“How do you cope with ending lessons with a student who you so desperately want to help? I’m not reaching this student and it’s affecting me negatively at this point.”
Another excellent question from an anguished teacher. My answer? I wouldn’t give up. In fact, I never give up no matter how provoked. Before you think I’m preaching from a high horse, know that I am speaking from painful experience.
Once, at the beginning of my career, I had two students who were driving me crazy. I must have given the same lesson twenty times to each of these children. Neither had any help at all from their parents. I thought that the parents were wasting their money and when I informed them that their children weren’t getting anywhere, they appreciated my honesty and stopped the lessons. No teacher or parent has ever told me I did the wrong thing.
Oh wait, there is one: me. On reflection, I later realized that I had my priorities all wrong. What were they?
- My comfort. As you may have noticed above, I said they were driving me crazy so I certainly wasn’t thinking about my students.
- That the parents weren’t getting their money’s worth. Who am I to decide that?
This brings us to the problem of what is the teacher’s responsibility? To whom does the teacher owe allegiance and best efforts? Whom should the teacher be worrying about? What is a teacher’s bottom line?
I have come to the conclusion that my responsibility is to the student and only the student. I have now and have had my fair share of unhelpful, indifferent and even obstructing parents, parents who don’t/won’t listen or take my advice but I don’t give up. While I realize you can’t save children from their parents, you can certainly make things a little easier by having them know that at least one adult in their lives is on their side. How do you do this? You teach them no matter what. No matter if they have practiced badly or have been given the wrong information, no matter if their behavior is less than perfect, you persist. Why? Two reasons:
- You never know that when you least expect it, you may find you have pulled one out of the fire and a previously uncooperative student starts to experience the wonders of music. You can see the light of comprehension in their eyes that this is definitely something worth continuing. For me, it’s worth putting up with a hundred frustrating students to get one like this.
- Being abandoned by a teacher will be taken personally by a child, meaning he will feel something is wrong with him. He may never get over it. Do you want to take responsibility for this? Totally unaware, I did once and, as I said, I have regretted it ever since.
The only positive result from my callous action many years ago is that I began to reconsider my responsibilities and examine my motivations. Now, as long as students come to lessons, I will teach them. This isn’t a monetary question, it’s a moral one. I no longer decide who can play and who cannot, I no longer make arbitrary decisions about the right amount of progress, I no longer decide if a student is getting anything out of the lesson and if the parents are getting enough value. I have also come to the realization that part of responsible teaching is to question my own motivations constantly so that if I don’t like what I see, I can change them. Or not. The important thing is to be aware and honest with myself as to why I do what I do and why I make the decisions I make.
We teach our students a lot more than how to hold a bow. I have been told even by uncooperative parents that I give life lessons. A teacher, any teacher, always gives life lessons. Because of our one on one relationship with our students, we music teachers can certainly have a particularly important impact. We are probably the only disinterested (i.e. not family) adult in our students’ lives who has a single and intense relationship with them. Doesn’t this count for something?
So when you have these difficult decisions to make or uncomfortable circumstances to endure, decide what your bottom line is and act accordingly. You may still give up on your student anyway, but at least you will have contemplated the possible repercussions on your student and thus yourself.
You don’t want to feel guilty for 25 years as I have………
Post author: Eloise Hellyer