My first post, with the photo of a student and teacher, invited the comment there should be a third person pictured – the parent, implying that the parent learns as much as the student and the teacher (1 teaches, 3 learn). This is correct. We also educate or inform the parents so they can help us and their children. They are our natural allies even though it occasionally doesn’t seem like it. We then have to use our charm, energy and charisma to turn them into allies.
But first, we have to try to understand what is behind the questions, statements and affirmations that parents may make. They may not be speaking our language. They may not appreciate or understand that we are sensitive souls who are giving our all for art. They may not know how to talk to us or even how to talk to any teacher. They may not understand that we are on their side and trying to help them be even better parents by showing them how to help their children learn something important. In short, they may not get us at all – we may “be divided by a common language.” * This is a problem only WE can address. We have to explain as much to the parents as to the child even though in principle we are teaching only one person, the child.
Of course, this does not mean we should condescend to people. Just explain. We can even say, “Look I am going to explain everything to you – even things I am sure you already know – so stop me if I go on too much.” They won’t. It all depends on how you phrase things. It ‘s one thing to tell a parent, “Did you know the sky is blue?” and another to say, “My have you seen what a beautiful color of blue the sky is today?” With the second phrase you have accomplished more than with the first, if your goal was to let the parent know the sky is blue. With the first, he feels you have treated him like an idiot. With the second, he feels included in an observation which also informs him.
It is possible for people to speak the same language without understanding each other. Or worse, misunderstanding without even being aware of it. (I never said it was easy to teach.) You can both be of the same nationality, educated in the same university and still not understand each other. Here is an example:
An engineer, a fashion designer, an artist, and an accountant all go to a fashion show:
- The engineer sees the model and thinks, “Well I can see how that dress is cantilevered to stay up with no straps.”
- The fashion designer thinks, ”My, what great use of color and line.”
- The artist thinks, “What an interesting looking woman – I would love to draw her.”
- The accountant thinks, “What? They are asking $5000.00 for a dress that cost $50.00 to make?!!”
This is a good demonstration of how different mindsets can coexist in the same culture. We have been trained as musicians, to think like musicians, to see the world as musicians and must remember that not everyone has a concert going on in his head. So making yourself understood means trying to understand where the other person is coming from and address him in a way that is pertinent to his life. In this way you can find the right words to help people see our point of view so they can better help their children.
There is also another benefit to this – it can be useful to us as musicians and teachers to see ourselves and our work from other points of view. Many of us do not realize how important our work is to our public – we are too close to it. Encouraging the parents of our students to talk to us can help us in our own work as much as it can help us to help them. A different point of view can mean lots of fresh ideas. The exchanges I have with (what seem at the time) the most difficult parents are often the ones from which I learn the most.
End of part b….next, what to do?
* This quote has been variously attributed to George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and even to Winston Churchill. Even though it is often cited, it seems that none of the above said it in these exact words, but for my purposes it is appropriate here.