Monthly Archives: April 2016

Too Many Words

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Not too many notes – too many words! I bet you thought I was going to talk about teachers talking too much. Nope, In my opinion, we don’t talk enough to our students. But that’s an issue for another post. Here, I want to discuss the problem of parent prolixity: how it affects the learning process and what we teachers can do to help the well-meaning parents afflicted with it.

Modern parents often can’t spend as much time with their children as they would like. Therefore, finding time for leisurely practice sessions or waiting until their children are in the mood to practice is a real problem. Thinking to save time, parents sometimes try to get children to take responsibility for things they are not ready to be responsible for. Putting on their music CD, taking out their violins either at home or at the lesson, remembering to practice on their own are a few examples of simple things that prompt rivers of parental run-on sentences and useless threats. Worry about the teacher’s opinion of their parenting skills when their progeny behaves less than perfectly (in their eyes) during a lesson brings forth even more verbiage. On top of that, some parents are prone immediately to repeat whatever instruction the teacher has just given to the student to make double sure he has heard it. Parents who spend so much time, energy and words in this way have the best intentions in the world. Raising responsible children is an admirable goal, but a constant flow of words to get their children to achieve what they are not yet capable of achieving often has an unexpected and undesired side effect: Continue reading

26 April 2016

Picking Your Battles (Carefully)

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A teacher recently asked me for advice: her seven year-old student was procrastinating when the teacher, upon arriving at the child’s home, asked her to take her violin out to prepare for the lesson. What to do? How could this teacher get her student to understand that she had to be ready to start the lesson promptly?

This seems like a pretty innocuous question on the surface but it actually brings up a really important problem for teachers and even parents: what should be insisted on, what should be postponed, and what should be dropped altogether? What is worth arguing about and what isn’t?

There’s the famous Serenity Prayer – God give me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference. That should be a teacher’s prayer only like this: God give me the serenity to accept what I cannot insist on, courage to change the things I can insist on and wisdom to know the difference. This very well-meaning teacher was asking for help on telling the difference: what is important and what isn’t in the overall scheme of things.

My advice to the teacher was to get the student’s violin out for her. While a child that age may sincerely want to play, she is not always up to the rigor required to do it. Just holding the violin is a real effort for a beginner and she may not have enough self-discipline to do certain things for herself yet. What was the teacher’s reaction to my answer? Pure relief – one more sortie avoided in the never-ending battle to get our students to put into action all the wonderful advice we are giving them. Pure relief because she then felt she could just get on with the lesson without getting stuck on what is really, in the long run, something of very little importance.

Here’s an example of a litmus test, what I call my Importance Test, that you can use – or you can make up your own for the next time you find yourself befuddled: Continue reading

11 April 2016