Patience Traps, Part 2

The second patience trap is a vast subject:

Parents.

Parents of our students can really provoke the teacher’s patience reflex. We know how important music is, its difficulty, and the uses and benefits of learning to play it, so it seems natural to assume that our students’ parents understand this – why else would they bring us their children?

Remember one very important principle:

People come to us because we know something they do not.  I should amend this:

Actually people come to us because we know a whole lot of things they do not. 

Which brings me to the corollary:

Sometimes they are not aware of this.

It’s that simple. You don’t know how much they do not know. The bigger problem is that they often don’t know how much they do not know. Therefore we have to assume that they know absolutely NOTHING about music and the value of music lessons. With this assumption, you just teach and everyone is happy. You must do it this way because almost no one will tell you, “I know nothing about music so please illuminate me.” This has never happened to me and neither should we expect it to happen. People alway have their own sets of problems, ambitions, world views, experiences and opinions.  On occasion we have to try to change parents’ minds about some of them. But do you see this as an irritation that must be dealt with, requiring patience, or an opportunity to teach someone something?

In order for us to change their minds about anything, however, we have to know what they are thinking. Some parents will forthrightly ask you about what you are doing, which is easy to deal with. Other parents, perhaps afraid of seeming stupid or ignorant, will sometimes phrase their perplexities as affirmations or statements, not questions.

Parents may think, for example, that our job is only to teach the mechanical aspects of the instrument. However, we teachers know that there is a lot more to playing music than just moving the fingers. Some parents, with little or no experience in music, do not know this and may manifest their lack of knowledge in ways that can be very irritating. If you let it.

Here is a rather extreme example: while giving a lesson to a 14 year-old, I was explaining some philosophical point about music when her father looked up from his book and said in a pleasant but authoritative voice, “Stop wasting time talking and get on with the lesson.” Years ago instantaneous spontaneous strangulation may well have sprung to my mind. Fortunately, the years had taught me something and I simply replied, “How you think about what you do is often as important as what you do and is certainly imperative to doing it well. I am sure you have seen this in your work, too.” He couldn’t argue with that and happily returned to reading his book. In retrospect I was surprised that I hadn’t gotten angry or offended (how dare he question how I conduct a lesson!) which would have been unhelpful to everyone and, even worse, would have interrupted the flow of the lesson. Instead, I simply explained to him what I was doing, which is what he really wanted to know to be sure I was actually working – and that he was getting his money’s worth.

This experience showed me how something that at first seems negative and disruptive can actually be positive for our teaching. Further, it got me to thinking……..

 

End of Part A………to be continued

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15 October 2014

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