Newly-hired (very young) school orchestra teacher's demand

October 18, 2007 at 02:58 AM · On a scale of 1 to 100 points, and with four lines for writing, no less. In my long public school career, I have never heard of such a thing. When my school students were studying privately, I taught them what the group was doing, would sometimes listen to what the private teacher assigned, especially if the child asked for help. I tried to offer suggestions with the proviso that they "check back with the teacher". Mostly successfully tho sometimes biting my tongue not to naysay. I have never thought in terms of a number grade for a weekly lesson, and at this point, after some years with the kids in question, am way past that in terms of professional but congenial and supportive two-way relationships. The teacher is now pressuring the kids, up to the point of writing notes in the assignment books I provide, that "Ms.J. needs number grades for the last three weeks." Your appraisal and comments appreciated, you bet. Sue

Replies (44)

October 18, 2007 at 03:26 AM · Always assign an A. My rationale being that she is treating this kid as a hostage, violating the privacy between you and your student, and goodness only knows what her objectives and motives are. Forcing you to collaborate, with the child's grades obviously being held as hostage, aren't appropriate. I can only imagine she is a very new and inexperienced teacher. (Trust me, I work in a public high school and no experienced teacher wants to generate more work for themselves than they need.)

And then send her a bill (for your full hourly rate) for your time, CC it to her principal as well (so the admin knows what she is doing.) I would think it would stop the first bill she gets since she is asking you to professionally collaborate, without your express consent or agreement. Since she isn't bothered about treating you as a fellow professional educator, with the appropriate courtesies, she obviously is requiring an assessment and you deserve to be properly compensated for your time.

October 18, 2007 at 03:44 AM · My orchestra director does this too, he's young too. Maybe it's the new trend.

October 18, 2007 at 04:29 AM · Define your policies along these lines, and communicate them in every direction.

Be specific: your expectations and levels of cooperation inferred, and so forth. Think through, how you, would like things, and get it in writing for now and the future--in case it's a trend. And, you'll only have to do it once this way.

October 18, 2007 at 04:33 AM · You mean the school teacher is asking for grades from the kids' private teachers?! That's a lose-lose situation for the students. The last thing a young student needs is to have yet another grade for private lessons. I would probably just give the kid a 100 every time, but that's not even necessarily a good thing. If the kid is struggling with orchestra music (if the music is too hard/weird rhythms, or if the student is starting with easier music at the lessons or something to get a good foundation), the teacher could think that the student only practices lesson music and never orchestra music, resulting in a bad grade.

Violin lessons should be fun and productive, not something you have to worry about affecting your scholastic progress or a school teacher's opinion of you.

EDIT: also, what about the violation of trust that you and your student have with each other?! I certainly don't go around telling everyone all about my students' progress or difficulties (well, I do brag a little bit when my students have a successful audition or win a top seat in their school orchestras). Any deficiencies that the student has in their playing are things that the private teacher is sure to be addressing (or possibly not at the moment for whatever reason). Also, what criteria do you use for grading them?! "Oh, well he was a little sharp on the arpeggio today, that's a minus 3, and there was a memory slip, so that's another minus 10, and they were about a minute and a half late to the lesson, so that's another minus 5. But they had made an improvement on their etude, so that's plus 15 points, etc etc...." As you can tell, this slightly upsets me.

October 18, 2007 at 04:57 AM · My inclination would be to ask a couple of the most experienced and highly regarded private teachers in the area to arrange a conference with the orchestra director, to explain why his/her demands are destructive and unprofessional and that the private teachers as a group will not comply. If this doesn't work they might request a conference with the principal.

October 18, 2007 at 07:33 AM · I would probably send a letter something like this:

Dear Ms. J,

I think it is commendable that you are showing such interest in your students' musical development. We obviously share the same goal. Unfortunately, my teaching philosophy does not lend itself to assigning numerical grades to my students' lessons. I will therefore not be able to comply with your request. I hope you understand.

Best regards,


October 18, 2007 at 09:52 AM · How can a public school teacher even do that, unless the private teacher is a school employee and private lessons are part of the school's curricum. That is ridiculous and will not engender a good collegial relationship.

October 18, 2007 at 12:10 PM · If anything it should be the other way around...I have had *so* many students come to me whose technique has been absolutely butchered by their 'teacher' in school orchestra, usually a pianist or wind player or something that's learned violin as a requirement during college. (Apologies-and thanks-to those of you out there who ARE violinists that teach in schools. There are far too few of you!)

I always try to get some background information on my students' school violin teachers (what do they play, what's their training, etc) and based on that I give them advice ("take what she says with a grain of salt", "Listen to her too, she really knows what he's doing", "don't let anything he says stick in your brain").

Last year I had a student come to me holding the violin with her LEFT hand on her RIGHT shoulder, completely twisting her body. When I asked her why she held it like that, she said "because my school teacher said it was OK". I was, this student is holding her violin correctly and playing beautifully, but it's upsetting that students are getting information like this in schools.

Is this teacher (the grading lady) trained as a string player? If not--that could be why--she might just want to make sure she's teaching the instruments correctly!

October 18, 2007 at 01:44 PM · I haven't heard of weekly grades for private lessons. This new teacher probably went to an overpriced seminar that encourages pushy meddling and mounds of useless paperwork. I would send a letter first, then do a sit-down meeting. Stand your ground!

October 18, 2007 at 02:29 PM · The problem will take care of itself because A). no one will complete the form and she'll give up and/or

B). she'll realize that she's unleashed a flood of paperwork.

October 18, 2007 at 03:30 PM · As a parent, I would find this situation offensive. I pay for private lessons for my children and what happens at those lessons is not the concern of any of their teachers.

I do understand that new teachers can sometimes be overzealous and just plain not-have-a-clue as to how the real world of education works. But imho, this teacher has stepped over a boundary. Private lessons have nothing to do with the public school system. I certainly hope she sent a letter home to all of the parents FIRST, before she sent out forms to the private teachers.

October 18, 2007 at 03:31 PM · Unbelievable!!! Enough said.

October 18, 2007 at 04:27 PM · For the private teacher to comply would be a terrible breach of privacy.

October 18, 2007 at 05:27 PM · Thanks to all!Your thoughts are so completely what I was thinking,but confirmation is a lovely thing. My plan for the moment is,with the signed approval of each parent,to give each child the "requested" paperwork with a 100 for every lesson,and a one-phrase,just-the-facts comment,"A.completed a Vivaldi Concerto".I am only complying to that extent because these are very dutiful students who are stressed by feeling put in the middle.I plan to send a polite e-mail letter discussing professional protocol & confidentiality in schools,etc.I hope to phrase it such that a message gets through,in somewhat less rabid wording,that this part of A.'s music program is completely out of her control,so get over herself.If she need grades, she can do them herself based on the time the student spends with her. Sue

October 18, 2007 at 05:47 PM · It would be great if the teacher who made this absurd request would read all of the above excellent comments!

October 18, 2007 at 05:47 PM · Further info, especially to TNet, a parent who responded. I am so grateful! These families are fairly new to private lessons, new to their school, and the teaches is new at the school. Man! it is way worse than what your wrote. Not only did the teacher NOT contact private teachers herself, she has been pressuring kids to get me to do (her) paperwork. She even wrote a note in my assignment books; "Ms.J.needs grades for the last 3 weeks." One parent tried a conference, to be told, "This is the way I do it." Ms.J. even lowered one's grade when I was out of town conducting and did not hold lessons! Sue

October 18, 2007 at 06:14 PM · It sounds to me like the parents are the ones who should be getting involved and talking to the teacher, and the principal if necessary. Parents have (or should have) much more say over their children's education than you do, and their voices will hold much more authority with the teacher/principal. I'd pull my kid out of orchestra before I'd let a music teacher interfere with a privately-funded musical education.

October 18, 2007 at 07:01 PM · This is an unacceptable demand. This new young teacher needs to be set right.

October 18, 2007 at 08:51 PM · If this were one of my children, I would first contact the music teacher and explain to her that my child's private music lessons are exactly that...private. If I did not get satisfaction from the teacher that this 'policy' would be dropped, I would then be talking to the principal.

I am at a loss as to why this teacher feels she has the right to impose herself on any child's out of school time and on a child's private string teacher. I also agree that this issue needs to be settled between the parents of the music students and the school system. This teacher has no right what-so-ever to contact any of the students private teachers. What next, the music teacher sends forms to the students doctor to be sure they aren't carrying some infectious disease?

I've never been asked to sign a privacy waiver at my childrens school.

October 18, 2007 at 09:02 PM · Psh, it sounds like she's trying to get other people to do her job. Although ironically she's ultimately making more work for herself.

This is pretty ridiculous.

October 18, 2007 at 09:23 PM · Gung-ho data collecting is to establish dominance. That's probably one reason you're put off by it. I'd call the principal and ask him what it was for (not planning to comply in any case). That lets the principal know what's happening, and might entertain you for an afternoon if they think they have a valid reason to do this. There's a remote possibility he has the childrens' interest in mind, but I don't know what his plan could be.

October 18, 2007 at 09:32 PM · What will she be doing with this data she collects? Does she factor it into the overall grade? If so, then those who do not take private lessons have the advantage. Any smart kid will come to this conclusion, and if they want to find the easiest route in playing the grade game, they will quit their private lessons. Her current protocol is penalizing her privately instructed students.

October 19, 2007 at 02:07 AM · The heart of the issue here is privacy, and the lack of respect for such.

What if my child is a talented gymnast? Does the school phys. ed teacher have the right to demand our private gymnastics coach turn in a critique of her workouts each week? I don't think so.

It would be a breach of confidentiality.

October 19, 2007 at 07:06 AM · Just don't tell the teacher you're taking private lessons

October 19, 2007 at 07:20 AM · I say let's draw and quarter the teacher!

October 19, 2007 at 08:26 AM · I felt it necessary to make this post just so I wouldn't feel left out of the piling on.

Neil :)

October 19, 2007 at 12:54 PM · Hi,All, Thanks again for many thoughts, even the more rabid ones. Gotten me chuckling, which helps with. My sense of humor IS a little odd. I am realizing that I feel some sympathy/empathy here. I surprised myself late in my career when I became a very good mentor for student teachers. Five in my last four years! Minus the one I recommended be failed, the rest stay in contact, socially and for input. This young person isn't one of them, and I am forgetting that. Sue

October 19, 2007 at 01:40 PM · I think it's time for a "To Kill a Mockingbird" compromise.

October 20, 2007 at 09:41 AM · What, find her guilty and shoot her when she tries to flee?

October 20, 2007 at 02:04 PM · She is a control freak. Wants to establish her dominance in the students music. Probably has an inferiority complex too. I like the idea of sending her a bill for the effort. You're doing work, therefore she should pay. That'll stop her in her tracks! Good Luck!

October 20, 2007 at 05:54 PM · I am probably going to be hated for this but I think the teacher is great.

I hate going to my school orchestra and hearing so many student's with a lack of enthusiasm and practice regimen. I feel like a few other musicians and I are holding the whole orchestra together. I think what she is trying to do is inspire the students by making it a more serious matter. I have attended a school where the teachers call home and ask parents whether school work is being done and applied. So why can't this music teacher call or inquire about the child's studies at home as well?

If some student's do not like it, they do not have to play in the orchestra. Then again, if the students start to hear how good the orchestra starts to sound because more students are practicing and they start to receive good comments from their non-musician peers, they might actually enjoy orchestra even more.

I was so bored in my school orchestra that I left and went to a more strict orchestra that cost my mom some money. But I had more fun playing in a passionate environment than in a non-chalant environment.

However, the grading policy might not be the best way since children hate grades. I always wanted competitions in my orchestra and more student soloist to inspire other students to practice.


October 20, 2007 at 09:37 PM · What this excuse for a teacher is asking for has nothing to do with education it is a form of brutalization which I wish the parents would perform on her by forwarding their assessment of her grades to the principal and the superintendant. A little grass roots rebellion sounds in order!!

October 21, 2007 at 01:06 AM · Also, what's funny about the whole situation is that I'm sure your private training goes far beyond the stupid stuff they get to do in school, in a group that is put together based on the overall schedule of the school and not the level of the student, using some stupid book with one line pieces. Her stupid grades and rubrics are meaningless anyway, base as they surely are on the notion that the setup they have in the schools works at all.

Keep in mind that I'm a school teacher AND a private teacher and I would NEVER EVER presume to ask the private teacher to, in essence, work for me like that, and moreover rebuke her like some errant assistant if she didn't. Stupid public schools...

October 21, 2007 at 01:24 AM · Oh, yeah, and the whole grade thing... I hate giving grades in school because it's not really an incentive to do well except for a few kids and for the ones who get less than good grades, it implies that they are either lazy or stupid, when in fact they just may be behind, unmotivated, lacking resources,asked to do something impossible or the like. Grrrrrrrr again...

October 21, 2007 at 01:59 AM · The only problem with opting out of school orchestra is that many of the most accomplished students are compelled to play in their school orchestra as a requirement for being in youth orchestra, which is actually worthwhile. I've always hated that requirement!

October 21, 2007 at 02:22 AM · I completely agree with P.H Brackenbury's suggestions and reasoning. This teacher has crossed more than one boundaries (both legally and professionally). The school should know this is happening, for the best interests of the kids.

October 21, 2007 at 02:53 AM · I just read Sue Bechler's post very carefully again. I can see where number grading would have significant problems, but isn't there number grading in most certificate of merit programs? I know the Music Teacher Association has a grading system.

October 21, 2007 at 01:12 PM · Good point Jasmine, but I don't think that gives a school teacher the right to know the gradings given by a private teacher, if such are given anyway, and especially not weekly.


PS: I grade this thread 7.5 out of 10.

October 21, 2007 at 02:05 PM · Emily – not quite what I had in mind with my previous statement.

In the novel, Scout's teacher expects her to stop reading at home because she's learning to read properly at school. Instead of giving up browsing the newspaper, and reading with her father, he suggests the idea of compromise.

In this situation, you have a teacher telling you to take a form to your private teacher, and be graded at home. To most here, that seems ridiculous; thus the call for compromise.

If I was in this position as a young student, I would probably just lie and not admit to having a private teacher at all. I don't usually promote lying, but who hasn't done this to avoid the unreasonable?

October 21, 2007 at 02:18 PM · Dear Jasmine, Nobody here is going to hate you! Lots of us have spent years teaching,playing, & improving ourselves in order to help the next generations of musicians think, participate and express themselves well. I quite agree with your points about the need for quality teaching in schools, striving for higher standards for groups, holding students accountable,etc. As a public school teacher, I regularly asked kids who got private help what they were working on,& if I could help them. After a while, there were some private teachers with whom I had cordial professional/personal relationships. We were able to discuss kids' needs and collaborate on their program, but final decisions belonged to the private instructor, in my opinion. I see that you read back through my initial post, so you understand that the situation for these kids is quite different than your unfortunate one. The mom of the more-advanced was actually told in a conference that, "Higher achievers often go join (list some community groups!) Yikes. Sue

October 22, 2007 at 07:02 AM · Outrageous, immoral, illegal, and lots and lots of other horrible things can be securely asserted as facts here. No compromise, no compliance. Do your professional work, let the school teacher do theirs, and if the lines cross, I like the very first response-- send the bill, and send it to the teacher and the principal and the parents, and get a year's pay in advance before you write the first irrelevant, worthless, and illegal number.

I'm all for collaboration, synergy, volunteering, and cooperation, and my money is where my mouth is on that to the point where I do good and am near dead from it. But this request you have has nothing to do with any good. Just say no. The universe will be a better place. Go ahead and meet this teacher or help the school or the students or the music program as you see fit-- but what you've been asked is not appropriate or good or healthy for anything.


October 24, 2007 at 06:50 AM · My daughter's orchestra teacher suggests that students who take private lessons will do better. He also has a list of private teachers in the community, with phone numbers. That's the extent it goes to.

As for grades and competition, regular chair tests seem to keep them all on their toes!

She's lucky in that her high school has a fantastic orchestra.

October 25, 2007 at 03:24 AM · Concerning these things, a wise person once told me: "You have to start out like you can hold out"

Its not a good thing; respectfully decline to comply.

October 26, 2007 at 01:20 AM · If the school wants input from private lessons, let them pay for the lessons. This is especially rank coming from NY, where the taxes are enough to Rockefeller, as they used to say. It costs twice as much to live there, but the services provided are no better, and frequently worse, than in less greedy locales.

After too many decades on this planet, I'm pretty well fed up with petty bureaucratic power freaks. I sat we charter a bus and go stomp the stuffing out of the arrogant little twit.

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