. Show excitement for your subject matter. Be prepared for class and be ready to start on time. Be a musician. Talk about music. Share with your students how music has and continues to impact your life. In your ensembles and classes, perform music worthy of your students’ time. Show respect to your students by ending your classes on time, realizing they may have another class or responsibility to tend to as soon as your class is over. 

Like your students. Let your students know you are happy they are in your class. Learn their names. Say “Good Morning or Good Afternoon” before starting every class. Say hello when you see them in the hallway or lunchroom. Recognize them as people first. Valuing them as people makes them feel a part of the group and inevitably, they will help make the ensemble better.

Believe in them. Every student has potential and not all will develop at the same time or pace. When you notice a student who may be struggling, intervene. Suspend judgment and work to diagnose the problem separate from the behavior or personality they might be exhibiting. Then prescribe a solution and monitor their progress. Providing encouragement and celebrating the little victories sends the message you know they can “do it.”   

Offer praise. Reinforce the desired behavior. The sweetest sounds a student can hear is when a teacher offers a compliment for a job well done in front of the entire ensemble. When you observe a student or group doing something you like, let them know. This kind of reinforcement not only motivates the student, but it also serves as motivation for the entire class. When you send that message of a “job well done” you let your students know you are working to make their experience a better one for everybody.

Discipline students appropriately. When a behavior crosses the line, have a plan to deal with it fairly and humanely. Let students and parents know of the consequences well in advance and follow through. Treat everyone the same and avoid playing favorites. Resist the urge to take a student’s behavior personally. In most cases they are not acting out against you.  

Give second chances. Everybody is going to make a mistake. If necessary, talk through why it happened and what steps need to be taken to help prevent it from happening again. Allow them to be human and provide them another shot.

Provide a variety of opportunities for everyone to make a connection beyond the regular class. Whether it is being a member of a chamber music group, playing in the jazz ensemble, taking a before school theory class, or serving as a band librarian or an equipment manager, students need to know there are a variety of ways to develop their interests and help the overall program. Participating in extra activities makes students feel important and helps develop their individual leadership skills, increasing the overall value they place in being a part of the music program.

Know how to challenge your students. Everyone needs the next level. A well-thought out, sequenced curricular approach to teaching music, where the next step requires a bit of effort and is attainable is the secret for continued growth, interest and progress. Make sure your teaching requires them to think. Ask questions that lead students to make musical decisions. Teaching is not telling, teaching is engaging.  

Stay the course. Set and continually reinforce high, attainable standards. Performing less music at a higher musical and proficiency level is always better than performing more music poorly. Students are smart. They know if they have performed well, and everyone wants to be involved in a program where they can take pride in their product. 

Trust your students. You let them know you trust them by what you put on their music stands. You let them know you trust them by clearly stating your expectations. By explaining the challenges that lie ahead, you send the message that you trust them to work the best of their abilities to accomplish the goal.

Teachers, I hope you realize how much your students value and love you. They may not always show it, but they show up day after day. They are there to be with their friends and to be with you. They enjoy the process of music making. Not all are there for the same reason, but all are there for a reason and you are a large part of their decision to remain a part of your school’s band or orchestra.

Thank you, teachers. Thank you for being a part of each of your student’s growth and development. Someday, these young people will look back at the teachers who believed in them and who made a difference in their life. When they do, they will see your face and thank you for the important role you had in making them a better person.

There is a wealth of information available to help you in your journey to become a better band and orchestra teacher. The Music Achievement Council (MAC) is an action-oriented nonprofit organization sponsored by the National Association of School Music Dealers (NASMD) and NAMM, the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM).  This non-profit group’s purpose is to enable more students to begin and stay in instrumental music programs by sharing real-world, successful strategies developed by instrumental music teachers. To learn more about the materials, tips, tools, and resources available to help you recruit and retain more students, visit the Music Achievement Council at

Dr. Charles T. Menghini is president emeritus of VanderCook College of Music in Chicago. Menghini served as professor of music and director of bands from 1994 – 2017. Prior to his appointment at VanderCook, he spent 18 years as a high school band director in Missouri and Kansas where his bands earned national acclaim. Charlie is co-author of the Essential Elements Band Method published by Hal Leonard, LLC and is an educational member of the Music Achievement Council for NAMM. He also hosts his own podcast, Band Talk with Charlie Menghini and Friends, available on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite podcast. Menghini is active as a speaker, clinician, and conductor around the nation.  He frequently presents at state and national music education conferences, works with teachers and school districts in a variety of forums and continues to write for professional magazines and journals.  Menghini is a past recipient of the Medal of Honor from the Midwest Clinic for his life’s work as a band director, teacher, and educator.  

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