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Student from hell? :-)

August 16, 2013 at 11:09 PM

Here it was happening again:
as I was happily telling my husband about my day filled with the usual joys and frustrations of my other private students while trying to shove down lunch between lessons, there was an impertinent ring of the doorbell.

After using a famous French word, I looked at my watch. “Na-ah! - I said to my husband. - Too early. No way.”

The next student was, indeed, too early. Time is a mysterious thing. If your lesson is scheduled at 3 pm, you should come at 3 pm. 2:59 if you are polite. 2:58 if you are extremely talented and your teacher has told you so and does not mind spending more time with you chatting about your life affairs. Not when you try to steal 15 extra minutes of his or her time. Not when your mom is going to be late again picking you up, leaving you in your teacher's home for entertainment.

There was another ring of the doorbell.

I did not open. Not until it was her time.

I want to know what you, gentle men and women of the jury, do in a case like this. What do you say to a parent, a mom who sometimes comes in and not only sits during lessons (she's welcome to), but lies down on MY couch and pretends to be asleep even when her daughter talks to her. Is she just comfortable? No inhibitions? Mi casa e su casa kind of thing?

I wonder sometimes how to explain the simplest things on Earth to an adult.

Anyone has similar experience? I'd love to hear it.


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on August 17, 2013 at 3:04 PM
:) Well, do you have a sort of a waiting room? Is your studio in your basement? At my teachers, if we arrive 5 min early, we go to the basement door (which is unlocked when she expects students) go directly to the basement and start unpacking our things and practice if we have more time. When it's the lesson, my teacher just comes downstairs and say "Hello, how are you going today? and the lesson begings soon after..."

Is this something possible for you?
Good luck!
Anne-Marie

For lying on your couch... well... perhaps do not put your best couch in your teaching room and expect almost anything from parents and students as long as they do not break or steal anything, pay the lessons and talk kindly... and practice their violin :) I would not know how to assess this either if I was you so I would simply put an older couch...

From Adam Sweet
Posted on August 17, 2013 at 11:28 PM
Students have to wait in their cars before lessons because there is no waiting area at my studio. Having said that, I don't mind if the first student is a couple minutes early as I'm usually in their preparing for their lesson any way.
From Gene Wie
Posted on August 18, 2013 at 1:45 AM
As long as they don't treat it like an extended hours babysitting service, a few minutes before or after isn't an issue.
From marjory lange
Posted on August 18, 2013 at 2:22 AM
I know my teacher moved my lesson once so I would be directly before a problem student like the one you describe. She then told the other girl that she could wait outside, but please not to ring the bell till 5 minutes before the hour, so as not to disturb the student having a lesson.

As for a perennially late-hanger-on, you can always say, "sorry, but I have to go out." Show them politely the door.

It's harder if you space your pupils out, or if this one is the only one you have on that day. You may just have to explain directly what your policies are.

From Emily Grossman
Posted on August 18, 2013 at 4:09 AM
Heheh, the problems you describe aren't that off-the-wall as far as things I've encountered in my years of teaching. Over the years, my policy has gotten longer and longer, to include things like, please show up five minutes early, but not earlier, or wait in your car. I tell them also to be prompt in picking up their child if they must leave. I encourage parents to nap on the couch, so long as they don't snore. I do not, however, encourage students to nap while they wait for their lesson, which happens especially when teaching back-to-back siblings. Usually if I have a gap after a lesson and a particularly gabby person, I will excuse myself to the restroom and wait until they leave. Some people I really enjoy talking to, but I'm especially vulnerable to chatty types because I don't know how to tactfully close a conversation, and I will often actually provoke further conversation because I feel guilty about not wanting to talk, and I don't want them to suspect that I don't like them... Silly.
From Rob Schnautz
Posted on August 18, 2013 at 4:13 AM
I had an instructor with a very smart solution to this problem:

The moment I opened my case, my instructor told me what time the lesson would end-- exactly a half hour (or hour, depending on what I had signed up for) from that instant. She made this very clear to me any time I arrived early.

From Maren Bosma
Posted on August 18, 2013 at 9:07 AM
From a students point of view...sometimes I'm forced to be early on lessons, when they're at my teachers home on days he isn't at conservatory. I have to get there by train and then take the metro, but because they run at scheduled times, it's either 15 or 10 (if I walk to his house slowly from the station) minutes early of 20 minutes late sometimes. And there's nothing to do about it, unless I feel like waiting outside in the cold until it's time...The good thing for him, however, is that he can just end the lesson earlier if he wants to, as there's no one picking me up afterwards.
From Kit Jennings
Posted on August 18, 2013 at 12:44 PM
I'm on the other side for this one. I don't get half as much out of a lesson if i'm not warmed up first. I usually try to be 15 to 20 minutes early. granted, my lesson takes place where there is a plethora of practice rooms so I don't have to interrupt the teacher or impose on her abode. In elementary school I was told I should always be ready to play as soon as my lesson was to start otherwise I would be wasting the teacher's time because I'd be still tuning or assembling my instrument. I think your 5 minute early restriction is not very kind.
From Bruce Goldstein
Posted on August 18, 2013 at 6:14 PM
A waiting area would be nice. I f the student is young and with a parent, then waiting in the car is acceptable. I think students should arrive 5-10 minutes prior to their scheduled time to unpack, settle in. tardiness is far more annoying.

From Andrei Pricope
Posted on August 20, 2013 at 12:26 PM
Thank you for bringing this topic up – sounds like I'm not the only one with this kind of "special" mom...

I state clearly to my parents/students that arriving 3 minutes before the lesson time is ample time to unpack and be ready. Cutting into the previous student's lesson time is unnecessary, unkind and plain rude. Equally impolite is to impose oneself onto the student's and teacher's. No student likes an uninvited audience. Besides, I may be having a conversation with the parent at the end of the lesson that includes personal details, etc.

I have one "mother/student from hell" combination that try to get extra lesson time this way EVERY week (especially this summer), so I make a point of not buzzing them in until 3 minutes before. Then when they come in I mention the time, and I also mention the time when we start and when we finish (inside I cringe, but I want this "mom from hell" to somehow get it – they are "chosen people" and believe the world owes them special treatment...). I also tell her the time off my iPhone, so she know I don't make it up, but it's synchronized to the network. This summer she got worse, so next week when everybody re-starts, I will finally and very happily drop her – I have enough demand and don't need to put up with this any longer). Besides, if an 10-year old that has taken lessons for 4 years (and gives me attitude, btw), needs more than 3 minutes to get ready, there's too much wrong that I'm not trained and licensed to fix.

I give my student specific warm-up/stretching exercises (1 minute) that they can do in the car on the way to the lesson and after they get their shoulder rest on and tighten the bow. Our lessons ALWAYS start with scales (first 3/4 years of playing) or etudes (from then on). It's good training to play with only minimum warm-up time. Three minutes is ample time to open the case, put shoulder rest on, tighten the bow, get music ready, and do warm-up exercises. If they need longer because they're slow, they can take as much as they want out of THEIR OWN lesson time, not impose on EVERYBODY else's time and flexibility.

From Seraphim Protos
Posted on August 21, 2013 at 7:32 PM
"Student from Hell" or is it the parent of the student that is the problem for you?

No matter, it sounds as if you're a bit too high strung about the issue. Get some perspective in your life. Your student is showing up EARLY to a lesson. Not late, not unprepared (not noted to be so by you anyhow).

Do you have children?

Do you realize that a Mom has a stressful day carting around their kids? And that the opportunity to close their eyes for 30 minutes on a comfortable couch is a welcome relief?


From Mariam Hembrook
Posted on August 23, 2013 at 9:14 PM
Thank you all for your responses. It certainly puts things in perspective like Seraphim so kindly mentioned I lack. :) and yes, I do have a kid and know first hand how stressful a day can be. Still, it would never occur to me to lie down on my kid's teacher's couch. Maybe it feels good to drink a bottle of whiskey after a stressful day, too? Do you expect me to supply that? But to each his own.

Coming early is just not polite, it's an intrusion into one's privacy. It's a matter of discipline, too, something we as musicians and teachers need to show a good example of.

Somehow all my other students have it and never show up earlier. I don't have a waiting area per se, and if I have another student, I myself don't mind if one listens to another. They have to learn to play for an audience anyway and music making is not for the faint hearted.

Thank you all again for your responses. Happy teaching!

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