I've heard this way more often than I ever thought I would. "I just want to be a band director. Why do I need to get good at my instrument?" Man, that's just confusing to me. As a music major why would you not want to....oh, I don't know....get good at MUSIC?!
Look, I get it. No, you don't have to reach a virtuosic level on your chosen instrument in order to be a successful music educator any more than you have to be a Pulitzer level author to teach high school literature. However, hear me out a bit. You don't have to master your instrument. You just have to try like hell.
Have you ever noticed that of all courses throughout your life as a music major, the ones you have to take the most have you playing your instrument? Have you ever stopped to wonder why? Why do you spend more time on your instrument than conducting, lesson planning, doing theory, or anything else? There are a few really good reasons.
"Your best teacher is your last mistake."- Ralph Nader
As I said before, no, you don't have to be a master of your instrument to be a good teacher of music. The mastery, you see, isn't what helps you down to path to being a good teacher........
....the struggle is....
The practice room produces better musicians not just from judicious application of scales and etudes but from frustration, cussing, groaning, shaking fists, and ultimately working things out! Practicing your instrument at a high level involves not only improvement on your instrument but patience, problem solving skills and a much higher level of (very creative) thinking. As you improve your skills in the practice room you're indirectly improving your overall skills as a student and ultimately a teacher.
Your expectations for yourself as a student should mirror your expectations for your students when you are a teacher. Can you really expect your students to work harder than you were willing to work? If you wish your students to strive for greatness then set the example long before you step foot in the classroom. When your students are struggling and you empathize and offer advice, it will be so much more genuine.
Lastly, and this is me speaking as an old guy, you WILL miss it. I know at 18-20 years old you aren't thinking much about 5-10 years down the role but I see a ton of band directors who rarely, if ever, get to even get their instrument out of the case any more. Each instrument has some great music written for it. For Pete's sake learn it while you can! Can you imagine trying to learn the Copland Clarinet concerto or Mozart Flute concerto which scheduling marching contests, taking kids to honor bands, lesson planning, teacher meetings, and other in a seemingly never ending list of things which band directors seem to have to do? Don't regret it later. Learn your instrument while you can!
Thanks for reading this, guys. Now, back to the practice room!