Re: Manners (expectation of good ones)

April 30, 2010 at 04:09 PM ·

My question is this:  how do you handle, especially given the current economic conditions, parents and students who demonstrate rudeness and lack of integrity? 

Most of my students are kindly and friendly and I just love them;  they treat me with respect and we work together very well for the education of their kids (or themselves).  But what do you do -- by that I mean, where do you set limits -- with respect to behaviors which are not kindly and respectful?

Of course, the real issue is that the person who is not respectful in lessons is that way, in general, and one wonders:  do you have an obligation to show them a better way of interacting, or in a fit of exasperation after trying to show them, just ask them if they would find another teacher?

Galamian talked about this, that you have to be patient with students since they develop at different rates.  But the issue of plain, ordinary manners, is a different issue, I think.  Sometimes potentially good players have very bad manners.

This is a different issue than students' behavior, but is an issue of common good manners.  For instance, if I give a gift, I do expect at least an email thank-you note.  I recently mailed 10 of my books, for free, to internet "friends," people whom I had "met" online and wanted to develop friendships with.  To my utter amazement and disappointment, only one of these "friends" acknowledged the receipt of my book, and in each case (less that one), I had to email them to ask them if they had received the book?  And two of them said they would review the book on Amazon, and neither one did.

Am I being too picky?  I'm at the point where I just really don't want to even associate with people who behave like that.  Life is too short.


Replies (20)

April 30, 2010 at 05:11 PM ·

I tend to have an opposite problem - whenever I gave my teacher a small gift or did a minuscule favor, she sent me a Thank You card. I always struggled with whether I should acknowledge her "Thank you." (When does it end if I did then?)   So, I assure you that good manners are not dead yet, at least in some people. :)

I agree that life is too short to deal with unsavory characters - dump them! :)

April 30, 2010 at 05:35 PM ·

>> dump them!

I did. 

I was nice about it;  I just essentially didn't say anything at all.  But I'm not responding to further requests for help with teaching issues, repertoire and pdf copies of missing parts, chatty emails about their personal lives, and requests to purchase items at cost.  If somebody sends you a $25.00 gift (which they had also indicated that they wanted), the least they could do is email me and say, I got it, thank you.  I may be hopelessly old-fashioned, but that's my perspective.

With students, that's a different issue.  My job is to teach them, and it pays to "have a good forgetery."  A friend wrote me this morning:  teaching violin is easy -- the psychological part is the hard part.  I do think teachers serve their students' needs by having standards of behavior;  expressing them in a non-hurtful, non-threatening manner is the key, I think.  I try to see things from their perspective, but sometimes it feels like their hearts are just hardened, due, no doubt, to their own background and training, for which they cannot be blamed.  Difficult to determine what to do, sometimes.

Regarding your teacher:  I used to keep a box of small thank you notes, and do hand written thank-you's to my students, but I switched to doing emails.  I felt guilty doing it, but I think it's more reasonable.  When you get a thank-you note or a thank-you email, you don't have to respond back. 

April 30, 2010 at 08:05 PM ·


I think part of the issue is regional culture. You live in an area of the country where manners are valued. I live in Oregon, where you can find pockets of manners in the rural areas, but in the urban areas, it is often the exception. Being a country kid at heart (I know, I'm no longer a kid), I tend to think that courtesy is the grease that keeps society from overheating when friction would otherwise become a problem.

April 30, 2010 at 10:24 PM ·

Roland, I thought about it and I don't think good manners are regional.  I'm not FROM here, anyway;  if I work in several states, how does that affect my writing of thank-you notes?  I don't think it does.  I think it's a matter of seeing another person as worthy of courtesy. 

I think it has much more to do with emotional intelligence and professionalism. 

May 1, 2010 at 12:22 AM ·

Once I observed the late Ivan Borgiev say the following to a student in a masterclass.  "You do not suffer from a lack of talent, you suffer from a lack of manners.  I advise you to adjust the latter lest it cripples the former".  That was his only comment.  At the time I was just grateful he wasn't saying that to me and I think it is likely one of the wisest things I've ever heard a teacher say.

Connie, I completely relate to how you feel and I am touched by your integrity.  Sometimes I worry that in this day and age common decency is becoming less and less common.  I'm in my mid 20s and I'm trying to break the pattern by observing behavior practices that I personally feel are just good sense and yet often people older than me say things like "oh you didn't need to write a note" or "lighten up, you're so old fashioned!".  

Violin playing is timeless and I don't feel that it is old fashioned in and of itself but as violin players we have to acknowledge that our art form is historical.  Fortunately it is a live history that is continuing and it is up to us to preserve the ways of playing that have been passed down to us and also the ways of behaving.  I heartily salute your efforts and send you my best regards.



May 1, 2010 at 02:23 PM ·


@ Connie- Are these people that you mailed your book to; students (what level of aptitude) teachers, pro-performers, all of the above, etc.?

You wrote a book.  Maybe they are just jealous?

May 1, 2010 at 03:02 PM ·

Connie, regarding your students - I'd think it depends on their ages. If they are adults, just dump them - it's not your job to teach them things they should have learned growing up (except playing the violin), and they probably cannot be taught anyway. If they are kids or teenagers, then I would have a talk with them (and maybe their parents too) about respect, integrity and courtesy, because there is still hope that they might "get it." If the rude ones are the parents, then I'd see how eagerly their kids want to learn, and evaluate whether it's worth putting up with that kind of behaviors for the kids' sake.

May 1, 2010 at 04:26 PM ·

I've always been very polite to my violin teacher because (being a school teacher myself) I know what a difficult job it is. The poor lady probably wants to strangle me after she's tried to explain the same thing in 50 different ways and it's still not working but she never stops smiling and being encouraging. I'd be absolutely mortified if I was rude to her.  I suppose though I want to be there and I've got a vested interested in the teacher-student relationship going well. I wonder if the rude ones just simply don't want to be there and are acting up out of a lack of interest? Not that it makes the rudeness excuseable. 



May 1, 2010 at 05:22 PM ·

Hi, it's not just an age question, it's how you have been raised!


May 1, 2010 at 05:32 PM ·

"behaviors which are not kindly and respectful?

specifics? could be all in one's perception eh?

May 1, 2010 at 07:01 PM ·

I can only speak for my own students and parents and what I say may not fit for your particular situation but I'll give a few examples of difficult or uncomfortable situations with students and their behavior or attitude and how I dealt with it.

  One student, age12,  came from a previous teacher and expected me to continue to teach in the same style to which she had been accustomed. The parents understood why I would not do so but the student resisted making changes at first and following a different routine. Because she was old enough, I was able, through persistence and logic get her to come around  to understanding that it was possible to learn and be taught in a different way and that that was not a bad thing but a positive thing to have different approaches and ways of learning. So in this case, patient but determined consistency on my part helped bring the student around.

 In another situation, the student, age 8, was a very quick learner and, perhaps , as a result, very impatient, not wanting to stop playing when I would try to explain something or demonstrate on the violin, and often resistant to doing bowings and fingerings marked in the part because the student had found a better or more convenient or easier way.  In this case, it was necessary to nip in  the bud any tendency to talk or "play out of turn", even though it took a couple months to get this  behavior changed. I simply explained that  I would wait in silence until the student would get his need to interrupt under control. This idea was agreed to by the parent and me, so when the student got tired of waiting, his behavior and attitude changed.The child was perhaps used to getting his way about everything and realized that the teacher/student relationship requires a different dynamic and that the teacher needs to be in charge of the direction of the lesson and the interplay back and forth and the student simply can't do what they want, the way they want, whenever they feel like it.

 In yet a third case, there were two students of high school age, visiting from another country  without their parents around, sharing a  block of time ( but still having individual lessons, one after the other), and were recommended to me by  a guardian who could not oversee their practicing or be present at the lessons. The students had the idea that this was a casual situation and were finishing up chatting and texting on the cell phone when it was time for their lesson to begin. I let them know it was time to begin but they continue chatting. I repeated my request for the lesson to begin, explaining that we had work to do and because of the limited time we really needed to get going. It took a third time to finally get going and, perhaps this was too strong, but it worked- I raised my voice and said, " This is completely unacceptable. This is not how I expect you to behave at a lesson. This is not what you are here for. We begin now or I will call your guardian and ask her to come back and take you home."  Once the  first of the two students  had tuned and was ready, I explained that this must never happen again and we proceeded with the lesson. Though these two students were with me  just a short time before they returned back to their country, one ended up apologizing at their last lesson and telling me that he understood why I had said what I said and he realized the lesson was a time for learning and that he shouldn't have wasted time.The other student, who was the one who had initiated the texting and chatting, did not return for her final lesson and I do not know if she was  insulted or offended by my statements or if she  decided she really didn't want to take lessons after all or some other reason for not continuing.

   Despite what one may think should be common decency, good manners,  even common good sense,  I think it's necessary to spell out your expectations for the students and their parents or guardians.  When I first started teaching, each time something unexpected and unappreciated happened, I added it to a list of studio rules that I asked the parents and students to be mindful of. Eventually, I codified it into a  written document and asked all prospective  parents and students  to look these rules  over and agree to accept and abide by  them before I  would agree to teach them.  Though one may still encounter problems, you are on firmer ground when you can point out to the student or parent when they are behaving inappropriately that this is something they had agreed to and understood so you expect better behavior and treatment.

   My students and I always bow to each other at the end of a lesson  as a sign of respect to each other and to be grateful for the time we have shared and to acknowledge that we have a responsibility to each other which is deserving of the greatest care and consideration.

May 1, 2010 at 08:14 PM ·

Ronald, very interesting!

Hi, I know that some teachers who do not want to watch the clock ask for this but I'm quite against a current behaviour I observe regularly:  when parent and their kids knock vigourously at the door of the classroom when it's their turn to have their lesson... 

Sometimes, the teacher is in the middle of an important explanation or writing down the weekly recommandations etc and it can bother the teacher as well as the student who is ending his lesson.  I find it a little "impolite" to think that "if I don't knock to say I'm there, my kid won,t have his full lesson time ahhh catastrophy... "

If a teacher is fair and take 5 min on someone else's time, he/she will give you back this 5 min at the end of the lesson.  If the lesson begins 20 min late because you're the last one, say hurray cause by beeing the last one, the teacher will be able to give you even more time that what you have pay for. (the last one often have extras...)

Well I guess I just mean that there is no need to panick in the hall if the lesson starts 5 min late because the teacher is finishing to give instructions to the previous student...


May 1, 2010 at 10:59 PM ·

I believe that Galamian said, in his Principals of Violin Playing and Teaching, that if a teacher feels that a particular student would benefit from a scolding, then it's OK to do so - as long as it is planned in advance, and not done in a fit of temper, and loss of control.

When I was with my first teacher, Harry Fratkin, I also had a habit of keeping on playing after he started to make a comment or correction. I'm sorry to say that this habit lasted until I came to my 2nd teacher, Vladimir Graffman. Mr. Fratkin, whom I adored, should have been stricter with me, in that regard, but when I got older, I should have known better myself. But when I first did that with Mr. Graffman, he simply grabbed my bow, and kept it from moving! A couple of those treatments, and I was cured. I haven't had to resort to such Draconian tactics with students. A stentorious STOP! would usually do the trick - and I've rarely had to get too stentorious. But generally when I stop a student, I will include a demonstration with my correction, and as soon as they periphally notice me reaching for my violin, they stop - often before I quite want them to!

I also have had disappointing experiences giving advice online - though certainly with exceptions. But many is the time when someone would ask me for my advice, I would give it to them, and ask them to let me know how my advice worked for them - and nothing. No 'thank-you, it helped" or "thank you, but it didn't". Just nothing - as though they hadn't been dealing with a human being, but had simply looked something up on Wikipedia, or something. I'm much more cirmumspect and reticent now. 'E-manners' certainly often leave much to be deisred.

May 2, 2010 at 12:10 AM ·

Not only have I enjoyed my teachers, many of them became very good and sometimes close friends!  The better the relationship the more I gleaned... It is amazing what they would share with me, about their experiences, the people they know/had known, the more interest I took in them the more interested they were in me and that's when the wheels would begin to spin and they began to really teach that just got better and better with each lesson!  It was fun for the both of us.  I always progressed greatly when it is this way.  A student should always take an interest in his or her teacher.

May 2, 2010 at 02:14 AM ·

I agree with Royce! By often doing the taxi, we have often talk about so many things (violin and non-violin related) with my teacher in addition of going to masterclasses, violin shoping and... to the chocolate shop eat plenty of chocolate and ice cream with her!  Not to mention music and score share. If the lesson remains serious and violin focused (to not lose precious time), it's wonderful to have good relationship with your teacher!  After all, since  this person will be implied in your life "process" for many years, might as well get along well ; )


May 2, 2010 at 04:51 AM ·

There is an excerpt of Valdim Repin at a lesson in this video at 1:27:

THAT is how the relationship should be for the most success. My first teacher was also Russian and somewhat similar in dicipline... but I can't say it worked as well for me as it did Repin, obviously haha. Once you reach a certain level, the weekly lesson should be more similar to a masterclass. If they are old enough to concentrate for the full lesson, then rudeness should not be tolerated.

I note, the teacher-student relationship is a professional relationship. The student is there to learn. A friendly relationship is fine as long as it doesn't interfere with the learning proccess.


May 2, 2010 at 07:43 AM ·

I'm a little confused by this thread. I thought the issue bothered Connie originally was about sending the books to people without receiving proper acknowledgement from the recipients. I’m sure there were other broader issues regarding bad manners but I’ll deal with the concrete example Connie gave first. I think there might be some reasons other than one’s manner for not responding to the book received. I know some people, very nice and polite ones otherwise, can be quite unresponsive some times. I wish it was otherwise but it is what it is. They may be busy; they are just not getting around to do what they mean to do, or worse, they didn't know what to say and wanted to leave things as is. Anyway, I usually try to be understanding and let go of it, but if the silence still bothers me after a day or two, I’d tell them directly matter-of-fact just how much their response or lack of it means to me and try to find out the reasons of their reluctance. So this leads to my second question, Connie, have you tried to find out the real reasons why so many of them didn’t respond and didn’t write the review as they had promised? Is this just bad manner or there was something else preventing them from doing what you expected or what they had promised?

I’m from the kind of culture that values mutual respect and reciprocation extremely strongly. I too like to give. Here in North America, I also find free gifts, no matter how valuable, are frequently being much less appreciated than stuff that people pay for. This bothered me a lot for years and still do from time to time, but I will not let this annoyance or disappointment stop me from giving nor will let it affect my joy of giving. Like you said, life is too short. If I permit myself to be constantly bothered by other people’s unsavoury behaviour, then I am really not using my limited time on earth very wisely, am I?
When it comes to manner, I'm sure we are all guilty one time or the other of what we could have behaved better ore have been more thoughtful, so the only person I can expect to be good mannered is myself. I'm grateful to be surrounded by a lot of good mannered people where I live.

May 2, 2010 at 01:51 PM ·

Jefferson, exactly! This is why I also said if the lesson is violin focused...  My teacher too becomes more strict during lessons!  (It's cultural for them)  At first, I was scared and though she was angry after me... (But I realized that the more she wanted you too suceed, the more she was going to be strict! ; )


May 2, 2010 at 02:02 PM ·

I agree with Jefferson! None of the lessons ever got away from the lesson as just chit-chat! No, we were hard at work!

 @ Yixi- Yes, let's not get away from the theme of the thread. These students, with their manners & attitudes that are at the heart of this, make absolutely no since to me. They are taking lessons to learn what they do not know but know enough to try to teach the teacher? Or have no appreciation for who and what is being presented to them?

Here is someone who is accomplished and has written a book and thought of them so much that she sent, free of charge to them, an autographed copy..... and only one said thank you. If it were me not only would I have mailed a thank you but would be showing friends & family the book that my friend / acquaintance wrote and sent to me!  I am nothing... this person is something and yet thought of me!!!!

May 3, 2010 at 01:06 PM ·

Random thoughts. The rudest parent I worked with skipped a couple lessons, and called 5 minutes before one to cancel. I just never scheduled the student again, and they didn't seem to notice.  //  Adult learners can be a lot different than youngsters. We've read other posts about this. I sum it up for myself by saying, "They think they know what they need to know, when often it's what they want to know."  Sometimes it all fits together, sometimes it doesn't. Between "nerves", guilt (over practice time), embarrassment (over their perceptions of how bad they sound & how slow they understand things), sometimes they also don't express themselves so well.  // I work with a number of kids ages 11-15. Not all are that great at expressing themselves without sounding petulant, annoyed, sulky, etc. There are times I'm just as glad to have a minor outburst ("But that CAN'T be flat! I AM slurring those notes"). Not exactly good manners, but let's me see what the problem is, and how the kid is feeling. Sue   

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