Student with 2 teachers

November 2, 2008 at 08:15 PM · situation:

Student's parents are divorced. Student begins taking lessons with me when the Dad can bring him, and the lessons are bi-weekly as a result. A month in, without telling me, Mom also gets him lessons on her weekends with him with a different teacher. I just found out about a month ago, but there's already been an interpretation difference in this student's solo.

What do I do? I've already expressed my concerns for this situation to the Dad and my student and my reasons for those concerns. He's still taking lessons with the other teacher. I've offered to have the lesson on a different day so the Mom can bring him on her weekends. No takers. I don't want to drop him as a student, but I don't think this is going to work out for anyone.

Replies (31)

November 2, 2008 at 08:16 PM · Oh yuk, what a mess.

But the child is stuck in the middle of it, and through no fault of his/her own. Both parents, in some strange way, are trying to do right by the child. I think what I'd do is: see if you can get the name of the other teacher, and assume that teacher is a colleague and good person. Call the teacher up and talk about it, share ideas. See if the two of you can coordinate what the child is doing and work together.

Not an easy situation at all, such dicey territory. Best of luck with this one!

November 2, 2008 at 08:43 PM · I once had this situation (I was the student) and it was not easy. It didn't last long. Be sure to at least work the same repertoire for the amount of work of the student.

Good luck!


November 2, 2008 at 08:45 PM · It sounds like a communication issue between the parents. I'm afraid I would feel stuck too, but try to make the best of it and come to some sort of compromise (since the parents can't) about what to work on with the student. Laurie's advice is good, talk to the other teacher and agree not to work on the same piece. How unfortunate for this child although probably done with the best intentions.

November 2, 2008 at 09:30 PM · Yes, we are working with him on the same pieces, and I know of the other teacher, and she knows of me (heresay, but probably true) and that I came first. However, there have already been quite a few instances where I disagree with some of her interpretations, and in his lesson today, he arrived with tapes on his violin! He's in 8th grade, been playing for 5 years, and granted, his intonation needs work, but he can hear when he's off, and I much prefer to let the older students work it out aurally than by finding the "target" tape. I told him (as a compromise) to ignore the tapes as much as possible, and listen very carefully instead.

November 2, 2008 at 09:31 PM · A very difficult problem indeed. If neither parent can be convinced that what they are doing is not in the best interests of the student..... maybe the teachers could be encouraged to work together for the coomon good. Put the teachers in touch with eachother, and see what they can come up with.

November 2, 2008 at 09:50 PM · This situation reminds me of an old (and I believe it is Chinese) saying, to the effect that a person with one watch on their wrist always knows the time, but that a person with two watches is never sure.

This is indeed NOT an easy situation. I don't think you want to get entangled in the middle of any post-divorce parental disagreements (which can be intense) by appearing to take sides.

I'm not so sure that ultimately this can work out. It may not be easy, but the best thing to do might be to present the idea to the parent you are working with that in the long run it might be better for the child to have only one teacher. If that turns out to be you, fine. But if it turns out that it is the teacher hired by the child's mother, then the father will have done a good thing for his child (vs. feeling that he is giving up on the child).

Sometimes doing what is genuinely in the best interests of the child (which is the legal and psychological guideline in a divorce) means doing what any parents must also do on occasion - make sacrifices for the good of their child.

I hope that helps.


November 2, 2008 at 10:39 PM · Why did the mother go and find a different teacher, especially without telling you? These are bad places for teachers to be stuck in--but I'd *consider* getting in touch with the mother and find out what she was thinking. NOTE-I said *consider*

Myself, I'd not get involved with it--because it sounds like they are by intent or no-pulling you into their relationship drama; and I'd politely tell them to choose one teacher (especially at this stage in development). Your place should not be one of a marriage counselor, which if you start trying to get spouses to sort this out, can end up on your plate.

November 2, 2008 at 10:42 PM · The Mom found a different teacher because:

a. her son's lessons with me interfere with her church on Sunday

b. she didn't ask me for a different time/day

I have met the Mom. She was in the store once and only told me that she couldn't bring him on her weekends because they interfered with church. I asked her to give me a call or email, and we could set up another time on Saturday or Friday (Her son has my contact info). No call, no email.

November 2, 2008 at 11:06 PM ·

Itzhak Perlman had two violin teachers ,Galamian and Delay and every violinist knows that story. One time Mr. Perlman was interviewed here in Japan and the interviewer pushed the question, you had two teachers with such different ideas how did you survive? Mr.Perlman raised two fingers up to the tv camera, making a peace sign ,and said, yes I had two teachers and  I wanted to make peace between them. That's a very wise and smart attitude.

November 2, 2008 at 11:56 PM ·

Hi,   my daughter has had two violin teachers for the past 3 months now and she enjoys it.  Both teachers now about each other, one is male and the other female.  She was with her first teacher for a year and we decided to add another to help her.  They compliment each other as far as strong and weak points.  Both are excellent violinists one more fiddle music and suzuki method, the other classically trained now performing middle eastern and other world music.  Both have my daughters best interests in mind and I monitor what goes on at the lessons closely.  She has been playing for one year and is playing with orchestras and others with 5 years playing violin.  She is eleven and it has been a good experience for us.  So it can be worked out it the parents chose best for their child.

November 3, 2008 at 03:23 AM ·

Tasha, call me suspicious-granted I know nothing of any of these people other than what you have typed-but she CAN'T be telling you everything, that just doesn't make sense.  Of course, I don't know how close of a normal contact you keep with your studio/students/parents either.  But things don't add up.

Instead of telling you she couldn't bring junior over (due to church), she naturally goes and finds an entirely different teacher.  With an entirely seperate bill to pay, and schedule, and recitals etc.


Doesn't even bother sending a note, a phone call, or carrier pigeon---she only bothers telling you because of a chance meeting.  

Just up and finds a new teacher on her own.  No asking you, no consulting, BAM


...and evidently Junior kept his trap shut about it, which that too sounds suspicious (granted since you only see the student twice a month...)...  I've seen and heard how some of these divorce mess things can get played out (by both parties), granted everyone is different.....  I being suspicious, think Junior might have been told to keep hush about it.  I being suspicious.

There are any number of ways this could be being played by their parts, but it sounds like you've gotten caught in the middle of things, possibly a power struggle, or any of the other divorce scenarios that can happen.  My money is on these two wanting to have as little to do with the other as possible including outside contacts/etc--and Junior and you are stuck in the middle.

Your studio/student/call.  I'd politely tell them to pick one teacher-for Junior's sake (he is the one learning the violin, and it is he who should trump their personal problems)as well as yours.  It stinks to lose a student in this, but I myself wouldn't let myself get dragged into something like this.

November 3, 2008 at 03:38 AM ·

To Tape, or Not To Tape, is a big deal.  There are pros and cons for both sides, but if the student is hearing two different things from two different teachers, how on earth are they supposed to trust anyone with their violin and music education? 

This is such a sad situation.  You might want to consider offering to visit the Mom's home for a weekly lesson (and if so, adjust fees to reflect your travel expenses) to accomodate her inconveniences.  But the lack of communication is quite troubling, and does not sound all that promising.  What a shame.  Because teaching styles are so diverse, teachers are not interchangable widgets. 

November 3, 2008 at 04:35 AM ·

Sounds complicated and unpleasant.  Life is short.  If you own a pair of running shoes, I'd suggest you put them on... 


November 3, 2008 at 04:49 AM ·

First of all, I would not be too hard on the student for not mentioning the two teachers; there may be a number of other things in life where the parents are competing against each other, and teh child is caught in the middle. The safe ground is to shut up, hide in the corner, and hope the adults start acting like adults someday.

Second, I would consider one of the options below.

  1. Contact the other teacher, find if there is a common ground where you can both approach both parents with a sane option for the student.
  2. Contact both parents, and indicate your concern that this type of insanity will significantly impede the student's ability to learn, suggest tehy get one tecahre they can agree on, then gracefully bow out.
  3. Talk to the sutdent in a manner that clearly indicates there is no wrong answer, and find out what the child wants. Follow that lead.
  4. Talk to the other teacher, and each of you focus on a certain area. Compare notes, etc. This will be difficult to manage, and will probably significantly reduce the quality of the training.
  5. Contact child services, find a way to get both parents comitted. This is my preferred answer, but that is only for general principles, I really don't have a reason. 

Best to chose from 1 or 2 above, the other options have significant flaws.

November 3, 2008 at 05:06 AM ·

In addition to what Roland said above-in approaching a conversation remember, there is a chance the other teacher *might* not even know that you too are currently teaching this student.  If mother was kind enough not to tell you about the other teacher, it could be the same is true the other way around. 

November 3, 2008 at 05:21 AM ·

DeLay was Galamian's assistant, yes?

It's true that the tapes question indicates a pretty different approach between you and the other teacher.

Whatever you do, don't do one thing: don't take this personally in the least. This has nothing to do with your teaching, and everything to do with embattled parents.

November 3, 2008 at 05:53 AM ·

Hi Laurie, Yes,Ms. Delay was an assistant to Mr. Galamian.

November 3, 2008 at 11:42 AM ·

Likes others said, your caught in the middle.  Conjecture on my part, but sounds like Dad is the one who picked you, which in a messy divorce may mean Mom doesn't like you.  Its even possible your just 1 of the 1000's of reason they divorced.  Not something to delve into though.

1. See if you can work with the other teacher

2. Try to contact the Mom, but be prepared for no support.  This may be a power struggle with Dad

3.  Be prepared to bow out of this situation

4.  In messy divorces, its a lose, lose type of situation for everyone and worse for the kids

November 3, 2008 at 12:22 PM ·

Thanks, everyone.

I have been considering all of the above for quite some time.  I don't have the Mom's number, and given the animocity, I don't feel comfortable asking for it.  I've asked my student to just have her call me multiple times...   Argh.

This is so unfair for the student, I can't stand it.

November 3, 2008 at 02:36 PM ·

Delay was Galamian's assistant, but it is worth noting that they had a divorce in their partnership when Delay's teaching style evolved.

Tasha, you really need to get the Mom's contact information.  This is a serious safety issue for the child, and it is also a liability issue for you.

No, it is not fair for the kid.  What a shame.

November 4, 2008 at 08:27 PM ·

boy, do I feel sorry for that kid. If his violin lessons are like this, imagine what the rest of his life is like. Poor thing.

I really think the best thing would be if you could continue teaching the kid somehow without having to get into a negotiation with the mom. She obviously doesn't want to deal with you, so I don't think she would be very cooperative, even if you did get to talk to her. And if you dump her kid, he's likely to feel personally rejected (he's too young to understand the power struggle between his parents). If you can work together with the other teacher, that would be great, but if not, I'd say keep doing what you've been doing---be as helpful and encouraging as you can to the kid. He probably needs a friend as much as he needs a teacher. 

November 4, 2008 at 09:45 PM ·

I second Shalees's suggestions.

Also, in this tough time for the student, probably more important to be a friend and possibly be less demanding until things settle out some

November 4, 2008 at 10:35 PM ·

It's always my priority to accommodate students' circumstances and provide them however appropriate.

November 5, 2008 at 04:14 PM ·

I teach several 8th graders with a similar number of years' playing experience. I have shared students with public school teachers, also had kids in PS who studied outside with others. Usually OK, sometimes not. As best I could, I followed a rule that the private teacher's plans, sequence, choices trumped mine, though it wasn't always easy or successful. Currently dealing w/one PS teacher who keeps trying to CHANGE my assignments and choices!!  But having two private teachers is quite different. //  I have a strong opinion that the boy is in the middle of a power struggle between the parents. More Mom??, along the lines of, "If Dad decided on you, since Dad's a (fill-in-the-blank), your teaching can't be any good." I hear strong passive-aggressive overtones; Mom may not say out & out critical things about the Dad to the boy, but gets her digs in how she can. However, many 8th graders are pretty strong-willed and trying to be independent, so I find it a little surprising that the boy is going along with this. Does he just go to lessons, and maybe does what he has to to avoid conflict, doesn't overwhelm you with his dedication, practice or interest? Since Dad set up the lessons with you, it may be that he is the one you need to talk to in straightforward terms, w/o getting into the Mom's choices. I'm guessing that if I found myself in this position, I'd try to make it work, but looking at it from the outside, my best thought is to get away fast before it gets any weirder. Sue  

November 6, 2008 at 01:03 AM ·


As always, thank you for your insightful comments.  Whenever I address Mom to Dad, I hit a dead end.  You are right about my student, does everything possible to remain or keep the peace.

November 6, 2008 at 05:00 AM ·

Thank you, Anne, now that makes more sense!

November 6, 2008 at 06:26 AM ·

Tasha, I offer the perspective that perhaps the mum just doesn't realise the situation she's put the boy in?  she may not know that two individual music teachers is not a good thing, maybe she genuinely thinks that if he can get two different perspectives, then he'll learn even quicker. (Well, it doesn't hurt to be naive, does it?)

Regardless, Its going to be nicer for you if you can contact her in a genuinely confused state

" I'm just a bit confused because usually a violin student only has one teacher at a time, so I'm not sure what role you'd like me to play now that sessions with !@#$ have been organised. I don't want to proceed on the wrong assumption".

Hopefully if you don't get her on the defensive, the conversation will swing over to whats beest for his music development now, you'll prove you sincere interest, and she'll decide that twice as much is not always better. 


November 6, 2008 at 05:42 PM ·

This sounds like a power struggle between the parents.  The dad started the son with music lessons so now mom has to 'one-up' him.  She's not going to use the same teacher as her ex because they are too immature to put the child's best interests first.

It seems that you have a completely different teaching approach than the second teacher so I really wonder if you two can work together for the student.  My advice from a parenting standpoint  is to tell the father that you need to have a face-to-face meeting with him and the mother.  ASAP.  You then explain to them why this is not a good situation for the child and that they need to choose one teacher and support their child on a unified front so he can progress with his lessons.

It has been mentioned, the child being caught in the middle and the rejection he may feel in this scenario.  I daresay, this child has been/is in for a lot of disappointment in his life given the actions of his parents simply over his violin lessons.  Unfortunately, there aren't laws to protect children from bitter disillusioned parents who are hell-bent on making their kids' lives as miserable as their own.

Should the parents choose the other teacher, be sure to offer your services in the future should they decide to change teachers.

The bottom line is, this is not an ideal learning environment for the student.  Someone in this scenario needs to step up and put the child's best interest first.  As a teacher, you can't get bogged down in their personal issues.  I can see this sitation only getting worse as the child is pulled back and forth between the parents. 

November 6, 2008 at 05:20 PM ·

shoot either parent.

well, i guess shoot the mother so you will be the remaining teacher.


November 6, 2008 at 08:28 PM ·

... or go with Calvin's suggestion.

Just remember the gloves. 

November 6, 2008 at 11:03 PM ·

nah. Shoot everyone and then shoot yourself. Donate the gloves to the poor.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Business Directory Business Directory Guide to Online Learning Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine