Any promising students?

It's not a beauty contest. (National Library NZ)

People will ask, in the spirit of catching up with my work, "Do you have any promising students?"

I never know how to answer that. The answer is yes, but not in the way they mean.

To me, the moment I start classifying my students as "this one's got it," and "this one hasn't," is the moment I'm going to have to quit teaching and do some serious soul-searching. Because then, what's the point? If I already know how the story's going to end, why bother living through it?

The very best part of teaching is that, especially when you're working with children, you never know which one is going to come in and make your jaw drop, having busted through a plateau and made seven weeks of progress in seven days. Those are the moments that you seek, but you have to be present and open-minded during all of the other, less exciting exchanges. The boring stuff is what feeds the amazing stuff.

The alternative is a moment like in Groundhog Day, where you're blown away by the raw talent and fast learning of a strikingly gifted student (never mind that in the movie, she's actually taught him everything he knows). That kind of student does make you look good, but as the teacher you can't just rest on your laurels and enjoy it. On the contrary, as the steward of his talent, you have to create new challenges and expectations based on his ability, just like you do with all of your students.

So really, all of my students are promising. It is my job to see the promise in each and every one of them.

A teacher's role is not to spot talent, but to develop it.

As director of a music school, I likewise don't want to make snap judgments about students' potential. My job is to create the environment that will nurture each student's musicianship. That includes creating special opportunities for particularly accomplished students, and matching up each student with a teacher who can best bring out their potential.

Mine is not a weed-out program - it's a wildflower program.

There is a role for the conservatory, or a special artist-development program. There are people who thrive in a highly selective, competitive environment. Since that already exists, that is not what I feel moved to create. My vision is much less glamorous, but much more satisfying to me.