There exist many excellent forums where teachers with problems, problematic students or problematic students’ parents can ask other teachers for help and advice. Often lots of interesting points of view are offered by experienced and inventive teachers. I have taken advantage of some of them myself.
However, lately there is a tendency that has been troubling me. When teachers ask advice about what to do with “difficult” parents, I sometimes find the advice given to be hurried, not thought through, provocative (in the bad sense), slightly hysterical and sometimes just plain ill-considered, and thus could cause all manner of trouble for the teacher who may choose to follow it.
Its important to remember that not everyone teaches for the same reason or has the same philosophy as others of us may have, even if everyone is using the same method. Therefore, their advice is coming from their point of view, from their idea of what teaching is, from their own good or bad teaching and life experiences (which may have nothing to do with the problem at hand), and we may have difficulty discerning any of this even though some of these teachers may have excellent reputations or at least are highly visible on the music/teaching scene.
As an example, a common response to a teacher who is having problems with certain parents is to get rid of them, or “fire” the family. Now while I can concede that there are circumstances where it may behoove a teacher to cut ties with certain families, rarely in these pieces of advice did I find any concern for the children involved. We might want to consider this, for example, before we take any advice, no matter how well-intentioned. If our philosophy, work ethic, monetary situation, studio size, ambition and life experience are exactly the same as the advice giver’s, which we have no way of knowing, then their advice may be right for us. But if our situation is completely or even partially different? What may be good advice for one person may bring total disaster for another. So before acting on any advice, I’d ask myself a few questions:
- As I am trying to help children and adults play an instrument well and trying to foster good relations between parent and child, do I want to bail out at the first or even second or third difficulty?
- Is it my style to insist on absolute obedience to myself and/or my method?
- Am I in this work to satisfy and serve my own philosophical principles (and to maintain them at all costs) and/or to earn a living in the least stressful way possible?
- Is the love that Dr. Suzuki, among others, talked about important to me? if it is, then I would ask myself where the love is in the advice I’m getting. Where is the love for my students if I act on the advice to not deal with their parents because “I’m not paid enough” to put up with certain problems or that my method “isn’t being respected?”
- When parents send me not very nice emails are they really “abusive” not only to me but, according to some advisors, to their child and/or spouses? Should I call in the social services, as some have advised me, even though I have not seen or indicated in my request for advice any evidence of any child or spousal abuse?
- And, if the child is important to me and if a parent does try to bully me, am I really so meek and defenseless that I can’t at least attempt to handle such a situation for the benefit of that child?
- Is letting a family go really the only way to handle the situation I’m asking about?
You see, many advice givers are not terribly worried about the welfare of the student. Maybe you aren’t either. But whether you are or not, before you act on the advice to “respectfully” get rid of those families, or even to call the social services, you should consider a few potentially serious consequences. Continue reading