On losing a truly great student. How best to handle it.

May 5, 2011 at 06:55 PM ·

 Last year I was contacted by an adult beginner who wanted me to teach her how to play. It was her New Year's resolution to learn so I accepted her request and I devoted myself to helping as much as I could. She was an ideal student, and she took every bit of advice very seriously. Her bow arm developed wonderfully, her left hand positioning was so good that I was able to start her on shifting far sooner than I would have expected. No one can correctly guess when she started to play because she is such a natural player as well as a diligent, faithful and intelligent student. I'm not patting myself on the back for this. She deserves full credit for how well her playing has developed.

At the end of the last lesson she told me suddenly that due to financial reasons she has to quit. Not wanting to lose a treasured student and a friend, I offered her what I called a "full-ride scholarship" to study with me. She refused my offer, thanked me, gave me a hug and left. So I'm wondering: would it be inappropriate or strange of me to call and see if she changed her mind? I really don't want to come across as some kind of creep. I just cared an awful lot about helping her and I can't just suddenly stop caring. Before anyone gets any wrong ideas, I was always strictly professional with her. I do think of her as a friend but first and foremost she was a student. I always felt that we were working together to build her technique and develop her playing bit by bit. Now that collaboration is gone and I feel a loss. Any thoughts or am I just being strange?

Replies (38)

May 5, 2011 at 07:46 PM ·

I would discourage you from contacting her again. I do get the feeling of loss you describe. I have had good students I felt a connection with quit or move on. It can be easy to feel you have somehow failed, but 99 times out of 100, you did not. The truth is, when they tell you they're done, it is already a done deal. The best thing is to accept it as gracefully as you can, and move on. Sue   

May 5, 2011 at 08:03 PM ·

As an alternative to Sue Bechler's suggestion, if you feel uncomfortable calling, why not put your thoughts in a letter or an e-mail message, which would be less intrusive and make it easier for your student to avoid responding if that's what she wants?  You would be able to lay out specifically why you're offering to continue teaching her for free--sometimes it's difficult to get all of your thoughts across coherently in a conversation.  You could close by letting her know that she should feel free not to respond if she prefers not to, and, of course, wish her well if she doesn't take you up on your offer.  Just a suggestion from someone who has never taught violin--take it for what it's worth.

May 5, 2011 at 08:30 PM ·

I agree with Sue, maybe I'm agreeing with Sue too much. The student already made up her mind and to give free lessons can only work if it is done on an ad-hoc basis because she will otherwise feel compromised. Although you might not see it that way. The moral of the story is not to become too attached to a student, they all leave sooner or later. Wish her well, say that you respect her decision and that she will always be welcome to return. 

May 5, 2011 at 09:12 PM ·


Sorry for you and I hope you don't take it personally because it's most likely not at all your fault! 

Perhaps you were really surprised because she came "last minute" with this new. 

Some people feel very uncomfortable with having free things or services given to them.  They don't want to feel as if they owe something to someone else... 


And it can be for many other reasons that such a student wouldn't tell you.  (school, family obligations, wanting to try another music school etc) 

Telling it last minute could point out to such reasons or it could  just be because she didn't know how to announce it and just "announced it".  Maybe she also feels bad to have told it so quickly and is shy to call and tell it!  Who knows?    


That is very instrusctive for all of us...  (even if unfortunate for you)

It's always better to tell ahead of time that you will quit.  (even if it's one of these awkward touchy things to say) because a teacher is not a "thing" and could really have liked the weekly lessons and feel hurt to suddenly lose a good student without earlier notice. 

Thanks for having post that, it reminds that fact to all of us, students.

I'm sure you will find many other great students!     


May 5, 2011 at 09:33 PM ·

Thank you all for your input. I completely understand what Sue is saying and I'm not going to call. I might send a card though, just to thank her for being such a good student and mention that she is welcome to return in the future if she so chooses. I feel better about it now, I think I was just still quite surprised by what happened when I submitted this thread. I trust that she did what she felt was necessary.

May 5, 2011 at 09:49 PM · also agree with Sue- the student is very likely going through something intense, and she only showed you the very tip of the iceberg. If she is, what she said was calculated to stop the lessons without a lot of fuss or questions or involvement; money may not be an issue at all. It's best to honor this, since your intentions, no matter how good or honorable, may be misinterpreted much to your detriment. I know nothing about the situation, but I'd guess there's some sort of complicated story behind it all. It's possible (but just ramblin' on) that discovering her own major gifts and having a constructive pedagogical relationship with you upset a "balance" elsewhere in her life. Not your issue!!

May 5, 2011 at 09:50 PM ·

Michael, I'm sure your suggestion to offer lessons gratis caught her off-guard.  As Anne-Marie pointed out, she might have pride issues in the mix, too.  If you are genuine in wanting to teach her without charge, you might reiterate that in your note so she knows that's a real offer.  A note leaves the door open for her to come back when the storm passes, too.

May 5, 2011 at 10:05 PM ·

May 6, 2011 at 12:42 AM ·

I will second what Sue said: Accept it and move on.   This is my take on things at the moment, based on the info I have.  Still, you know your situation better than we do.  I'd pray over it and let it sit a while.

I may be able to offer some insights from my 15-year experience as an entrepreneur.  My customer relationships are naturally quite different from your teacher-pupil relationships.  Most of my work involves one-shot jobs that I bid on.  Still, I do get repeat business, and I get many good word-of-mouth referrals.

But now and then, a customer will decide, for whatever reason, not to go ahead; and sometimes, as we say, it's "the big one that got away."  I have to take it with good grace, remembering that, quite possibly the same day, someone else will call with a similar project.

On the positive side, since your pupil thanked you and gave you a hug, it appears that you parted on good terms -- no bridges burnt.  My guess is that you'll probably get word-of-mouth referrals through her, if you haven't already.

And then -- who knows? -- her situation could change.  If it does, my guess is that she would likely select you as a teacher over someone else.  My sense of things is that the door is just as wide open still -- even if you don't initiate further contact.

My concern about the idea of placing a follow-up call or e-mail, when the student has already made the decision, is that it could make you look desperate.  Desperate for what?  Well, as we say, "People will talk."  And different people have their individual "takes."  Tell a story to 10 people, and you'll probably get 10 different reviews.

May 6, 2011 at 01:42 AM ·

 Yes I agree. I'm not desperate for anything, the reason I offered to waive my fee is because of how I was raised. As a child I saw the last 8 years of the Soviet Union and even though I was young I was raised with some of the ideas, mainly the "each one gets what they need most, regardless of money" philosophy. I'm not advocating communism (I really hope this thread doesn't turn in that direction), I just felt that financial concerns would be a very sad reason to give up on something that one had already made such a noticeable commitment toward. 

Nonetheless, I'm not going to push the issue. I can't expect that she will understand the reasoning behind my offer and I don't want to offend her. I will simply thank her for being a good student and move on.

May 6, 2011 at 01:49 AM ·

Here's a thought.

It could be the student really is not in a financial position to continue, however very starkly feels this is an issue. The student may feel any offer of a scholarship is also a reminder of that lack.

How about finding some other way to bridge with the student? Possibly ask the student if they could assist you with a group lesson, or with a specific student? She attends, and helps provide another aspect the other student(s) the pointers she has already mastered. Then segue into providing occasional free classes to repay her for the assistance.

Another thought; ask if she could work with you in practicing duets; find pieces for two, and mention that you like playing the music, but need the partner. This may give the ongoing violin time, without being a 'lesson'.


Both of these indicate a changed dynamic; that could help the student not see it as changing the decision she has already made, but it brings the relationship into a new form.

May 6, 2011 at 01:51 AM ·

I agree with many of the other comments: when I'd rather not explain, sometimes I tell a little white lie.  Money may have been a cover for something else that I imagine she thought was airtight.  OR, if it is money, it may not be the lessons per se -- the discovery of aptitude may have opened a whole other can of worms such as, 'should I get a better instrument?'  'Should I go away to a summer festival?'  'Should I get some serious training at a music school?', or heck, even 'should I quit my job?'  That all may be a lot more than she (and possibly other important people in her life) initially bargained for.

May 6, 2011 at 05:19 AM ·

I like that idea about sending her a nice card. At this point, you shouldn't try persuading her to come back, but a cute little card thanking her for being a wonderful student and wishing her luck in her aspirations probably won't do any harm. If I were in a similar situation with my teacher, I would be happy that my teacher and I were able to say goodbye on good terms and that if ever circumstances lightened up, I would be able to come back as if we had never parted.

I wish the best of luck to you and your student and I hope that it all turns out for the best.

May 6, 2011 at 08:14 AM ·

I understand the torment of watching potential slip through your fingers.  Sometimes, in the role of teacher, I forget that there are many facets that make up the person who walks through the door for a lesson.  My tendency is to take every response personally, but the truth is, waters run deep.  I had a woman break down crying when I asked her to play her scales one day, which flagged a reminder that she was seven months pregnant, and maybe scales hadn't been on the list of priorities that week.  You can't take a person personally.  You can try to make them see what open doors lie in front of them, but when they choose to take a different path, you can only try to understand that people have many existences outside the violin world. 

I feel for you.

May 6, 2011 at 11:03 AM ·

Years ago I had to tell my daughter's clarinet teacher that she had to stop lessons, as she had braces applied and could not get an enbrocheur embrouchure ... she could not get her lips in the right position. He was surprised and expressed how sorry he was that she was not continuing, and about a month later she received a letter from him saying that he hoped that she would return to playing, that she had been a lovely student. It meant a lot to her. 

I think it wont hurt to resolve the situation by sending a card letting her know she was a great student and that you hope she will return to playing some time, and you are always happy to see her back.

May 6, 2011 at 12:07 PM ·

Michael -

As an older adult, I can say that pride would prevent me from taking lessons for free.  I would feel as though I was a 'charity case'....or worse, that I was preventing you from making money with another student that could pay. 

This last would bother me the most - especially if I really liked you and connected with you as an instructor.  I would not want to see you lose potential income, especially in these hard times.  I would feel as though you were going through a sacrifice for me.

---Ann Marie

May 6, 2011 at 01:08 PM ·

I think that maybe just dropping it may be best.  There may other reasons, like a jealous husband/boyfriend.  Or one that just can't stand hearing violin, and insists on Van Halen.  Even if everything is perfectly innocent, SOs can sometimes make things complicated.

If that's the case, sending a note could just pour gasoline on the fire for her.  Innocent on her part, she may get a strong negative reaction.

It also could be a large number of factors, all the same time.

When someone tactfully draws personal boundaries, it's good to respect their tact and give them some space.


May 6, 2011 at 01:34 PM ·

If financial hardship is the true reason then reduced rates for reduced number of lessons per month may be a way out.


May 6, 2011 at 01:39 PM ·

 Lol Sharelle, nice use of the rich text editor. 

Michael, as a teacher I have also had the experience-- Emily calls it "torment"-- of watching a lavishly talented student walk away from the discipline. It seems unthinkable, but it happens all the time. And as has been said before, there are probably other reasons behind her desire to leave, reasons you can't know. So: sending much empathy your way.

Agreed that sometimes the "white lie" about money can backfire. It's happened to us, and I've seen it happen in a big way to others-- for example, sparking unintentional scholarship bidding wars. 

May 6, 2011 at 03:15 PM ·

It isn't strange to feel a loss of a good student, especially when the loss is involuntary. 

Sue is right; let things be. Even if you considered this student to be a friend, you can't really know what is going through her mind right now.  So, maybe it is best to respect her privacy.

In the end, everybody leaves.  That is stating the obvious, but a sudden resignation can be an unpleasant reminder of the way teaching works.

Hang in there.



May 6, 2011 at 04:46 PM ·

 just a thought here...

what if the student has decided to move onto another teacher (for reasons that she does not want to share with you) and used the  financial issue as a convenient excuse, which, among other excuses, is frequently used in such uncomfortable occasions?

or may be she is a covert cia agent about to go on a long assignment:)

i find it hard to accept that someone who is supposedly flourished at an amazing pace suddenly cold-turkey stops playing and learning because of money?  with no room for negotiation or kind offer??? no one interested in something stops it cold because of money. can always rob the bank.

does it make sense to anyone here?

i think it is a wonderful idea to drop a note reflecting on her achievement and offering help in the future if needed, regardless of her current situation.  this way you are at peace with yourself--your effort, your teaching and your wishing the student well.  it is professional and classy.   but don't call. no, no.

i would love to get such a note from a teacher.  i never did for good reasons, haha!

May 6, 2011 at 06:08 PM ·

Like al I wondered if she had actually found another teacher- perhaps a friend that will not charge her or in exchange for some service.  If she had the offer of a studentship would probably be too late since she had already committed.

One intermediary way to maintain contact that would not be either desperate or creepy would be to set up a chamber group with your students (quartet, string orchestra) and invite her to join it.  That way no payment would be expected, the pride issue would be avoided and continuity could be maintained.  Indeed, if a previous teacher contacted me for such an opportunity I would feel very good about it, even if I could not participate.  Might be a good thing to do anyway...

Just a thought...

May 6, 2011 at 06:56 PM ·

Continuing a bit: As a business owner, I have sometimes had to be the one to pull the plug on a professional relationship myself.

When I started in 1996, I realized early that broadcast advertising wouldn't work for me.  So I contacted my radio ad rep and told him that I planned to cancel.  He offered some attractive ad packages and incentives to keep me on, but I had to hold firm -- no other choice.  At the same time, the Yellow Pages medium was highly effective for me; and now, of course, there's the Internet, and we know what that can do for the entrepreneur.

I can relate to the teacher-learner relationship, because it parallels somewhat the professional relationships that I build with customers.  As with the teaching, there's far more to earning a living than just putting in time and getting paid.  There's the matter of professional reputation and pride in work well done.  This pupil was doing so well; I can understand the feeling of loss and letdown over her sudden pullout.

Likewise, those times a customer, for whatever reason, decides not to go ahead with a job, one of the first things I think of isn't the money I could have made but: "Now he won't see what his project might have become in my hands."  But, again, I just have to let it go with good grace and remember that someone else will soon call with a similar project.

The subject of communism came up.  I don't advocate it, either -- far from it.  I have discounted rates for students and retirees, but this is simply a response to market forces.  I set my rates, not at the top or at the bottom, but at a realistic point in between -- based on what I know is fair-market value for my time and expertise.

June 25, 2011 at 02:46 AM ·

 I really feel for you because I went through the exact emotions when I first started teaching, I felt emotionally connected to all my students and always feel a sadness when they go away.

What is always satisfying to me when other students recommend me as a teacher or the return, or vist and say what a great teacher you are. But the best moments of teaching is not necessarily teaching our gifted and talented students who make us seem like music teaching geniuses.

The good stuff .Is the challenges we find is the student never could explain the way to make a beautiful tone, or how to hold the bow, or improved tremendously under you're teaching. These students do not necessarily put you in the spotlight but this is untimely the true test of your teaching abilities. 


I like to imagine the great students I have had will go on and either have music be a major part of their life, play and inspire others, or teach others the same way you taught them (and they will). No matter how far away they go, your influence will continue to go with them. Let that person go and move on to bigger and greater challenges so your good influence can continue to spread.

July 26, 2011 at 03:47 PM ·

Maybe she wanted a better teacher.

July 26, 2011 at 05:50 PM ·

katrina, that sounds very devoid of grace. like showing people that one not only bites their toenail but also nibbles on the rest of the toe

July 26, 2011 at 07:17 PM ·

Katrina the issues that Michael had in this thread has already been resolved some time ago. As far as teaching is concerned a teacher is not in a playing contest with a pupil to show who can outplay who. A teacher should be able to give guidance on many aspects of pedagogue, and the teacher need not even play a violin during a lesson. He/she is there to give advice and motivation. The most revered teachers could not play nearly as well as their famous pupils who owes a large portion of their success to the dedication shown by their teachers. 

 You are young and life still have a few hard lessons for you. But it is very naive to call some one you do not know, or whose circumstances you do not understand, a "prodigal w----". It may show something of your character too, which I hope can be rectified.

July 27, 2011 at 02:03 AM ·

 ...it's obvious that Katrina only resurrected this thread in an attempt to get some attention on herself. I wouldn't take any of that seriously. You don't have to be a master of Paganini's caprices to be a competent teacher but you're on the right path in that direction.

July 27, 2011 at 02:37 PM ·

Sorry michael, its not that I wanted to comment on your playing ability but rather highlight the fact that certain teachers can only get a promising student so far. 

July 27, 2011 at 03:24 PM ·

there's a lot that that could be wrong in your assumptions, katrina adn that in itsel should have disallowed you from posting in this manner. and there is a lot that is wrong in attacking someone who is well intentioned, who didn't force anyone to be or do anything but offered to teach them for free. in my opinion, what you may perceive as being 'honesty' amounts to nothing more than putting him down publically. you could have stated your point in a sympathetic manner, you could have sent him a discreet email if you cared. you let your bitterness get the better of you.

you know, its not your technique, which can be worked on, only that makes you successful in communicating with people musically or otherwise..or which even makes you  content person...its also how much empathy and depth of understanding for others. i'd rather be not angry than be heifetz.

lastly, watch michael's video #2, he sounds and looks even greater with a fiddle. he communicates, musically and otherwise,  honestly, movingly and without being slushy. i dont care about the tentative pag. caprice, that can be improved on, work in progress,  and its still for his lesson... let us see you play the same vid #2 piece so beautifully and without anger and all is forgotten 

July 27, 2011 at 07:24 PM ·

I honestly wasn't going to post on this thread anymore but this keeps getting dragged on and on. Perhaps I should explain. I am still a student. I am not trying to pose as some kind of professor here. The student asked me personally if I'd teach her to play. I did not try to keep the student for selfish reasons, I just didn't want her to give up on herself. She was an adult beginner and as it turns out, she didn't have enough time to devote to violin playing as she is getting married, going to graduate school and working full time. She has since explained that to me, I understood and I wished her the best. The matter was resolved. Katrina is entitled to her own opinions, and my playing is still a work in progress. I'm not trying to hide that fact. I could remove my recording in shame, but it's a practice log, recorded in my bedroom with a low-quality borrowed camera. It doesn't pretend to be anything more and I am not ashamed. Anyone is free to think what they want, I took that risk by putting myself on the internet. I am still a student and I go to see my professor every week. He is guiding me to make improvements.

July 28, 2011 at 12:05 AM ·

Michael, your playing is fine. Please don't ever let some fool who can't spell shake any confidence you have. I don't believe all profiles on here are real, so remember that, can't imagine why soneone would post their real name, school, orchestra etc then post really snarky, ignorant comments.

Your original post was sweet and caring and indicates passion for the instrument, music, students, and life. 

I had planned on responding after you first posted your question but got distracted.

July 28, 2011 at 05:53 AM ·

You guys are being way to nice to her. This type of self-righteous demeaning attitude doesn't need to be tolerated, unbelievable.


July 28, 2011 at 01:13 PM ·

 On another thread, she's giving advice to a student preparing for auditions--same arrogant tone, and she's what, 15?  I'm glad I'm not her teacher!

February 6, 2012 at 07:02 PM · Micheal, I know how you feel - I really care about my students.

Katrina, it seems that you tried to "move on" without causing pain, but this thread has made things backfire..

Some technical points: I started at nearly 15 and made very rapid progress, but two techniques took a long time to work: vibrato and off-the-string bowings. I had first-rate teaching, but these fast, semi-automatic movements just would not be rushed. Don't blame your teacher..

People were puzzled by my maturity as a musician coupled to a valiant but immature technique. I wonder how you are getting on now?

I teach many younsters like you (and me!)and at 63 I still haven't got the hang of it!!

I have, however, learned to swallow my pride and tell students when I think they have greater potential than myself.

Best wishes to you both,


February 6, 2012 at 08:04 PM · Oh yuck, this again. I appreciate Mr. Heath's input, but I wish this thread could be locked. My issue was happily resolved a year ago and the less I see from the poisonous and ignorant Ms. Thurlow the better.

February 6, 2012 at 08:23 PM · Sorry!

February 6, 2012 at 11:16 PM · Just to note, I think Michael plays beautifully and has a great deal of love for the violin. It's also apparent that he cares about his students. I assume he'd be a pleasure to learn from.


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