Students of mine who have been with me for a while know that I obtain ongoing education and certification through the Institute for Vocal Advancement. This means that every year, I am required to undergo a certain number of hours in private vocal training, teacher training, research projects, and more. It’s a rigorous program that requires a significant investment in time and resources. And while all of these educational requirements are important, perhaps the most demanding requirement is the annual teaching test.
Every year, IVA teachers are required to teach a brand new student while being observed by an IVA master teacher. This ensures that we are performing adequately for the level at which we are certified. There are different standards for every level; naturally, the expectations increase as a teacher advances through the certification program. And for those who are entering the two highest certification levels – Advanced and Mentor – there is an even more grueling examination called the Panel Test, where an instructor is required to teach a student while being observed by not just one master teacher, but by all six master teachers.
Some might say that this is overkill. I know plenty of vocal instructors who have incredible careers and flourishing studios, but who have never had to go through another test after receiving their college degree. But for me, personally, I find these testing experiences to be invaluable to my teaching. Here’s why:
- Preparing for the yearly testing forces me to push myself. I study more. I practice more. I pay attention to the tools I’m using and the results that I’m getting. It makes me sharper, more aware, more analytical, and more strategic about my teaching. In the end, whether I pass or fail the test (although I have never failed a test yet), the preparation in itself forces me to grow.
- The results and feedback from the yearly testing motivate me to push myself even more. At the end of every test, IVA master teachers provide instructors with feedback about what they did well and what they need to improve. And while one might think that an instructor at the highest level might have nothing left to improve, the truth is actually the exact opposite – as an instructor climbs the certification ladder, he or she also faces ever-increasing expectations. Each time I advanced in my certification, my teaching was expected to be more and more nuanced, precise, efficient, and elegant. I am expected to be able to get more results in shorter periods of time. So as the expectations grow, so does the likelihood of error and failure – and thus, the opportunity for growth.
- The pressures of an annual test train me to be more resilient. It’s a lot of pressure to prepare for and perform at an annual test. But pressure, when applied positively and channeled properly, creates a more durable spirit. Every time I complete a yearly test, I emerge more courageous, more confident, and more optimistic. This benefits me as a teacher because there are always times in the studio we experience challenges in the human voice that are unique or persistent. Students need a teacher who doesn’t get discouraged, but who is capable of approaching a challenge with a clear and steady mind.
- The whole process reminds me that I am, first and foremost, a student of the voice. Sometimes teachers, especially the more experienced ones, get stuck in a sort of rut. The more successful we become, the more we tend to forget the vast expanse of knowledge that remains to be explored. We become comfortable in the routines and exercises that work for us. We become too confident in the good that we do and we start to forget to chase after the great that we could be doing. We forget what it’s like to be a student, under pressure, at the mercy of those who are in the audience. The testing process is a good cure for this rut – it is both humbling and empowering at the same time, just like any good lesson or learning experience ought to be.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.” To me, teaching the voice is well worth the effort, pain, and difficulty. My students are worth the effort, pain, and difficulty. Witnessing their growth and success justifies the demands and rigors of my training. Completing all of this hard work enables me to face every student with confidence, knowing that every skill and credential I bring to the table was hard-fought and well-deserved.
I recently completed my panel test for Mentor level, and I’m very proud to say that I passed. This was not an easy feat, and it was 11 years in the making. I’m so very grateful to every student and master teacher who has supported me and helped me through this process. But I also want to say that this is not the end. Even knowing how far I’ve come, I know better than ever that I still have a long way to go. If anything, this achievement has made me even more aware of my responsibility to keep pursuing growth in my profession – to keep moving forward, to keep increasing in strength, and to keep chasing after greatness.