What do you do when you get every teacher’s worst nightmare? New transfer students who have been so horribly taught that they have every bad habit in the book and a few no one has thought of yet (except them)?
Well, I can tell you what you don’t do. You don’t tell them.
- Never let on that you’re about to tear your hair out not knowing where to begin.
- Never let on that their previous teacher is a criminal who should be blindfolded and shot at dawn.
- Never let on that they are going to have to start over from scratch.
- Never let the student or the parent think that they have wasted time and money on previous lessons.
- Never let the student or parent think they have been a bad judge of teacher character or competence.
Why don’t you do this? You might think that this behavior is unethical. Yes, that is one reason. Another may be that you don’t want your student and his family to feel bad. Yes, that’s another. A third reason may be that you need time to discern if you have a poorly taught student in front of you – or just a poor one.
The real reason? Because none of the above is true. Let’s see point by point:
- Of course you know where to begin. Have them play something simple, find several things to compliment (you can always find something positive) and give them one little piece of technique to concentrate on, acting like it’s no big deal. It isn’t that complicated. Also, don’t let them see much of your other students until they have improved a bit – it can shake their self-confidence.
- You may know the teacher by reputation (or lack of it) and feel you may be justified in wanting to eliminate her from the face of the earth to prevent her from doing further damage, but the fact is that your student did continue with her for a number of years so he must have been getting something out of the lessons.
- You aren’t going to have to start over from scratch. The child probably already knows a lot of music and even reads it. It just isn’t that bad.
- The parents haven’t wasted time or money. Yes, it would be better if the child had studied with you all that time, but just having had the violin in his hands for a few years is better than nothing at all.
- Perhaps they really liked that other teacher and are stopping with her for logistical reasons. Perhaps the parents realized something was wrong but the child is still emotionally attached to that teacher and you may need to win him or her over. Therefore, you don’t want to look like someone who badmouths others – they will wonder about your ethics, or what you say about them behind their backs. Besides, it’s a waste of time. Your new student and his family in time will understand your superiority – you don’t need to flaunt it. And they will respect you for your discretion.
Having said all this, I have to confess that a lot of the first list is often true. But it isn’t going to help you or your student to think about it that way. Go straight to the second list and all will be well.
However, and this is a really big however, sometimes you have to confess that the other teacher didn’t necessarily give the correct information. The problem is that most children under the age of 14 or 15 blame themselves when they don’t learn well. They are not in a position to understand that incorrect teaching was really the problem. The parents don’t always understand this either until some time after they have changed to you. It’s the age old problem of people assuming that if someone knows how to do something, then that someone also knows how to teach it. This assumption often creates lots situations where I find myself with transfer students who are convinced they are incapable of playing well and I have to very delicately let them know that it isn’t their fault. It usually goes like this: Continue reading