Cellphone Serenity

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Ah, the convenience of modern technology. Those smartphones can be so useful to the teacher during the lesson. I use mine to take photos. I tell my students that their position is so perfect that I’m going to take a photo of them for myself – and send a copy to their parents. They are so proud when I do this. I also offer to take a video if an older student doesn’t come equipped with a mother and a phone that can do this (it happens) and send it to them via one of those marvelous apps. I can make a video of a student playing with poor posture and then with good posture and show him the difference.  I also use my tablet with the music apps so I can keep all my scores and parts in one very small and convenient place and, being connected to wi-fi, can make corrections and send them to the student via email in case she “forgets” to bring the right part with her that day. And the apps for metronomes and tuning? Ah yes, I don’t know what I would do without my smartphone. And it also serves for me to receive urgent telephone calls from parents who have suddenly discovered their child has a fever and can’t come to lesson. It also is useful in case of family emergencies. Or text messages telling me that a student is delayed but arriving.

Yes, I love my smartphone. Thank heavens I have it at lessons and am connected to my server and wi-fi. I am smart enough to know that I shouldn’t be talking casually on the phone during the lesson. No one has to remind me of this. I am an adult, after all. But on rare occasion I have to take phone calls – for example, when my doctor calls me about something important (I have had issues), or my daughter tells me she has gone into labor so I can worry about her appropriately (this happens rarely). So why is it as a teacher, I should feel entitled to tell all the parents of my students that they can’t have their smartphones or use them during lesson time? Are they not adults, too?

But how can we deal with parents who (ab)use those pesky cell phones during lesson time?

Here are some suggestions gleaned from various internet forums:

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29 April 2019

How to Build Your Reputation – the Kind You Want

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“Do you worry that your poor students will ruin your reputation? I am trying to build my studio and worry that these few students (among many who are good students) may affect my ability to earn a living.”

A young teacher, rightly concerned about building her studio and keeping it thriving, asked me this question.

My answer? It all depends on what kind of reputation you want. There are lots of different ones and some of them can be combined while others are in a class all by themselves. Here are a few examples:

  • one who turns out only competition winners
  • one whose students all play well up to teacher’s very high standard
  • one whose students faithfully obey all teacher’s studio strictures – or else
  • one whose students enjoy playing music at any level
  • one who wants her students to love music as she does
  • one who will teach any student who wants to learn, no matter what
  • one who will teach any student as along as the parents are willing to continue, no matter what

The first three don’t have to worry about poor students: they don’t have them. Who might worry would be those in the last four categories. So I will address this to them and my young colleague who said that she believed all students should have lessons as long as they enjoy them. Continue reading

28 March 2019

Think Twice Before You Take Advice

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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:

  1. 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?
  2. Is it my style to insist on absolute obedience to myself and/or my method?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?”
  5. 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?
  6. 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?
  7. 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

27 February 2019