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The Weekend Vote weekend vote(s): Is it all right to answer the phone during a music lesson?

September 30, 2011 at 9:13 PM

You've just raised the fiddle to your chin, taken a breath and lifted your bow to launch into the latest etude when…the phone rings!

Should the teacher answer the phone?

Certainly this disrupts the moment. It can be even worse when the teacher was in the middle of explaining something, and the the train of thought gets launched off onto another track. Seems like the answer should be an unequivocal "no," teacher never should answer the phone.

At the same time, there can be legitimate reasons to answer the phone: family emergencies, childcare, the next student is lost on the highway, etc. Once during one of my children's music lessons, a teacher received a phone call about the death of a family member. We certainly understood that she needed to take that call, which had been expected.

It can help for a teacher to say, "I might have to take a call," in advance. Of course, one doesn't always know in advance, and the argument could be made that it's best to just take all calls after or between lessons.

Because if it's fair for the teacher, one has to ask, is it fair for the student?

Once in my studio, a teenager answered a ringing cell phone during her lesson -- her mother, looking on, swiftly confiscated the phone (which at the time was new -- she was still learning the rules) and said she would not get it back for a day.

If, for example, the student is a medical doctor, I can see the need to have the phone on. Or if the student is a mother whose toddler children are at the sitter's. But if the student is a child or teen? I'm trying to think of a reason that a teen or child would need to answer their phone -- perhaps if it involved arrangements for their parents to pick them up. Not, however, for a little chit-chat!

From Sue Buttram
Posted on September 30, 2011 at 9:50 PM

 I'm lucky to have a spouse who can answer the phone if necessary during a student's lesson or it can go to the answering machine.  So I never answer a ringing phone during the lesson.  

I have had students' phones go off (usually adults, not children interestingly), and I do object to their answering the phone but I figure they're paying for my time and if they want to spend the time on their phones - oh well.

From Diane Allen
Posted on September 30, 2011 at 10:02 PM

Between 2:40 & 3:00 if the phone rings I check the caller ID. If it is my son I answer. This is the time when my son travels home from school. Occasionally he needs to call to communicate with me. The calls are brief and straight to the point - business only.

Other than that - I let the phone answering machine do it's job.

I've been known to take a student's phone - open the door - and put it outside!

Smiles! Diane

From Gene Wie
Posted on September 30, 2011 at 10:02 PM

I guess it depends on the reason, these sorts of things are never a black/white situation.

My students usually text me these days if they are going to be late or missing. This allows me to get their message and know to expect them later and be able to adjust my schedule as necessary without interrupting the lesson at hand.

If a family member calls more than once or several times over a few minutes (meaning it could be an emergency), you'd better believe I'm going to answer it! I've actually had this happen for a student whose parent was in a somewhat-serious vehicle accident, and called her to let her know she was okay but that she would need to ask her teacher (me) to give her a lift to the clinic she was at.

Obviously, it would be inappropriate and rude to have non-important calls ringing and answered on either side, teacher or student during a lesson. But to say it should never happen? A dose of reality, please.


From Jeff Terflinger
Posted on September 30, 2011 at 10:20 PM

I loved Menuhn's story of the time preparing the Beethoven Concerto with
Toscanini at Toscanini's Apartment at the Hotel Aster.  The phone rang and at the third ring he rose from the piano and quickly walked, not to the phone, but the wall and jerked out the wall istallation with plaster, dust and dangling wires.

Some things are just sacred.

From Tara S.
Posted on September 30, 2011 at 10:59 PM

I don't think it's black and white, either. I had a teacher who frequently answered phone calls during my lesson. However, the hour long lesson usually lasted ten to fifteen minutes longer, so I didn't mind. As a student, I won't answer my phone during a lesson either, unless I'm expecting an important call that I know I'll need to take care of. In that case, it's my money, my time, and I don't expect the teacher to go overtime (for free) to make up for it.

As a general rule, though, I think the student/teacher time should be sacred. There are always exceptions, emergencies, special circumstances, etc.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on October 1, 2011 at 1:15 AM

There are no black and white answers.  However I do have a personal funny story about lessons and phone.

It was at the tail end of a big project and I was having conference calls every evening with China.  This one conference call was going on well past its scheduled stopping time, and my part of it was done but I had to stay on the line.   My lessons were about ready to start (me as the student).  My teacher and I gave each other "the look" and decided to go ahead, set-up, tune and start on a scale assuming things were wrapping up - while I was still on the call (I was using a blue-tooth ear piece and had the phone on mute).

Well, someone on the call asked me a question, so I stopped my scale, took the phone off mute and said "yes", and *thought* I put it back on mute, and proceeded with my warm-up scale.  In a few seconds, someone asked if there were fire engines or an alarm going off.  Whooops!!!  I didn't put the phone back on mute.  The call quickly ended after that.  

When I relayed the comment to my teacher we both about fell over laughing.  

I was lucky to have a teacher who understood what was going on those few weeks.

From marjory lange
Posted on October 1, 2011 at 2:45 AM

 As a university prof, my phone policy for students is simple: if there is a chance one may have an emergency call (not as much of an oxymoron as it seems) that student is to sit by the door and be out the door by the second ring--I have many parents of small children in class, and not a few who are caring for ill/aged family members.  

When I was in the situation of caring for my dying mother (and later, for a dying neighbor) I followed the same policy, informing my class I might be diving for the door--and did, on several occasions.

If a student's phone rings for any other reason, I answer it (that can be fun), confiscate it for the duration of the class, and the student must bring treats for the class next meeting (had to stop that part one term b/c I had one student who was an AWESOME baker, and at least once a week someone else in class would ring her to make her make cookies; she was a good sport about it, but it wasn't fair.)  

There is no question that cell phones have changed the face of the world, but courtesy still matters, and the venue makes a difference.  In a lesson, the student is the only loser, but in a class, everyone is distracted.

From Gail Tivendale
Posted on October 1, 2011 at 3:24 AM

I prefer not to answer but when I do it's usually a student who is late or unable to come. If it's anything else I tell the caller I'm teaching and offer to call back later. Once they know I'm teaching they invariably apologise profusely and are more than happy to ring back when I'm finished. As long as it's quick I don't mind overly. I don't think it's responsible or fair on the student to have extended calls during the lesson.

I also allow students and parents to text me if there are problems attending lessons. This works well as I can be notified without having to respond. However, I have one parent who often texts at I've taken to having my phone off or on silent overnight!

From Julian Stokes
Posted on October 1, 2011 at 7:02 AM

Couldn't vote in either because the answer is it depends. I've answered the phone once during lessons,  my teacher has taken a call once during lessons - both occasions an exception in response to matters of some urgency. 

On the whole, though, the lesson is between you and the teacher. Taking general  calls during lessons indicates a lack of respect for the other party.

From Rachel Jennings
Posted on October 1, 2011 at 9:04 AM

I have my phone in my pocket on silent/vibrate, but I never answer it when teaching; if another student needs to tell me they're running late or need to cancel, I know they've tried to contact me, and they leave a Voicemail or send a text which I pick up at the end of the lesson. If it's essential that I take a call, for example a medical emergency, I explain that I'm expecting an important call, assure the student it will be brief and ask their permission to take it.

From Karen Allard
Posted on October 1, 2011 at 11:53 AM

 My teacher has occasionally answered the phone during a lesson for a family issue.  It's fine with me.  I am a medical doctor and have been on call during lessons and she's been great about it.  

From Anne Horvath
Posted on October 1, 2011 at 12:09 PM

I've been known to pick up the phone when I'm expecting really important family health news.  I have adult students that keep their phones on for the same reason.  Otherwise, voice mail...



From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on October 1, 2011 at 1:17 PM

 I agree that taking a call during a lesson would be fine for something like a family emergency. But I think I must be fortunate in that for me, real emergencies are quite rare, on the order of happening once or twice a year.

 In general, I think that the pendulum has swung much too far in the direction of people expecting you to be available, interrupt what you are doing, and pick up the phone for things that are not real emergencies.  I think the vast majority of phone calls on both sides should go to voice mail and be picked up after the lesson.

From Bart Meijer
Posted on October 1, 2011 at 7:21 PM

Karen Allard's comment could have been mine -- word for word.

From Gene Wie
Posted on October 2, 2011 at 12:18 AM

And if you NEED to see the messages people leave you quickly, do yourself a favor and sign yourself up for Google Voice.

It will arrive, transcribed (mostly correctly) in text format on your device of choice (phone, tablet, computer) and you can glance at it in seconds to see whether it warrants further attention.

From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on October 2, 2011 at 2:08 AM

20 years ago everyone got along just fine without cell phones.  If someone is on the waiting list for an organ transplant they should have one with them, turned on at all times.  Short of that, there are very few things that can't wait until the end of a lesson.

From Thomas Cooper
Posted on October 2, 2011 at 11:13 PM

 It depends on the relationship between the teacher and student. I answered the phone one time during my lesson because it was a family member. It turned out they needed help badly. My teacher was perfectly fine with it. That being said, if it were anyone but an immediate family member, I would not answer it. They know I am in my lesson and they would not call unless it was an emergency. 

From Elizabeth Kilpatrick
Posted on October 2, 2011 at 11:41 PM

 I only take a call if it is one of my students that I will see that day. I don't answer a call during my personal lesson unless the person calls several times in a row. 

From Deborah McCann
Posted on October 3, 2011 at 12:23 PM

I usually ignore the phone during lessons or quartet rehearsals.  But if I know that there is a pending emergency -ie critical illness in the family (which since I am getting older happens)-I will take the call if it is from the area code or number of the ill person.  Otherwise, I have voice mail and will take messages between lessons.  I tell all my students if they have a crisis of the day of the lesson to leave a message if I do not pick up the phone, and all my friends know if I don't answer and they need something, I call back within an hour or so if I am home.

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