Monthly Archives: August 2017

New Non-New Students or What To Do When Faced with Disaster

Published Post author

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.

  1. Never let on that you’re about to tear your hair out not knowing where to begin.
  2. Never let on that their previous teacher is a criminal who should be blindfolded and shot at dawn.
  3. Never let on that they are going to have to start over from scratch.
  4. Never let the student or the parent think that they have wasted time and money on previous lessons.
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

30 August 2017

Of Warmth and Websites

Published Post author

Today’s teachers often create their own web sites to attract students. A teacher remarked recently on a forum that she was having trouble getting a full class. So I went to have a look at her website on which she gave a list of the characteristics parents should have as well as what would be expected of parents and students in order to learn and play the instrument successfully. You might think this is reasonable. But the effect this had was to give students and their parents reasons NOT to study with her. The first requirement (parental musical experience) was off-putting enough. Some of her other requirements had the same deterring effect: obligatory daily practice and very few other outside activities, for example. If I were a qualified and dedicated prospective parent, I would fear that I lacked the commitment and other qualities to match those high expectations. In other words, her site was not warm and welcoming, but scary and off-putting. If you met all the requirements, you could consider calling her. It’s no wonder that very few did. She came off as interested in teaching the violin, not the student. She seemed interested in success, not the student. She even posted a video of her possibly most advanced student playing a difficult concerto, something that could discourage beginners or less advanced players of the same age as that student.

Contrast this with the website of another teacher who teaches beginners up through advanced students, some of whom she has gotten into the better college and conservatory programs in the USA. Many of these former students still come back to her for lessons anyway. You wouldn’t know it from her website which is brilliant in terms of warm and welcoming. She gives very few parental requirements other than that they attend the lessons and take notes (for the young ones) and that practicing should be done every day but she would accept five days a week. There is a lovely gallery of pictures of her smiling, surrounded by happy students of all ages. There are no videos or mention of her advanced students who, other than the ones she brings up herself, come to her by word of mouth – she is trying to attract beginners. You take one look at this website and grab your telephone. Instead of running the other way, you would LOVE to have lessons with this warm and inviting individual who is giving you every reason to want to study with her – whatever she may teach. She makes having lessons with her sound easy and relaxed. She seems approachable, warm and accepting to students of every kind and age. No prerequisites other than what any parent or older student is easily capable of. However, if you think she is not a demanding and exacting teacher, you are wrong. But her students adore her and the occasional student who is mired in the practicing doldrums will continue to practice anyway just to avoid disappointing her.

She also knows something any good salesman knows: you have to get people in the door first so you have the chance to allay their doubts and convince them of the value of your service in person. What if the parents want little or no involvment in their children’s music education? If you scare them off with your website, you will never be able to convince them to change their minds. People can change and it’s up to you to make them want to, not issue ultimata.

The same goes for terms and conditions. One experienced, successful and business-like teacher Continue reading

2 August 2017