On teaching the country's future...

November 30, 2008 at 10:01 PM ·

Okay, so I REALLY have to get this off my chest... Am I the only one experiencing this?!?

I have a very large private studio, having grown for over ten years in the same location, a suburb of Chicago. I teach seven days a week, every week day after school plus Saturday 9:30-6 and a few hours on Sunday... Plus the high schoolers, two parochial school string programs, and a couple of adults during the school day... I teach some classes before school, but it's mostly 1-on-1, 30- and 45-minute lessons. My students are section leaders in most school district orchestras (viola and cello mostly, but some violin, too), grades 4-12, year after year, but...

For the last couple of years I have become increasingly worried (and lately quite depressed) about the asymmetrical effort, time, and energy that I put into teaching vis-a-vis what the students and parents bring into the learning equation. Below, I'm taking the average junior high student as an example...

I may be getting old(-fashioned) in my expectations, but when a student (and sometimes parent) enter my teaching studio I expect a few things:

1. Saying “Hello, How are you?” (or at least pretend to answer my greeting, question, and smile...) How can one engage an audience if one has problems communicating basic social graces?

2. Start getting ready (hand warm-ups, unpack instrument, get music, review the weekly goals in the assignments, prepare questions, etc.) Focus on preparation (mental, physical, logistics).

3. A minimum of openness to learning, willingness to do better, some basic curiosity, and an ounce of drive. I assume the students want to be there, making music. Otherwise why do it? My tuition rates are not low, and half-hours are not handed free on street corners – Time is LIFE!

Well, the vast majority of my students fall below my expectations on most accounts – I used to believe that if you set the bar high, people tend reach it. But when? I guess that requires personal ambition...

Although I'll be 40 next year, I feel like I'm always the youngest and most energetic person in the room, hour after hour, day after day full of kids lacking the most rudimentary manners, constantly expecting to be spoon-fed information and self-esteem, desperately lacking fire, ambition, or pro-active insight. I've just about had it with this entitlement generation – I have no interest in a smug, superior attitude with no backing (And their many wimpy, excuse-providing parents, as well!). Cello teacher Pat White describes it best: “It is more an utter cluelessness that is becoming more and more prevalent in the younger generation, coupled with an odd arrogance that is unwarranted by any real ability, experience, or accomplishment.”

Let me put it into context: I include sheet music, theory worksheets, and reference recordings (MP3s and videos) in the lesson tuition, organize master-classes with colleagues and other teachers, schedule studio recitals, give free parent seminars on how to get the most out of music lessons and practice effectively, I distribute a comprehensive advocacy brochure documenting the benefits of music education, etc., etc. I keep up professionally with my own performances, attending workshops/conferences/festivals, reading string magazines, etc. There's hardly any book on playing and teaching the violin, viola, and cello that I don't have in my library and read/reviewed. My collection of string DVD/CDs is the envy of my colleagues...

Yet, I find myself asking things such as "what's that note?”, “we're in 4/4, aren't we?”, “what are the bowings?”, “is it in tune?”, “is that your best bow-hold?" over and over, lesson after lesson, week after week, in the same spots, clearly-marked in the music and repeatedly mentioned in the weekly assignments. In lessons, I lean toward the Socratic method, so I ask a lot of questions, animated by the desire to engage the students. My goals for the student: (self-)understanding and discovery, creative solution-finding, emerging self-reliance, and earned self-esteem. I am a firm believer in mini-goals (breaking down of challenges into small, achievable tasks). Zooming in first, fine-tuning, then gradually zooming out... Not a tricky, unheard of method, is it? That's how humans tend to solve ANY problem and learn any skill, so why should music-making be any different?!? Ay, ay, ay...

My role, as I see it, is to clarify WHAT needs to be practiced between lessons, and HOW, most effectively according to our target. But I find myself having to mostly poke my darlings in the backside and give them reasons as to WHY they should do it, and I'm getting really tired of fighting the spectator mentality of this entitlement generation. I try to give my students encouragement and a sense of ownership in their own self-improvement, but as a default I find them so darn comfortable (body, mind, and spirit), they hardly provide me with any opportunity to honestly acknowledge improvement – and since I detest intelligence-insulting false praise... If I had a penny for every excuse and whining spell I get, I'd be enjoying a couple o' Strads by now... If I hear “I was confused” one more time I might just go a little postal... My response is: “well, what precisely is confusing you – the notes, the rhythm, the bowings, the fingerings, what?” We call these our 4 meta-questions, by the way, the quick-response emergency team... How can we work effectively on anything without first understanding the goal's required parameters, the constants and the variables at work, and all our available resources?!?... Over and over, week after week, the same thing, though... Whatever happened to skill transfer from one situation to another?!?  AARGH!!!

Maybe a benefit of our currently dismal economic situation will be a closer look at discretionary spending (money and time) and a renewed commitment to what we could become as individuals, not just how little we can get away with in our (education-related) activities... I'm hoping we can all maximize our opportunities...

Anxiously awaiting your feedback, advice, even offers of a free exotic vacation to decompress, etc.. Please don't suggest therapy, my shrink kicked me out and is seeing someone himself...  :)

Thanks all,

Replies (47)

November 30, 2008 at 11:01 PM ·

When I get frustrated, I try to remember that it is the teacher's lot in life to be the most enthusiastic about the subject.  Not every violin student is going to be on the ball every week.  And I certainly have what I like to call my "Slacker Hall Of Fame".  (Insert smiley face here).  Sometimes the least motivated come around, which is always pleasant, and sometimes the firecrackers lose their spark...

My violin lesson was the most important event of the week for me, and my favorite day too (Thursday).  Some of my students feel the same, and for some, it seems the lesson is merely another activity box to tick off.  I think that the responsibility towards each student is the same though.  That doesn't mean it is always easy.

As far as "kids these days", I am not so sure.  I have had a few students that had attitude problems.  Some of that is growing up, some of it is how they are raised.  Sometimes patience helps, sometimes not.  The Great Humbling that violin really is can be a great way for these kids to come around, but also they can just quit too.  I don't think "entitlement" is anything new.  I can dredge up a few ancient memories of unworthy Prima Donnas myself...

And in light of the longest, most thoroughly detailed teaching rant ever to hit v.c, (congratulations), I think you need to re-think your teaching schedule.  See if you can't get your Sunday students to come on different days.  Having regular time off is so important!  Really, it is!  You must rest, take care of yourself, start a hobby, read, get a pet, exercise, etc.  It is also good to have other teachers to talk to!

Good luck!  Hang in there!


November 30, 2008 at 11:31 PM ·

I have to dig back pretty far to remember myself as a teenager taking lessons, but I definitely went through a spell of several years when I was a less than stellar student of the violin (though I did always say hi).

Based on my own past, the shared experiences of my current teacher, and some experience with teenagers in general, I wonder if it might help to ask each student what brings them there, what short term goal do they have, and what do they hope to take from violin lessons in general?  Do they want to move up a chair in orchestra?  Play in an indie rock band?  Impress their girlfriend?  Develop their bowing technique? Get their parents off their back?

With any luck, if the students are asked to define what they want out of the process, they will have a little more invested in the outcome.  And then, rather than feeling entitled, maybe they can shift slowly toward becoming more responsible for achieving their own goals?  Perhaps you will also be able to identify ways to reach them with less frustration?  And, if nothing else, it might answer the question "why on earth are they here?!"

I second the time off suggestion.  I have frequently worked long weeks, only to find my enthusiasm for my work, my clients (and everything else) turning into resentment.  Taking time for yourself is a must!!

Good luck!


November 30, 2008 at 11:50 PM ·


Thank you so much for your feedback (and patience reading my rant - holy, it IS way too long...).

I like the suggestions about getting the students to articulate their motivation for taking lessons - I used to do that, but haven't done so in a while, assuming that since they are there, they want to be there, and if they want to be there, they want to do well...

And yes, lightening up the schedule... I do love reading and watching concerts and documentaries - I'd enjoy doing more of that. You got me thinking.

Thanks again,


November 30, 2008 at 11:52 PM ·

So you find teaching adolescents problematic? Imagine that.

FWIW, it's my impression that children hve become increasingly stupid over the last few decades. A lack of curiosity coupled with a sense of entitlement, supported by parents who see no evil, hear no evil, and buy the little twerps brand-new BMWs to drive to high school.  A number of them do manage to take out a carload now and then, but not often enough to make a dent in the population. And they'll be reproducing soon!!

Of course, as has been mentioned, beating your head against this mob seven days a week is nothing short of pure masochism, except that you seem to dislike it somehow. I'd suggest doubling your lesson fees to drive out a bunch of them, and cutting back your teaching time accordingly.

The students remaining won't be any better, of course, but you can derive some little satisfaction knowing that someone is paying you well for your suffering. Single-malt Scotch will dissolve more than just violin varnish, and you'll be able to afford it with the increased rates. It will serve to give you a more detached perspective on the situation as well.


December 1, 2008 at 12:18 AM ·

First of all, I must say as a parent... Can my daughter take lessons from you? lol

One of our past teachers actually had a contract drawn up and had both parties sign. It stated payment policies (she charged interest for late payment) practicing policies, makeups etc.

I have found that lessons whether they are violin, swimming, tennis etc is just another thing to do for most kids. In other words, you are just another stop on the "Ecuse" train. :)

When I was growing up (I too am turning 40) lessons were a priveledge. I never got private lessons because me family couldn't afford them. We weren't doing a million things and pulled a million different directions... ah, those were the days.

I have heard of teachers raising their rates to drop those kids who aren't pulling there weight. I don't think it worked because those were the kids whose parents could afford the rate.

Best of luck to you



December 1, 2008 at 12:42 AM ·

Although I sympathize strongly with your situation and having to teach adolescents, I am also a little offended by the criticisms levelled at my generation.  While it might seem like kids these days are worthless, there are libraries worth of evidence that kids these days are on average smarter and harder working than ever.  For example, it is practically impossible to get into Harvard (or similar school) nowadays, short of being a genius.  Likewise, as I understand, the level of violin playing at any distinguished conservatory or school of music is consistently extremely high, and certainly higher than it ever has been in history.  You may grumble that I am describing a very elite subclass of the population, but it doesn't exactly look like everybody else is getting dumber.  Also, it should be taken into account that standards and modes of living are changing.  People are becoming more and more intertwined with electronic life (whether you like it or not), and the accompanying changes in lifestyle etc. will cause younger people and their personalities to seem more and more alien at what might be an alarming rate.  Plus, adolescents are supposed to be difficult to begin with.  All in all, I don't think we're doing too badly.

Don't know if I've already posted something along these lines before, but you get my drift...

December 1, 2008 at 12:55 AM ·

Hi Andrei,

You sound like a good teacher, keeping busy is not bad and it's good alot of kids are working with you. It's also good that you came to the v.com community for advice, you'll be able to find friends and people here to look up to .Welcome.


December 1, 2008 at 01:15 AM ·

Take a deep breath, Charles, and let it out slowly.

You don't need to defend "your" generation from anyone. They won't appreciate it anyway.

The fact that most of them aren't getting into Harvard is sad, of course, but take comfort in the fact that the College Board folks dumbed-down the tests a decade ago so that your SATs would look better. Then look around and see how many kids you know have studied Latin or Greek, or in fact anything that might serve to round them as individuals rather than to prepare them for a job.

To study music or any of the arts is considered frivolous, and the decline of civility in manners is evident on the street along with what I see as the general decline of Civilisation. Ten years ago, when I would encounter someone talking to himself while wandering down the street, odds were long that it was just a psychotic. Now I find groups of youths all talking into the air while in the company of others of their ilk, also talking to people who are not there. Is this rude? Not by the "standards" of "your" generation. Sadly, what they have to say is incredibly banal. Can you say "waste of bandwidth"?


December 1, 2008 at 01:49 AM ·

Well, folks,

Bob: I like the way you think about never allowing my "del Gesu" to meet my Scotch... Will look into raising rates next September. What's your cut?  :)

Jodi: I, too, have a contract with guidelines, expectations, etc. I guess I have a hard time thinking of music lessons as glorified baby-sitting, or just another of the countless activities to dabble into and drop out of at the sight of the hills to climb...

Charles: thanks for your reply from "the other side of the trenches"... I regret if I generalized, but tendencies become generalizations because of one simple fact - they're true in most instances. For example, nobody accuses the Germans of being lazy, the Italians of being boring, or the French lacking in style... Please direct me to the "libraries worth of evidence that today's kids are smarter and harder working" than the kids of yesteryear - I'm ready to be convinced and correct my perceptions. Last I heard, American kids are 16th in the world in Science, and 19th in Math - but they're very well entertained, that's for sure!

Craig: thank for your welcome - I DO feel better and grateful for the help on V.com.

Best, everyone,

December 1, 2008 at 01:54 AM ·

Hi, I am 20 but is just going out of the "teen" adventure and I would say that because everything is harder today (technology, higher education for a same job, high standards everywhere because the population is going bigger and so is the competitivity etc) Many kids are forced to do 1000 things at the same time and work in addition of this, so you are just one thing among many others for them (I don't say you are a thing but you know what I mean!) Thus kids have two choices, we work so hard that we are always near burnout or we become silly aliens and put no effort in anything. I prefer option 1 and I am kind of old fashion because I have actually done the contrary. Since I have started violin late and wanted to become a musician (I am no longer following this dream and am studying sciences for survival reasons only), I practiced  5 hours a day on school days and more on the weekends and music lessons and gigs or exams were my big event of the week. I even vonluntary did part time school at college to be able to practice more.  I wish so dearly I could still do the same, but I have made my choices.  Not everyone though is in love with music at that point and for many teens, the violin is just a little not to important hobby.  And this is the definition of a hobby: something not to important to have good time. When I was practicing so much, it was not a hobby, but hard work to reach my goal and all my life (after my studies, I want to live again for this art because I love it but it will take time and I will need to scrifice a lot for it).  Many teens you teach just want to have a hobby with the violin and don't have the fire of passion like you for the instrument. So, their is a problem there.  It annoys me when a passionnate maths teacher has a hard time to understand that we don't like maths as much as him or her and that we only do it to have a better life even if we don't say it like this(even if I respect them so much for their involvment and recognize that mathematics is useful to mankind). Just a little example...  

Violin is sadly out of style today, but if you could change school and teach only in a conservatory or some type of establishment like this, I assure you that the lazy ones there are like those who work hard in public school! Maybe you would find a sense to your work!  Good luck and I wish you to have frinds and students as passionnate as you but remind you that it is rare. In the world, no (there are plenty) but in a city yes! You know the value of violin even if there isn't much people around you who think the same (these teens). 

Good luck!


December 1, 2008 at 01:52 AM ·

I would like to clarify my post above and state that I personally don't believe that lessons are just another stop or glorified babysitting. I think that it is the mentality of some of the parents though.

I know of some parents that do drop their kids off and go do their shopping or other things. I think it is wrong to not get involved with your children's interests. I mean, what's an hour of their (parents) time?

I see nothing wrong with the way you are teaching. In fact, I welcome your way. My daughter's violin teacher doesn't hand out the compliments either and when she does recieve one, she really knows that she has done a job well done.


December 1, 2008 at 08:03 AM ·

Don't become discouraged. I admire your patience and courage to continue with some students who would truely be better off doing something else. Sometimes one must make difficult decisions as to who stays on the ship (those who work) and who must go to shore (those who don't work). Currently, I am no longer teaching, as I will not tolerate laziness or a disinterested attitude in any student, and this historically present (when has it not been so?) youthful plague has left me with a ship with no crew! I have a set of high standards set right from the beginning, and expect them to be met within reason, but without excuses. Few have graduated from the Archer Bootcamp of Violin Playing!

But what have I learned from this experiment?:

That it is usually best to inform the student, right from the beginning, of the realities of how you can help them, not only in music, but in other studies as well, and not that they are required to learn, but expected to do so. It eliminates suprises and headaches for both parties. It is all up to the student. The parent should encourage, but never force. If the parent is only using the session as a paid baby-sitting situation, I do not hesitate to dismiss the student and reprimand the parent. This technique gets me mixed reviews, but you will never find a university level teacher worried about what mom and dad thinks. They are only interested in seeing progress from the student. Sadly, many students have the potential for greatness, but lack the proper disipline to achieve it.

Hard work is the key to success, but many simply do not have the natural talent, and cannot pass the initial admittance test that I give before studying with me. I have had less successes than I have had failures, but this is normal, due to the work I demand from my students. I expect nothing less than complete dedication and hard work.  Not all can expect great success, and I am thankful that there were at least a few who were genuine in their intentions. Those who do pass the test, and study with me for at least 4 years,  go on to study with university professors, most before they are even in college. I prepare them for professional music careers, not hobbies. You are correct in saying that time is life, and one must not waste time on the hopelessly untalented and disinterested. I can offer much more in other ways than delivering constant lectures about real life and pointless reprimands to a unprepared student who could care less about anything important in life, let alone music. At the point that the student seems challenged, they will usually quit. It makes me question what they are made of. This saddens me, as I wonder if the pattern will continue throughout their life. I pray not.

December 1, 2008 at 12:13 PM ·

I'm a couple years older than you, and not a teacher, so here is an adult student's perspective.  They were saying the same things about "my generation" too, back in the 70's and 80's.  This kind of overgeneralization is a dead end:  while a little venting can be therapeutic, if you start to really believe it, it'll just make you bitter and unhappy. 

My best years as a violin student so far have been:  ages 7-11 (when I started), age 17 (when I studied in Germany), ages 28-32 (when I picked up the violin again after a PhD in Neuroscience and a broken engagement), and ages 40-42 (most recent incarnation as a violinist; picked up again after another 8-year break to have kids).  Yes, I was learning the violin and taking private lessons between ages 12-16, but I left those ages off the list for a reason.  You're teaching what I would consider the toughest age.  That's admirable and someone's got to do it, but why not mix it up a little more, add some adult beginners and re-beginners? 

I'm also wondering why you're teaching violin.  Is it because you need the money?  Is it because you enjoy passing on your knowledge?  Is it because you (theoretically) learn as much from your students as they do from you?  I think all of those and more are good reasons, but I just didn't get it from your post.  I changed jobs about 3 years ago, to one that took me off the lab bench and put me in front of a computer.  It gave me more flexibility but less pay.  To me, the trade-off was worth it because it allowed me to do more of what I wanted and reminded me why I was in this career (neuroscience--not music, but bear with me).  I was burning out on my old job and one of the reasons was that it was that it had been too long since I examined why I was doing it in the first place.

Finally, I'm wondering whether it would be possible for you to involve some of your students in teaching.  Your work schedule sounds grueling to me!  Can you shift some of that burden to your students?  I'd bet any or all of them who want a future in music are going to have to do some teaching.  Could they serve as practice tutors, or help you develop lesson plans, or help you teach group classes for younger students, to earn a little extra money?  Besides, there's nothing like being on the other side of the music stand to give students a different perspective (and more empathy with their teacher). 

You do sound like a great, dedicated teacher.  It would be a real loss if you burned out.  Take care of yourself and keep talking here if you need to.

December 1, 2008 at 01:38 PM ·


Though there are exceptions, I find that the main problem with this generation (and the youngest ones are even worst than the teenagers) is the lack of one major thing that they do not learn:  RESPECT.  Respect seems to be lacking on all levels - towards learning, others, teachers, rules and regulations, etc.  It's sad to see.  The parents who don't do enough (if any) true discipline are partly to blame, as is the fact that a lot of recourses in this matter have been taken away from teachers (often by parents...).  Part of the problem lies in the imbalance of consequences: too much focus on the positive rewards and not enough negative consequences to the kids not doing what they are supposed to.  There has to be a balance between both.  If not, then there is no point in striving for the positive.  It is precisely here that the lack of desire for doing the right thing starts and grows.  The saddest part from all of this is that the kids that do want to learn and that are working hard are on the losing end, as are the good teachers who are often the ones paying the price in amount of work, energy and health if they don't give up before.


December 1, 2008 at 03:31 PM ·

no good deed goes unpunished:)  or, as a friend puts it,,,the road to hell is paved with good intentions:) 

even though i am not a musician or a music educator, i have from day one when my kid started on violin held the belief, right or wrong, that learning violin is not about fun, or even much about music.  it is a form of  education, through which kids learn many things discussed above, such as respect, self discipline, time management, etc.  because i have delivered the bad news first,  that at times it will be essential but as unpleasant as brushing teeth or eating broccoli or skipping your friend's b-day,  there is a chance that things may turn out better than we anticipate.  there is a chance that kids may grow up appreciating the virtues, SIMPLY BECAUSE THERE IS NO OTHER CHOICE. 

most kids and parents are sold in one form or another that classical music is fun.  i am a very gentle guy, cough,  so i will call that absurdly misleading and ignorant.   it is self entitlement;  it reads: if i think something is fun, you should, too.

setting aside time to go over exercises after exercises given by the violin teacher may not be fun for most kids.   once the kids are misled into this wrong path of "fun",,,it is very very labor intensive to fight the uphill mental battle.  

say hello to you?  i don't even want to be here.

be proactive?  i can't wait  to go home to watch tv.

getting ready?  what?  oh, the violin thing.  since you are so nice and helpful,,i thought you will do that for me as well...

i have many suggestions but will mention one:  making the most of your best ally.

for new students, sit the parents down first and ask them if they are ready to commit.  emphasize the bleak picture of you demanding them to make sacrifice to make things happen.  inform them: if they are happy to settle for being average,,,they will end up below average. most parents do not care enough about violin;  that is fair.  but most parents can change if you seriously ask much more of them, to change their role from spectators to participants, to be the administrators of your program at home, to share the mental burden with you, to learn parenting from you in violin class.  parents must be present when the kids practice unless advised by you.  parents must learn along with the kids--don't need a violin to pay attention.   don't just grill the students,,,quiz the parents.   if the kids do well,  give the parents the credit.  if the kids need improvement,  spank the parents. get the whole family excited to see you,  to show off what they have paid you for.


ps. i think if violin teachers can secretly install a nannycam to spy on how their students practice on their own,,,half of the teachers will drop dead from heart attacks.




December 1, 2008 at 03:47 PM ·

Karen has it right, I think.  This sort of generational finger pointing has been going on since the beginning of time -- or at least since there were two generations (see Geico caveman teacher bemoaning his students' lack of respect, focus, etc.).  That's just the way it is. Kids are not stupider today. They've always been stupid. Or to put it another way, they've always been as smart as they are today.  Still, as a parent of a 13-year-old, it does seem to me that achievement-oriented kids are working harder and longer than I did when I was thirteen.  At her school (it's a music school), it's easy to find tons of kids working incredibly hard at their music and also their academics; there are also those who care about one of these two and some that seemingly care about none. It has been and likely always will be this way. 

It's probably also true to say that teaching adolescents/middle schoolers has been and probably always will be challenging.  I sympathize. You sound like a great teacher.  Maybe, as some have suggested, you can rejuggle the ages ranges you deal with somewhat.  I know a  a teacher who doesn't do at all well (that's an understatement) with adolescents but seems quite happy and adept at teaching the very young/beginners.  The free market system actually saw fit to arrange his schedule in this way  last year.  I'm not sure, but he seems much happier now. 


December 1, 2008 at 04:27 PM ·

Great initial post. You are not imagining. I want to get something off my chest which is the flip side of your post. For years, other parents have suggested or told me that I am too rough on my kids. To strict, too demanding. The logic I get from parents is,  "kids should be kids". I think this is an excuse for low achievement and creates a bunch of lazy, unmotivated children. Spoiled to boot! There I said it! They say things like, "since my son/daughter won't be a professional musician" and then follow with some excuse as to why they don't need to work hard on their musical studiesand it is OK if they don't practice, quit etc. It only follows this lack respect is reflected in bad manners and a disregard for others.

This attitude confounds me. I guess as a kid, when I was a kid, back in the day, I was not allowed to lay around. Instead, I had to participate in family, church, school, and community life. Maybe it is not a generational thing, as we tend to sugar coat the past, but after spending thousands of dollars and hours upon hours, why would you not want to play well? Professional or not?

December 1, 2008 at 05:02 PM ·


You've probably tried this already, but....what kind of music do your teen students listen to...can it be used as a bridge to get them more interested in the violin? Do they like hip-hop? If so, turn them on to Miri Ben-Ari (who does the string work for a number of major rap artists), and Daniel Bernard-Roumain...Do they like hard rock? There are some major bands out there which have violin players (yellowcard, for instance), many of whom have classical training. Since you are teaching kids who aren't likely to be great soloists by the time they are 19 anyway, why not show them that the instrument they are studying is actually "cool" and used widely in the music of popular culture, and point out details of that music that may make it worth it to them to get to the level they should be getting to....you can't create the crisp sound of hip-hop violin without a precise, strong bow hand,  can't appear as part of the back-up string quartet for Kanye West or Taylor Swift on the Tonight show if you can't sightread...

December 1, 2008 at 05:10 PM ·

Kids SHOULD be kids. In addition to everything else, they need time on their own, with their peers, in an unstructured setup, to develop properly.

I do not disagree that they need to be socialised and brought, kicking and screaming, into adult society, but there seem to be all sorts of extreme positions on the subject these days. Some kids' lives are so structured that they have virtually no "free" time. This is not good. The concept of "play dates" is another thing that is a bit confounding to me, We used to go outside and play with the other kids in the neighborhood. I don't see much of that any more.

Spending thousands of dollars on violins and lessons is a fine thing, but not every kid with a fiddle is going to end up as a pro. I think that music is its own reward.  There are less expensive ways to go for "fun" music, and can and should be explored. The violin is a very labor-intensive instrument, with a steep learning curve. I'd submit that many kids now taking violin lessons should be doing something else instead, that would provide them with considerably more enjoyment. And yes, enjoyment is what it's all about. There's enough suffering in the world without our creating more, in the guise of making music.

December 1, 2008 at 08:08 PM ·

i am all for kids need to be kids, but to a limit.  meanwhile,  we suggest to the kids to look up to the giants in the field with their beautiful music who got there more or less being a little violin slave or practicing with a schedule that is definitely not meant for kids need to be kids.  since we have not figured out this dichotomy, we throw it at the kids to see if anything sticks:

ok, johnny,,,you are talented, just work hard and have fun, ok?   we want you to be someone who excels in violin as well as being a kid.  we want  you to enjoy classical music...

but i don't enjoy classical music, not  the way i play it anyway,,,it sounds horrible and it drives me nuts.  if i have a say in this, i don't want to work hard at violin.  at anything for the time being for that matter.  i just want to play, but you won't let me.  you won't let me to have fun the way i want, but the way you want.

oh, you don't mean that my dear.  you are so talented.  in fact, we think you are a prodigy.  your first cry  was a perfect C#!   just look at the length of your pinkie! :)  oh johnny, just play for fun!

but the teacher is angry that  i am not working hard enough.  i cannot have fun if i practice that much.   i cannot have fun if i get yelled at all the time. do you actually hear what i am saying?  you know what?  when i go to the violin lesson, i just stare at him with my glassy eyes and act like a zombie!



December 1, 2008 at 08:02 PM ·

Your post is well written and I identify greatly with how you feel.  That being said, it's time to make some decisions.  One cannot change their life without making changes.

1. A Private Teaching Studio is a business.  Treat it as such.  First things first, write a mission that clearly states what you are trying to achieve.  Make sure your mission is posted in your room.  It is a classroom after all and students respond well to positive affirmations.  As you are writing your mission ask yourself what kind of teacher you want to be.  Do you accept students without discriminating against their level, talent, musical future, or committment?  Will you only accept students that work hard?  Are you teaching for the sake of all and hoping to inspire any and all?  Decide what kind of students you want to take on.

2.  You are an emloyee of your business.  That means that certain days the business is closed.  Chose a day or 2 during the week where you will not accept any students or teaching jobs.  This may be a weekday that is already not too overscheduled.  Stick to this, make it your goal not to deal with students on this particular day.  You need it for your own sanity and continued success of your studio.

3.  Interact with your students on a personal level.  My most memorable teachers were ones that identified with me as a person.  Too many times we as teachers act like an authority when in fact we should be a mentor more than anything.  If your students are not saying a simple hello then they are not engaged with you - this goes beyond manners.  I know it's frustrating but try to engage with your students about a subject outside of music, keep it on a superficial level.  "I'm almost done with that Harry Potter book too, you'll have to have a little book talk next week!"   for ex.  In essence you want them to trust you and respect you.  If you continue to try talking with them and they still can't utter a simple greeting then talk to them specifically about it.  

4.  Guidelines should be clearly stated.  You already have guidelines but revise them and go over them again.  Continue to revise them every year or every few months until students and parents understand what is expected of them.  Make a section of rules for the student, and a section of "what to do" for parents.  Here's the tricky part now:  reinforcing your expectations.  Your rules clearly state (for example) that a student must come to the lesson prepared.  But let's say the student has clearly not practiced.  What should you do?  This is an opportunity to get creative and since you don't want to reteach what you taught last week then turn the lesson into guided practice.  Sit back, drink your coffee, and allow the student to catch up on his practice as if he/she was at home.  What's great about this is that you can see what kind of pitfalls they fall into and correct them on their practice habits.  Even better is if they do this a few times with you and then see results at the end of the session they might feel better about themselves and apply it at home.

5.  Get parents involved.  Parent is involvement is the key to successful education.  Suggest that parents stay for a whole lesson once a month and send progress reports home quarterly.  I knew a violin teacher once who when faced with excuses from a parent replied "I cannot tell you how to schedule your child's time at home, I can only advise you that if you want Johnny to make progress in my studio he will have to put in a little bit of thoughtful practice," and leave it at that. 

6.  Practice Logs.  I assume you already do this but revise this as well.  Require each student to have a notebook.  For younger students I write in what they need to practice.  They then take it home, write in the time and dates they practiced and then get it signed by their parents.  Ditto for the older students except that they write themselves what they worked on, and what problems they faced while practicing.  Rethink how much you want your students to practice.  Let them know that 15 min a day is fine!  As long as it's every day and it's thoughtful practice then it will do them good.  Don't reward them for long practice periods, only for consistent practice.

7.  Divide and conquer is not the name of the game.  The worst thing about private lessons is that the students feel isolated.  Find a way to make your studio a group environment by adding photos of other students on designated boards.  One board should be a board of accomplishments:  it could include pictures of students having recitals, a jury sheet from a competition with good remarks, a conservatory acceptance letter, a concert program with names of your students highlighted, ticket stubs from concerts they attended, anything that would inspire one single private student into knowing that he/she is part of a larger group.  Another board should be devoted to practicing and repertoire.  Give a star to a student when they have completed 10 parent signatures in their practice log.  Sometimes it helps to have an edge of competition.  Don't leave the board up too long, always start fresh every quarter so that kids will be inspired to "fill that board this time." 

8.  Rewards.  Give free lessons or master classes.  Reward everything they do.  They might pay for the lessons, but it is their free time that they give the rest of the week and you must find some way to acknowledge that.  Sometimes kids don't realize that learning the violin has its own benefits unless it is within their social circle.  They might think "so what I'm not doing well in violin, who's gonna care anyway?"  Try these ideas:

  •  Whoever practiced the most by the end of the quarter gets a free lesson.
  • Top 10 practicers get a free master class with you.
  • Whoever attends a local symphony/chamber/concert, presents their ticket stubs/program and writes a review of the concert wins a "chamber music day" with you (you can coordinate this with local cello teachers and viola teachers maybe), or a duet day with you, etc.
  • Student of the month - post a picture and a short autobiography on a separate board for all to see.  Who knows how many kids will be aspiring to be SOM!
  • End of the year or holiday chamber music party - invite only the students that have practiced, and allow them to bring a musician friend (cellist, etc.)  Make it pot luck.

Your original post shows that you are a caring, enthusiastic, and giving teacher.  Sorry for such a long post but it helps me to write these ideas down and hopefully some might be helpful to you too. 


December 1, 2008 at 09:43 PM ·

Well, well, well...

Thank you so much, everyone, for the understanding and really good advice. I'm in the middle of teaching :), but I will go in depth a little later. Great food for thought, from all replies...

Thank you again for being so supportive and resourceful,

December 1, 2008 at 10:36 PM ·

"One cannot change their life without making changes" So True! Thanks Marina.


December 1, 2008 at 10:57 PM ·

I agree that many taking violin would have a lot more fun playing some other instrument. If a quick bit of fun and being kidlike is your ultimate goal then that is probably true in all cases. A child's temperment is a huge factor in how much "fun" they have learning violin. If they think big, they like violin and other difficult challenges. It makes them feel happy to conquer what is difficult. Like little heros. I don't think that deprives a child of their fun. They learn that if it is worth having, it might be worth working for. Learning difficult skills is often a quite interesting process and that can be "fun" for a child if the temperment and perseverence there from young age. Much like crossword puzzles a child get's hooked to beat the boss and move to a new level. Are the NYT crossword puzzles "fun". Only when you solve one. Being really good at something can be extremely fun. Being acknowledged by family or other kids is even more fun. But it is not quick row to hoe.

December 2, 2008 at 12:08 AM ·

In response to these points, Andrei:

- Remember junior high is a socially awkward time.  Students are often self-conscious, but not actually self-aware.  They may be shy, or not have the language to express themselves with as much sophistication as their thoughts, opinions, and emotions merit.

- Speaking of self-awareness, I was a bright child but was nevertheless well into college before I began on my own to practice with focus and efficiency.  It's not that my teacher didn't try, either.  I worked hard, but haphazardly, and rode partly on what you might call talent. Your junior-high-age students may or may not be developmentally prepared for the kind of independence it takes to be their own teacher at home.

- Hard as it is, try also to remember that even in the finest conservatories and ensembles in the world, not everyone is there because it is their heart's one true desire. 


December 2, 2008 at 02:32 AM ·

Can I just tell something that I have really wanted to tell for a long time but didn't dare. I think it is the time now and I hope all the wonderful teachers on this page will pay attention. Some of you (and parents that are maybe not even violinists themselves) act like if they would like to teach exclusively to some little Vengerovs, Changs, Hahns, Perlmans, Oistrakhs, Midoris etc!  I understand that it must be the dream of every teacher to have such students and that for these reasons, you set your standards and expectation really high but wake up, such phenemenon are rare. Even if you try to create them, there will not be more of these prodigies on earth!  Even in the countries where they force the young children to play 10 hours a day, they produce little perfect technicians but very few real musicians.  I am straight forward but if it is your dream, you are better to aim for Julliard or Yale!!!  Many teachers that would have the potential to teach to such geniuses will end up forced to teach to less talented people to earn a living and yes, they will be frustrated! It is sad and I know that some are very disrespectful and lazy (but NOT ALL since there is still very humble kids), but as I was saying, many people just want to have fun with violin as a simple hobby and if they accept the fact that they will never play very well if not sound horrible for ever and are happy with it, why would it be wrong to teach to them even if the teacher would be able to teach to better students?  It is maybe torturing the teacher's ears but if the student is enjoying it... 

My mom, tried the cello for two months this summer and quitted because she missed time but you should have seen how happy she was to realize a dream, put her hands on the instrument and play HORRIBLY twincle totally out of the rythme.  I called her gently little "Slava" or "Yo Yo" to encourage her!  I patiently helped her (even if I am not a cellist) and could really see that for her, it wasn't at all about performance but about having fun in doing childish things and realizing a dream!

You are wrong if you think that you will be able to teachs to many prodigies! How much teachers are they compare to the tiny number of prodigies.  You are lucky if it does happen!  Do chamber music with other professionnals if you want to have the drive of being with other "as passionnate as you".

A last thing, passion sometimes has no link with the fact of being a prodigy.  If I take my case again, everyone who knows me (violin teacher, maker, family, other musicians) describe my incredible passion for the instrument and total investment of time and sacrifices when I have the time to do it. It doesn't mean I am super talented ( certainly not a prodigy). My teacher which would certainly have the talent to teach a prodigy could have "show me the door many times" if I follow the definition of some high standards that some teachers have on this page.  And, presently, she would be alone..... and studentless and many other teachers too!  But, one thing that she knows is that I have always done my best with the time I have. On holidays, I practice 7-10 hour a day including night practices if needed before something important (if this isn't ennough sacrifices, I don't know from what planet you come from!).  She knows that when I am busy with school and didn't have time to practice much (I'm not talking about primary school or kindergarden!). That it is true and that it is not an exuse or bad will or lazyness. She really knows my burning passion for the instrument even if I am not a futur Sarah Chang! It is really great that a teacher of this calibre didn't refuse to take me just because I was not a prodigy. 

If all the teachers waited after prodigies, they would be very unhappy and who would take the adult beginner students who just want to have fun in their 40s, the poor children in public schools who don't come from a place where they can fully expand, the very serious amateurs who want to play the best they can even if they will never see Carnagie Hall and don't always have 10 hours per day to invest in practicing? You are not a lesser teacher because you teach to some people and your quality as a musician is not diminished!

So, it is okay for a teacher or parent to want nothing else but excellence but remember that you have good chances to be alone, unhappy, to reject your own children or students whom in 99.9 % will not be little Manuhins!  Kids are not stupid because they are not geniuses and don't forget to look at youself and your acting as a kid before judging the young generation or imposing excellence to your children! It is bad, in my opinion, to impose something to others that you haven't even been able to do yourself. If you want little Mozarts as students or kids, be sure to be yourself a Mozart that the kids can admire!  Pretty impossible for the majority!

For general information, prodigies were not always angels if you read some bios. A lot of them had really strong personnalities. Without naming names, I have heard of some who were lazy, didn't practice, read BD'S instead of practicing, went playing in the road with frinds while parents were at work, made cry their parents, cut the bowhair off their bow to have a break, escape and go in bordellos, being called irresponsible as they get older, drinking abusively and taking drugs.................................................. etc We don't want to hear about it but prodigies are humans too! 

It was time to get all this out and I know some will disagree! I don't want to start a fight with anyone and am not pointing anyone in particular.


December 2, 2008 at 03:12 AM ·

Just wondering, teaching 7 days and many odd hours...is it time to cut back some or create some boundaries for your personal life?  Your schedule sounds grueling.  What about stating in your initial interview with a student those expectations 1-3 you posted here and having a discussion about them?  As far as the basic manners, if we don't teach them they won't be learned.  Unfortunately it seems in the states we can no longer expect parents to instill some of those basic courtesies in their kids!  But hopefully by doing our work we can educate some people to live in a more civilized way.  It sounds like you are working much too hard -- make or at least make it an expectation that the student is going to bear the responsibility for his or her learning.  If you are really maxed out on numbers of students you could always start a wait list, or cut back and keep the ones who want to learn who are a good match for your teaching.   

December 2, 2008 at 03:19 AM ·

And I was going to say how about saving up for a vacation?  Two months off of no teaching, to reflect on what you are doing and why you are doing it.  Perhaps observe some other teaching situations, maybe overseas or at least in another environment.  I know you might think I'm crazy, 2 months not teaching your students, what will happen to their playing, and so on, but I think it could surprise you in a good way.  OK, even 2 weeks would be a start.  Let life happen. 

December 2, 2008 at 03:52 AM ·


Merci for the reply - I'm glad you took this opportunity to present your frustration...

Let me clarify: I do NOT desire to teach prodigies or geniuses. Really. I do not need my reputation boosted up indirectly. Quite the opposite - I get the biggest kick from "average" students that excel as a result of their approach, despite their "average" initial ability. As with the "10,000 hours to excellence", it's perseverance that breeds understanding and progress.

However, I DO desire an understanding (followed by actions) that:

1. Nothing worth being, doing, or having comes easily. Even to stay at the same level requires some commitment; to get better, even more is needed.

2. Smart and hard work wins over "talent" any day, in any field. I find this very empowering and life-affirming. As they say, "it takes twenty years of hard work to become an overnight success".

3. Consistency (of good or bad practice) brings permenance. We play the way we practice, so we must practice they way we want to play.

4. Teaching and learning should happen in an environment where mutual respect, respect for education, for music, for the instrument and its tradition, don't receive the "whatever" response (actual or impied). Also, respect for each other's time (life), effort, and experience.

5. Music, art in general, knowledge should not be dumbed down to the lowest cultural denominator (American Idiot, Jerry Springer, etc.), but used to elevate and cultivate the spirit, train the body and mind, to expose the possibilities for self-actualization and self-improvement.

6. The utmost courage is to be able to give up what we are today for what we could become tomorrow. Rewards FOLLOW effort, sacrifice, ambition, and focus. Winners don't make excuses, but elect to make an effort... and another... and another

7. A detailed understanding of who we are and how we got to be this way is instrumental to who we're going to be from now on. 

8. A clear and simple method of solving challenges and aquiring any skill (to understand and overcome, one must divide, simplify, and repeat).

Etc., etc.


December 2, 2008 at 03:47 PM ·

Andrei,  I admire and respect your work ethic, but we all need to have time to ourselves or you will burn out.  You really need at least one day off a week so you can have a life outside of teaching and some time to relax.

I also want to comment on the attitude of students.  As a parent and a string student myself, I know how important practice is, especially regular practice.  Unfortunately, I see many kids taking music lessons who's parents are not involved in any way making sure the student practices.  This leaves the teacher in a very hard spot. 

We've had these discussion's before about how to motivate students, etc.  It's difficult because different tactics/reward systems will work with various students.  There's no 'one size fits all' when it comes to getting kids to practice their instruments when there is no parental involvement at home.  That's not to say that a kid who doesn't practice also doesn't want to play.  He may very well enjoy playing and being part of the orchestra/band at school...but watching TV is more fun then practicing after school.


December 2, 2008 at 04:30 PM ·

Andrei, I have actually dropped students due to this.  Like you, I am delighted teaching any student who wants to be here and will try but there is the occasional student who comes to the studio like he/she is doing me a favor to be there.  When this becomes the pattern of months, and it's obvious we aren't going anywhere, I have had the conversation (addressing the kid, but in front of the parents)  that goes something like "It seems to me that you don't really wish to be here.  I am doing my part of the bargain, but you are not doing your part. (Fill in examples__________).   Please take some time to decide for yourself whether you really wish to continue studying with me or not.  If you do, I'll expect to see more engagement on your part, then we can move on and have fun.  If you do not, we can part on friendly terms, and I'll put someone else in this slot.  Please let me know before our next lesson". 

This has been incredibly effective, especially for the type of kids who seem to project their frustration (power struggle with the parents perhaps) onto the teacher.  It puts it squarely in their laps, to change or drop, lets them know that they are not doing me any great favors by simply showing up, and puts the focus back on learning violin.  If they understand that you don't really need them, but they perhaps need you, it tends to focus them.  In doing this I have lost a couple of kids, but they were kids who didn't want to be there anyway.....   And a couple of other kids have learned to be a bit more proactive. Probably most importantly, the parents have been clued in that there is a situation that needs to be addressed, but it has been done in a respectful manner.

Having said all that, I second the above comments that you need time off.  A couple of years ago, I decided that I MUST have at least one day off.....  since I work Sundays and some Saturdays.  So now, Fridays are empty...and stay that way.  No teaching.  I highly recommend it, to help you remember your love of teaching.

December 2, 2008 at 04:34 PM ·

From all that I read, it would seem that kids who practice seriously daily, with parental support and coaching, and progress well, are rare? True?

If so, what would you do if/when you identify one?

December 2, 2008 at 06:25 PM ·


Has a parent it is also sometime difficult to motivate the student, especially during teenager years, but usually it comes suddently.  Good teachers are usually the inspiration for students (with help and support of parents, naturally).  But it is obviuosly the parent's responsability for the manners the students has.

I have a question, what about your adult students? (since I am one,and always trying to improve as much as can, in every aspect of my life) what are they lacking to your expectations?

Many thanks, and good luck.

P.S. This world is a difficult one for every one.

December 2, 2008 at 07:58 PM ·

The comments are very interesting and Andrei, your musical ideas are great, I steel want to say that I was not critisizing anyone in particular!

Take some vacation if you can! It is helpful to everyone after all.


December 5, 2008 at 06:17 PM ·


How old are your "problem students"?  Are they all middle school and early high school?  Do you have the same problems with your younger students?  The reason I ask is that there is a lot you can do to help parents learn to assist their teens rather than imposing, excessively monitoring, criticizing or any of the other unhelpful things parents find themselves doing.  Teens who are in the "driver's seat" are much more engaged and self-motivated than those whose parents are doing it for them. 


The trick is to find ways to help them be in the "driver's seat".  For me as a parent, this meant taking copious notes in the lessons and then going over the notes with my sons so they could add measure numbers, make corrections etc...Then together we would make the practice plan for the week from the notes.  This way I knew they understood the lesson and had a plan for what they were to do independently.  I could trust their independent work of practicing without interfering.  As they grew older, my monitoring role diminished but my secretarial role continued.  We set aside a practice room with a mirror and shelves for all the music and etude books and a violin hanger on the wall.  I never enter this practice room while my son is practicing unless invited.  Together we look up information on music camps, competitions, youtube, order CD's etc...The role of the parent has to be the helper at this stage, not the supervisor.  If the child is in charge, their attitude is entirely different from what you describe.  They make sure their parent gets them to lessons in time.  They come with questions and technical issues they want addressed.  They have an agenda where their violin is concerned.  This is true for all youth not only the "prodigies" and it is true of all arenas not just violin.  For a teacher and a parent it is a matter of honoring their increasing maturity and treating them as young adults.  When in the driver's seat, they may choose to let the violin be secondary to soccer or academics or something else; they certainly have a right to do this.  As long as you understand their aims, then they can work ernestly within the parameters they have set for themselves.

December 5, 2008 at 07:59 PM ·

I was talking about this topic with my daughter the other day. Here is what we came up with:

Violin lessons, like school lessons, swim team and tennis team is a disipline. Like any other disipline, I expect my children to repect their teachers and coaches by showing up on time, working hard (during lessons and team practice) with no back-talk, and do what they are expected to do with their lessons during the week.

In return, I expect their teachers and coaches to: Have open communication by phone or email.... if you don't use your email, don't give out the address. Let me know of any problems with attitude, practice habits etc. I want to know the good and the bad. If it is the latter I want to know what is going on as soon as possible so I can communicate to my children. And finally, to give praise when it is deserved.

I am sure that you are doing everything and more from the above posts. I hope everything is going well, and please take the advice of others here and take a day off of teaching for yourself.

December 13, 2008 at 02:45 PM ·


While I don't want to pry, your name suggests you may not be originally from the US or possibly your family has a short or different type of history here. Regardless, as a first generation American, I find many attitudes in this country contrary to the values I was raised with, so that could be part of your issue and a bit confusing. For example, as I was raised with a giant family, children here seem very indulged by their parents and I use to be very critical of this. I had to change my attitude as a teacher (not violin). You have to allow for the cultural differences with students and sometimes children here project a "lax" attitutde although they are often not really like that. For example, they act like they don't care and then you find out they really do care very much. Good luck.

December 13, 2008 at 03:32 PM ·

Sometimes, it is not "cool" to appear to care too much, or to look too intelligent, or too industrious. It happens around grown ups as well as kids.

December 14, 2008 at 11:47 PM ·

Tiem Don't you think if you change your approach/attitude to please others, it assumes they can be pleased? In my experience they are never pleased no matter what you do. It seems that those who judge others, cool, not cool...always find something wrong. If you did everything they desired they would be critical that you were trying to hard to please them...go figure. Oh yes, and they really can't help you very much at the end of the day and wouldn't if they could. The teacher can help you and is on your side and so that counts for quite a bit.

December 15, 2008 at 03:28 AM ·

Andrei, it seems to me that you are a good teacher but that you lack a bit in perception management in respect of your services.

When people book tickets with an airline, say during a holiday season, they are aware that the number of available seats is limited and that they are competing with others for the remaining seats. As a result, they will try to comply with the airline's expectation to book sooner rather than later or pay a higher fare, or ultimately not be able to get a seat on the desired date.

A private teacher is in a similar situation in that the number of available spots for students is limited. Yet, students and their parents are only aware of this fact when they first sign up for lessons, afterwards, they tend to forget about it, thinking that once they're in, they're in. Your job should be to make them aware that they will continue to compete with others for your time.

I am not a violin teacher, but  when I was a student, I earned my way through giving private lessons in math and physics to adolescents who had fallen behind at school. I was a very demanding teacher and I rigorously dropped students who did not do the homework I assigned to them. Every week I gave a status report to the parents and I made it clear that their kid was competing for my time with other kids, that it would be unfair to those kids who needed my help and were willing to make the required effort if I kept students who were not willing.

This approach was successful in two ways: When I told parents that their son or daughter wasn't putting in the required work and that I was considering to terminate the lessons, it often changed the attitude of the kid and things started to get better afterwards. But also, as a nice side effect, I established a reputation that in order to get lessons from me, one would have to work extremely hard. Because of that, I almost never got any slackers asking for my help in the first place.

December 15, 2008 at 04:47 AM ·

The comment posted by Marina will serve to be a blueprint for the teacher/student relationship.She has hit the nail on the head and her comments should serve as a paradigm for other teachers to adhere to in the teaching profession....

Truly,an exemplary comment from a teacher to other teachers on this site regarding the musical education of adolescents.

Brava  !!!!

Joe Fischer      M.Ed


December 15, 2008 at 06:21 AM ·


are academic qaulifications going to become de rigeur from now?

Buri M.Ed. (x2 actually)

December 17, 2008 at 05:46 AM ·

At times,the prune talkages sicken me

and I long for a fresh voice in these matters.........

December 17, 2008 at 06:04 AM ·

just curious because it is actully generally considered rather rude to use academic credentials in a context when they are not required.  Its akin to the claim that what you write is basically more valid than anyone else.  

Your non sequiter follow up tends to confirm that attitude.  If you don`t like what is written try making constructive suggestions (as would a person with a quality Med- no idea if yours is)  or perhaps use another site where you would be happier. 

December 17, 2008 at 04:36 PM ·

Hey, Andrei,

I agree with the many people who say you sound like you are burned out - or are burning out.  In my experience (not just of music or of teaching) it is a nearly infallible sign that YOU need to do something different when you start feeling that you are struggling to do all the work in any relationship - or that others are unappreciative or that you are put upon in any way.  It doesn't mean you are not correct.  It just means you have to change first, so the relationship can change.

A day off a week - absolutely.  That is for you.  I too am getting old, and the thing that bothers me about younger people is that they seem to me to never have a spare second in which they might think.  Phone, texting, TV, computer, phone, texting, meeting, travel, texting...  If I did that I would never have a new idea.  I need a little open space when no one else is talking to me in which to reflect.  My younger friends tell me I'm wrong and they are thinking just fine.  It may be true.  But I continue to suggest unscheduled and unschedulable time to anyone over thirty.

The thing that struck me about your original posting (which is venting, but where else would you do that?) is your long list of everything you do to improve the educational opportunities for your students.  My question is, what do they do - and what do you let them do?  What do you let them bring to the pedagogical environment?  What choices do they have about what they are working on?  What do you learn from each of them when you meet about what is important to them?  What music compels them?  What if they identify the difficult spots in a practice piece and tell you where they are?   What if you ask them what they want to learn from a given lesson?  What if you ask them to tell you how they are going to practice to achieve that goal? What if they write the goal and the plan down themselves in their practice log?  What if their log includes space to record something about music which is not about an etude they find difficult and another week's work on a recital piece?   What happens if you ask them when they come in about their musical experiences that week - practice, orchestra rehearsal, concerts, radio/CDs/Youtube?  What happens if you actually listen to their answers as if you wanted to know, not as if you were fulfilling an obligation on your way to whatever is important to you about that week's lesson? 

It sounds to me like you are trying to take up the slack in each of these relationships, and it is burning you out and probably smothering the students. You must either let the slackers take up their own slack, or you must resign yourself to more slack.  You cannot do it yourself.  And if you give the students some responsibility and some agency, my guess is you will find they use it.


December 17, 2008 at 10:18 PM ·

Marianne, you are so right but sometimes, I have noticed that some students are just kind of in a "veggetable" mind state. In many classes I had at school, not only music, I have often been almost the only one that participated and asked questions to the teacher etc.Even if I hated the course.  Many kids are maybe very shy or just too "veggetable" to take some initiatives.  I like to participate in my violin lesson and be proactive in the best way I can and must admit I am lucky to have a similar character to my teacher because otherwise, it could make fights!  The good teacher/student match is important! I know that in a class this is surely hard for the teacher but the best school teachers I had were those who were able to be interested to what the students really are and was able to reach each student in a way that was effective for this particular student.  They also adapted themselves to the needs of the students. If the students were not serious, then, he or she didn't expect too much. Just the minimum to past the course.  Of course it is great to try to boost their level but if they do not want more than the minimum to pass the course, let them be that way. Changing people doesn't work well. If the students feel the teacher wants to change them, they will do everything to resist even more so it is good to be strategic. These traits are those I saw from teachers that were liked by the students.  It is just in the intention to inform and I don't want to judge anyone. But the principles Marianne said are true. + for those who said that being too much like a "kind parent" or friend with the students is out, I reply that the most liked teachers were also those who brought candies and homemaid stuff to the students (it is never baby) and it shows that the teacher cares about the students. Try to pass a good video once in a while (important: begin with cool things that are in style now to then switch to great master's things!) Try to act young yourself and remain professional at the same time ( don't invite them to a pijamma party at your home! ) Many kids these days lack attention and good care so if you give this to them, it is an additionnal weapon for you to teach your things! In our very multicultural society, the persons do not always have the same mentallity and principles. For some, the old fashioned idea of the master and the submissive students is the rule. But this is out these days with young people and maybe you can achieve the same result if you know how to reach them in their world.


December 18, 2008 at 02:36 PM ·

I have read a number of posts, though not all, so if I repeat somebody's thoughts, my apologies! In no particular order: 1) Decide if you are happy with how you choose to be in terms of personality and work habits, and if you are OK with yourself, stop stewing about that. 2) Consider finding one day, maybe Sunday since you seem to have less scheduled then, and do not do music/teaching that day. Take up walking, outdoor recreation, going to a movie, etc., for a change of pace & perspective. 3) Think about how much you want to be involved in teaching "life skills" such as how to give polite greetings. Public school teachers have taken on lots that sound like the job of parents, not because they want to, but because they can't teach anyone in the class if someone is rude, self-serving, overly aggressive, working against the teachers' efforts for civil order. But as a private teacher/business, you don't have to do this unless you think it is a necessary and valid part of your job. You can send the kid away that day, or let him/her go entirely. 4) Think through all your students. Are a few particular ones the root cause of your overall worries, deflation? If so, by all means change your approach to those few, and make a plan with them that they do A,B&C in a given time frame, or they will be let go. 5) The current fad that places extreme value and consequence on tests of basic skills is leading in schools to more & more vrey-repetitive spoon-feeding. What used to be called teaching to the test with derogatory connotations. IMO that is leading to students who expect to be told, told, told what to do & how to do it. Meaning your question-asking style of teaching isn't so much in kids' experience or comfort zone. Not a reason not to use it, good reasons TO use it, but this may be something you DO need to teach. 6)I suppose every generation has thought that the next one (or two) lack something they were. After 35 years in public school, I have to say that there really does seem currently to be a very high level of student apathy, combined with an  unusually high level of self-satisfaction. I find this scary....  Sue

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