Private Teacher on the Brink of Tears

September 7, 2011 at 07:34 PM ·

I thought it would be fun to start a home studio for teaching a couple of years ago and as I began to grow my private student base, I found teaching to be very rewarding... Until recently.  I have a difficult parent with whom I am at my rope's end.  I get push back at nearly every challenging homework assignment for the student (who is marvelous, by the way!), and have even had some assignments downright refused.  It wouldn't be as challenging to address with the parent, except that all of these disagreements happen in front of the student.  I feel like my credibility is crumbling at every lesson and when I have tried to talk to her about it, she tells me that she is the child's mother and knows best what he needs.  I am exhausted of fighting her at every turn and am to the point of asking her to find another instructor.  I would hate to lose my darling student, but I'm so frustrated that I don't know what to do.  I would so welcome any advice, guidance, book recommendations or other strategies to better handle this situation.  I am in tears over it!  Thanks so much for your input! 

Replies (76)

September 7, 2011 at 08:00 PM ·

Rachel-Sorry to hear this however it's a package deal you need to let this student go this parent is a bully and while her child is talented she's not worth the tears and frustration the mom is causing you. It's breaking your spirit and it may start to effect your teaching overall with your other students. 

             -M

September 7, 2011 at 08:01 PM ·

How old is the child?  Unless he/she is very young, it's time for the mother to go out for coffee while you teach the little darling.  The understanding about practicing really needs to be between you and your student.  The parents can (and should) jump in if the situation is out of control, but it is not the parent's business otherwise.  Even if you are teaching Suzuki method, where the parent is more actively involved, the teacher is the authority figure here.

 

September 7, 2011 at 08:01 PM ·

Tell the parent if they interfere again than they can seek instruction elsewhere. take back control of the situation. You are being paid to teach and not being allowed. Also, you being upset will reflect on your other students and thats not fair to them.

September 7, 2011 at 08:12 PM ·

Hi, Rachel:

You are likely to get lots and lots of good advice from the many great violin teachers who regularly contribute to violinist.com. But I'm not a violin teacher; I'm an amateur violinist. But I'm also a clinical psychologist by profession, and I've done some teaching and have worked with parents of young children for over 40 years. So, take the following advice for what it's worth.

It seems to me that you have a decision to make in the general paths you have open to you.
1. You are certainly dealing with a parent who wants to have the deciding voice in her child's violin instruction. If this is simply too much to reasonably deal with (as it may very well be), in spite of the talent and personality of the student, then there is nothing wrong with simply stating that the situation is simply not going to work out, and you might suggest that they find another teacher.
2. You can stand your ground and politely but firmly try to educate the parent on the parameters of your role and hers, and hope that you can arrive at an understanding. You certainly would like to do this in a confident and non-hostile manner, but it will not be without its frustrations.
3. You can try to work within the parent's understandings and rely on compromise and some indirect approaches to create what might be called a "win-win" strategy. Obviously, this would not be easy. This is subtle and would require careful planning and consultation with someone who can help you work out a plan.

But whatever you decide, make the decision, do your best, and don't look back. You have much to gain, whatever you choose to do, as long as you keep your goals clear and give it your best shot.

Hope that helps,
Cheers,
Sandy

September 7, 2011 at 08:28 PM ·

I've had this situation a couple times in the past.

As much as it saddens me to lose a student with obvious talent and potential, if the parents can't be reasonable and be a part of the "team" that helps give their child the best possible environment to grow technically and musically, then it isn't going to work no matter how hard you try.

I know it hurts...you genuinely care for this student's well-being and growth in music. So in the future, have very clear policies about what you expect in your studio, and if they can't accept that your expertise and decisions clearly have their best interests in mind, do not teach them.

September 7, 2011 at 09:39 PM ·

A lot of good advice already. I picked up on one specific thing that I might address: the mother said that she knows what's best for her child. I would reply that if that's the case, why doesn't she teach her child the violin? Of course that's pretty much another way of saying goodbye when you're at the end of your rope. Then again, just maybe, standing up to this bully like this might work - though I'm not holding my breath.

I would make one last attempt to talk to the mother out of the child's earshot and explain your concerns, and what must change, and see if you can reach some compromise you can both live with. And if not, jettison the problem parent - and unfortunately, the child as well - and move on.

September 7, 2011 at 10:32 PM ·

rachel - i've had two lessons - that's the sum total of my experience with a teacher - but by the sound of it i'd say you're being taken advantage of.  first thing to do is talk to the student - i'm reliably informed that music students have a higher than normal i.q (could explain my scant "two" lessons) and hope they'll understand.  tell them that you simply can not! continue under the present circumstances and that the door will always be open to him/her alone, sans psychotic mum.

life is short and neurotics abound.  if the student is really that good and that committed, he/she will be back ... and if - for what-ever reason - they don't, you can be sure they'll remember you with love and affection - and genuine respect! - all their lives.

must be very difficult for you - i'm sorry this virago has placed you in this predicament.

September 7, 2011 at 10:33 PM ·

If you're in tears, then thank heavens that the posts on this thread have all been sympathetic and helpful.  Most striking, perhaps, is Sander Marcus' option 1.  If you decide to follow it, remember that you are not obliged to give any reason when you say that you have taught the student everything you can in the circumstances and that you feel that the time has come for the student to change teacher.  If the parent tries to quiz you on what you mean by 'in the circumstances', stand firm: you do not have to say anything more than that you have taught the student all you can - which (given the circumstances) is regrettably true.  As an amateur violinist and non-teacher, I appreciate that having one student less diminishes your livelihood.  Following this line may mean that you will lose the student permanently.  But I would note the point made above that the strain of coping with this parent may rub off on your teaching of your other students, to whom this whole situation may be unfair.  

September 7, 2011 at 11:04 PM ·

Remember that the family is a guest in your studio, in your home.  You are allowed to set the boundaries as to what will and won't transpire in these circumstances.  You need to decide how you want to set those boundaries but you do need to set them now. I'd send an email identifying that there seems to be a lot of conflict and hostility around the teaching, that exercises / assignments being set are done so with the best knowledge and experience and need to be respected, and that the teaching role needs to be respected.

If you wait until the next session, you could open with that same line, or you could wait and then halt any discussion by saying that you are not willing to discuss this now with the student present, the homework as set remains but the parent can email you with her concerns so that you have an opportunity to explore this further. but don't back down from setting what you feel is appropriate, just keep reiterating that calmly. You don't need to justify why,  You can choose to terminate that conversation at any point, just say - I'm finishing this conversation now as it is inappropriate.  Please contact me.  

Maybe the parent is a bully, maybe they have no idea what is appropriate work, maybe they have another agenda, who knows.  Maybe when you establish your boundaries firmly, you will find that the parent is more comfortable and respectful, maybe not - you can then decide whether its time to say go.

Situations like this are horrible, and you are not alone in feeling horrible about it.  I know I have had to deal with similar things in providing therapy to kids/families, and it always makes me feel dreadful for a couple of weeks after the 'resolution', but gradually it gets easier to deal with at the time.

September 7, 2011 at 11:12 PM ·

  If the parent is that bad, and it sounds like it, tell the parent that their constant meddling is affecting your teaching.  That their constant interference is hurting their child's progress, please find another teacher. Then show them the door or hang up the phone if you called.

September 7, 2011 at 11:26 PM ·

I'm not a teacher, but I was a pupil who had six teachers over a long stretch of years.

I wouldn't be so quick to suggest that this kid and the mother should find another teacher.  That's effectively dumping your problem onto another instructor, assuming that this other person is willing to take the kid -- and the mom.  Unless you confront and deal with the basic problem -- which sounds to me like another pushy stage-parent who needs to learn a thing or two herself -- the next teacher may well dump the kid, too.

First, instead, as Raphael suggests, I would talk to the mother out of the pupil's hearing.  I'd tell her that I'd prefer to have the pupil alone during lessons.  If she takes offense at this and cancels the lessons, so be it.  At least, you will have done all you can -- making it clear to the mom in the process whose studio this is and who is boss here.

I don't know if you saw the recent similar thread on this, but it gives some ideas on how a lot of us, teachers and pupils alike, have coped with these situations in our individual ways.  One side issue that comes up in it: Are violin lessons something the kid wants?  Or is a pushy stage-mom or stage-dad forcing them on the kid?  If it's the latter, then I would be more willing to consider cutting them off altogether.  See Refusing pupils -- problem parents?

September 8, 2011 at 02:10 AM ·

Hi

The only thing I would add that is different to what everyone else says is that one of the reasons you stated for not liking this parent's constant interference is that you feel it undermines your authority with the student. From the sounds of the great relationship you have with the student this just isn't happening. I wonder if you took away your stress from worrying about the potential for this to happen if the rest of the situation might seem a little more bearable?

September 8, 2011 at 04:59 AM ·

hi rachel, sorry to hear you're such a state but maybe you should write up a set of rules for your studio that you could then circulate to the parents via email. one or a few rules would pertain to what you require/expect of the parents and others would pertain to the students. it would be nicely and gently worded and might include practice tips. you could mention that due to recent occurences, you've had to come up with rules to give  define the framework for the studio. 

this will come off  as  not personally targetting the parent in question. once she has been provided with your rules, the onus will be on her to abide by the rules or not to. the onus will also be on her to discuss the matter with you should she want to. anyway, in case she will not abide, you can then tell her that this forms part of the studio rules and that you cannot accept her conduct. you can also tell her that should she have general concerns regarding the lessons, she should bring them up outside the lesson proper..say through a telephone call or email.....you could preface this by mentioning that you have the best intentions for the education of her kid whose talents you hold in special regard (but don't go on too much about that, the point here is not the kid's talent but the running of your studio). you could end this by saying that she, the mom, has a choice to make.

 

September 8, 2011 at 06:04 AM ·

Tammuz makes an excellent point...at my college's MTNA group, we've shared different tips with each other about studios, and having a set of expectations for students and parents is a great way to establish boundaries.

I've never dealt with this before, but I've just finished reading "The Art of Possibility," which I highly recommend. One thing I've gained is that understanding the other person's perspective is very important in relationships. If she insists she knows what's best, it would be good to know what her vision for the student is. Why she refuses assignments might be based on that, or other circumstances. Then you can present your vision/philosophy--but definitely try to do this away from the student. A phone call is more impersonal but better than an email.

Good luck with this!

September 8, 2011 at 06:04 AM ·

September 8, 2011 at 11:20 AM ·

respect.

the mother has none for your expertise.  move on.

September 8, 2011 at 12:07 PM ·

Hi Rachel,

I am sorry to hear of your situation.  I have been through this kind of issues before, and like the others,  I have to say that as sad as it is to lose a talented student, the only solution is to end the situation.  Unfortunately, when these kind of situation arise, there is little to do.  Like many people, I hoped that it would improve.  It doesn't, but usually gets worse.  Though I am open to talking and working through things, many people are not, and the kind of parent you describe seems a more likely candidate for trouble than finding middle-ground.

Best of luck and hang in there.

Cheers!

September 8, 2011 at 02:38 PM ·

No student is worth the exhaustion, frustration, and tears you describe. 

If you drop this student, you should do it in the politest way possible.  You can't control this parent's behavior, but you can control yours.  Then take a deep breath, and move on. 

If you don't have one already, it would be worthwhile to have a written studio policy stating practicing and/or theory homework requirements. 

Having expectations outlined before lessons commence gives everyone a chance to gauge whether a future student/teacher/parent partnership is a good fit.  Good luck.

September 8, 2011 at 03:03 PM ·

 

I’ve taught successfully out of my home for 25 years. There are many aspects that you have to deal with to make it work. While I recognize the pros and cons of working out of the house – one pro has made it all worthwhile: Raising my son without having to put him into any daycare. Here are some of the many things to consider:
·         Make your house rules very clear – verbally and on paper
·         You are running a business – attendance and payment policies – verbal and on paper
·         While one on one teaching can result in close relationships, you are still running a business
·         Students of all different levels are treated equally – they all have to follow the same rules
·         Students who do not attend, pay, or practice regularly need to be asked to leave – you will need to make this clear from the start.
Regarding you and building up a successful studio.
·         Do not compromise your teaching standards – but also learn and modify them as you gain experience
·         Balance education, cheerful support with some fun
·         Consider teaching a small number of beginners – as they grow, you grow, your business grows
·         Word of mouth is the best advertisement – make sure your students and parents have a worthwhile experience and their violin playing has noticeable improvement
I start students by requiring 6 lesson observations. They have to attend 6 other kid’s lessons (free) and watch with their parents. A picture is worth a thousand words. They see what is going on, how to act, and what is expected all without me jamming into them. They see what they need to see and then either take lessons or not. When they choose to they are usually raring to go and have already begun the learning process. My husband does a trial period. He tells families up front – I will teach you one lesson, I will see what you’ve done with the lesson I’ve taught you, I will decide if we are a good match.
Stay strong, set your boundaries and enjoy an amazingly rewarding career of teaching.
Smiles! Diane

September 8, 2011 at 03:17 PM ·

Sharelle Taylor said, "I'd send an email identifying that there seems to be a lot of conflict and hostility around the teaching, that exercises / assignments being set are done so with the best knowledge and experience and need to be respected, and that the teaching role needs to be respected."

I recommend you do NOT handle this situation in writing.  Emails can be broadcast, and small errors in wording can come back to bite you.  Try to arrange to meet with the parent at a separate time from the lesson, so that you can handle this face to face without the student being around.   I'd even say that doing this over the phone is a bad idea because you won't be able to read body language, which is very important in this kind of negotiation.

The studio in which my daughter is enrolled has written ground rules that establish the roles of the teacher and the parent.  As a parent I appreciate and welcome these guidelines very much, even though I play the violin too.  if nothing else it creates a sense that you are operating a professional music studio, rather than just being someone who gives violin lessons.  Develop your own stationery, logo, website, and make sure that someone who enters your home studio feels like they're in a professional place.

This won't be the last momzilla that you'll have to deal with.  By dealing with her firmly (and probably in that situation that means terminating the student), you'll boost your own confidence thereby making it easier to deal with the next one.

And forgive me for being "master of the obvious," but under no circumstances should you discuss the situation with another parent or student even in general terms.  If one student asks why another student stopped taking lessons, the answer needs to be MYOB.

I'm not a psychologist like one of the others who responded, but one reason why the parent may be pushing back against your assignments is that the student may be a completely different person at home than they are at the lesson.  At the lesson they might seem bright, agreeable, motivated, and eager to accept challenge.  Their behavior in the home environment might be completely different, and it could be for very simple reasons (e.g., practice is scheduled for times of day when the child is tired or when they should be playing outside with friends) or it could be very complex (e.g., practice is either enforced or withheld as a means of punishment, or there could be a weird mother-daughter power struggle in the home, etc., or the other parent is creating some kind of friction at home).  The possibilities are endless and you can't even approach this without talking to the parent at some length, and the student cannot be present for that.

September 8, 2011 at 09:08 PM ·

 Take a new student; let this one go.

September 8, 2011 at 09:15 PM ·

 Hi  Rachel,

You know, the only feasible solution I could come up with that might enable you to continue with this student was to require the parent to take violin lessons as well. In a practical sense this might enhance the parents perspective in terms of what you are trying to convey to their child, (as her violin instructor) , or solve the problem once and for all, by the parent withdrawing their child from your studio, and you feeling in control of the situation. Remember, it is your studio.

September 8, 2011 at 09:19 PM ·

 I cannot thank you all enough for your helpful responses, kind words and great suggestions.  I will let you know how things progress.  It is so helpful to know that I'm not the only person who ever encountered this kind of challenge and I feel hopeful that I'll be able to find some peace around it, too.  Thank you a thousand times for your encouragement and wisdom.  I am so grateful to each of you for your contribution to this thread!!  

Now... off to work on my "studio policies."  :)  

September 8, 2011 at 09:49 PM ·

Good luck and please let us know what happens.  As an aside, my mother was from Denver and her great uncle, Samuel Koenigsberg, a violinist who arrived in Denver in the late 1870s, was probably the first serious classical musician to settle there.

September 8, 2011 at 10:08 PM ·

>Emails can be broadcast, and small errors in wording can come back to bite you. 

1.  dont make the small error

2.  if someone is going to broadcast a respectfully written email, good work.  If that someone is going to edit or paraphrase a respectfully written email, then broadcast it to make the original writer appear poorly, then it really doesn't matter what was written in the first place. 

Personally, I have found the distance of email is a help for these situations - I have initiated 2 such exchanges, and a parent initiated on one other.  I think the other party has appreciated not being face to face with the conflict, but having a chance to think and respond, then meet to discuss.

Each to their own, but as said above, your greatest marketing tool is word of mouth, and that can be far more effectively demolished by an uncomfortably and unsuccessfully arranged face to face.  Its up to each person to decide which strategy they feel more confident with.

 

September 9, 2011 at 01:05 AM ·

Here is an analogy that worked really well for me after months of complaints:

I'm like a mexican restaurant.  You are asking me for egg rolls.  I don't serve those here.  I can't give you what you want.  I was very calm.  She asked if I wanted to teach her daughter.  I told her that I did but that I didn't think she wanted me to teach her daughter.  She said, "your right" and that was the last lesson.  There was no anger....just honesty.  They went to a new teacher and we all lived happily ever after.  Life is short.  You are not the right teacher for every situation.

 

 

September 9, 2011 at 12:50 PM ·

That's a great metaphor (the egg rolls). Certainly, whatever you do, be calm and be professional. I train future professional psychologists. And my mantra is this:

You are a professional based on your behavior, NOT on how you are treated by others. And the the most important time to behave like a professional is precisely when you are NOT being treated like a professional.

Don't let anyone ever throw you off your game.

Cheers,
Sandy
PS. It's not quite related, but Napoleon once said, "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."

September 9, 2011 at 01:16 PM ·

Awesome post Sandy!

I'm going to write that down in my quote journal!

September 9, 2011 at 03:11 PM ·

It's not quite related, but Napoleon once said, "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."

 

Love It!

Diane

September 9, 2011 at 03:54 PM ·

John you make a good point but even if  the child is the bad seed, Damien, the little girl who lives down the lane, problem child, or problem child part two, when they're at home that's one thing but Rachel shouldn't have to deal with a mother with Tots in Tiaras syndrome in her studio. It could also be that the mother is jealous of the respect the child gives the teacher and wants to undermine that respect.

       -M

September 9, 2011 at 04:40 PM ·

I didn't have time to read over each response, but let me tell you about my experience:  MY MOTHER WAS A BULLY PARENT!  I can't get into all the details here, but my mother was a horrible bully parent to teachers when I was growing up.  And you know what, it was her way all the time.  She either got her way or stepped on you to get it.  And she succeeded all the time.  It was such a horrible experience for a child.  As a former child of a bully parent, I can tell you, the child is just as helpless to stop them as you are!  If anything, the child is more helpless than you.  Each situation is different, but I dare not challenge my mother.  I stood silent, embarrassed and helpless.  I had to go home with my mom and still deal with it in all aspects of my life.  The teacher did not. 

The only advice I can tell you is not going to be the advice you want: end the lessons with the child and tell the parent you no longer want to do business with them.  It is the only way.  My mother never changed.  She bullied my teachers, she never took no for an answer and very, very few teachers said no.  On one occasion, one teacher requested I be transferred from her class to another due to my mother's bullying. 

If you want your joy back, get rid of the parent and unfortunately, the student must go too.  You will not win.  Trust me, take it from someone who had a bully parent who made everyone's life a living hell. 

Steve

September 9, 2011 at 11:06 PM ·

Rachel, I am very impressed by Laurie's succinct and direct post on this thread.  I suggest taking on another student first (to make sure you won't suffer materially) and then let go your problem student.  I appreciate that this may involve passing on the whole situation to another teacher.  I also appreciate that another teacher may well not end up either in tears or on the verge of them, as you have said of yourself. I don't mean to imply that you are oversensitive; I'm just noting that different situations strike different people in different ways.   What matters most of all here is you.  If this situation is getting you down, stop the whole business.  It's not fair on you or on your other students.  As to the problem student and parent, what happens after you have let the student go (on this, see my previous post above) is not your concern.  It sounds as if you have made every effort to teach the student for as long as you could under highly difficult circumstances; you deserve high praise; I suggest that now is the time to stop before the situation becomes more destructive of you than it already appears to be.

September 10, 2011 at 12:18 AM ·

I am appalled that so many respondents advise getting rid of this student.  In the end, such a drastic step may be necessary.  But at the moment, it sounds a bit premature.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Rachel, it seems that you have at least one good shot left at turning the situation around before having to take the ultimate step.  Again, as several of us have recommended, talk privately with the parent and explain in frank yet diplomatic terms how you expect things to go in what is, after all, your own studio.

If you can't, for whatever reason, diplomatically boot the mom from the studio, and if she still won't follow your protocol at lessons, then tell her that, unless things turn around, you will have no choice but to end the lessons.  And make clear to the mom it's highly doubtful that other teachers will put up with parental interference, either -- even if the kid has to overhear this.  If you have to end the relationship, he deserves to know the true reason.

If the pupil has to find another teacher, when it seems that he already has a good working relationship with you -- since you described him as "marvelous" -- who knows?  He may lose heart -- and lose interest in lessons altogether, wishing he could still be with you.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Check out what professional bodybuilder and personal trainer Bill Pearl says here on the subject of pushy parents.  Scroll down near the bottom of the page to the subsection Parents Don't Make Good Training Partners -- especially the last four paragraphs about "Harold."

September 10, 2011 at 01:17 AM ·

I doubt this will top Sandy's Napoleon quote... but a minister told me once a) don't try to win the unwinable and b) That if you argue with a fool it is only in a short while no one will be able to tell the difference between the two of you. Move On. Even by phone just say after all considered do not come here any more, Good By. And hang up. Don't even accept any further phone calls, and just delete messages.

September 10, 2011 at 03:02 AM ·

September 10, 2011 at 12:24 PM ·

 Rachel, you've already gotten plenty of advice so I have only one thing to add. You say the mom is actually refusing your assignments on a regular basis? And in front of the student at that? Completely unacceptable! Would she march on in to the local public school and throw a math assignment back at her child's teacher, claiming to know better than a trained and experienced professional (is the mother a violinist herself? interference in this case may be a little more understandable and harder to deal with, but is still usually inappropriate) which exercises will most efficiently improve the student's math skills? Probably not. And on the offchance that she actually would, well, there's probably not much hope for the situation. Try presenting the issue to her with this or a similar analogy and maybe, just maybe, she will start to understand how ridiculous this interference is from your point of view.

September 11, 2011 at 04:05 AM ·

Now that you have received all the good ideas, here is mine.

I'm not a teacher, but in such a case, I would be tempted to do the following when a parent interferes:
Give them a violin (not one I treasure).
Tell them to teach.
If they protest, then tell them to shut up and let you do so.

You will likely make an enemy, but it sounds satisfying!

September 11, 2011 at 05:59 AM ·

 I have had a few of thesein the past.  I would state that you understand that she is his mother, that she knows what is best for him.  But what she has decided is best for him is Violin lessons, therefore unless she is a qualified tutor or Violinist, she must hand his musical education over to you.  If she cannot agree to this then should try and find a teacher that is comfortable with this set-up.  But state you think that there wouldn't be many

September 11, 2011 at 06:19 AM ·

Maybe before doing anything too drastic you should adress the problem of why the mother is complaining about the assignments.You say that the mother complains when you give challenging assignments.Does this mean that less challenging assignments pass withiout complaint. We don't always know wqhat goes on at home when practice time comes around.It could be that less challenging assignments are practiced with enthusiasm and difficult assignments create a mother and child rift as the mother insists that they are also completed.Most parents want to have a joyous relationship with their offspring and this mother may find it easier to cope with if there is no conflict over homework.

September 11, 2011 at 09:10 AM ·

 Janet, I completely agree with what you're saying about harmony in the home.  But I think the problem is not about the mother feeling the work is too challenging (obviously she should have a say in it as much of it will take place in her own home and will affect her life).  It is more her approach, she is constantly undermining the teacher in front of the pupil and battling her, rather than discussing these issues calmly away from the child.  Most teachers are able to work with both parent and child at a pace that all consider to be acceptable, but there must be clear and free communication between parent and teacher.  In the same way as the mother should be allowed to be in control of what happens in her own home.  The teacher must be allowed to control what goes on in her studio

September 11, 2011 at 09:18 AM ·

Janet - you are very generous and I wish you were right!  However, it seems to me that if the mother was really worried about conflict she would not be going out of her way to initiate it with the teacher....

Since the mother involved her child in the discussion I would be inclined to sit down with both of them and just ask them what their goals are and how they would like to get there.  People are much more open to suggestion and critique if you give them a chance to espouse theirs first.  After they have had their say you tell them how you propose to get them to that goal.  I think they will agree.  Then do the difficult thing and tell them what you must be able to do to get there.  It will become apparent that you do not have to teach the student and if they value your continued services there will have to be give and take.  

The advantage of such an approach is that it is non-confrontational and gives a good chance that you will reach a new way of working that does not challenge the mother.  If that does not work - well really the relationship is going to break down anyway.

Good luck!!

 

September 11, 2011 at 11:43 AM ·

 Sorry, this subject seems to have lit a fire in me.  

 

I would also like to add that it's not beneficial for the child to see his/her mother treat a teacher in such away and she very well could believe this is appropriate behaviour or after some time end up emulating it.  Of course we should always question the information prodved to us and not just follow like sheep.  But it is important this woman and more importantly her child learn the correct way to address concerns and questions regarding education

September 11, 2011 at 04:51 PM ·

 "The Golden Rule is , never tell off somebody in front of others. It works for football players too."

apparently the mom just did that, probably does that all the time as the mistress of the universe wherever she takes her little darling. she will continue to do just that whether her kid becomes a star or a patient.  and i cannot imagine football or soccer coaches are the sensitive and considerate type and share his feeling with individual players by whispers.  they go at the top of the lung so the whole field can hear:)  it is power at play.  as long as they win games, everything is just fine and dandy.

having said that, we change what we can.  the teacher is emotionally disturbed by it and she has a whole studio to care for.  does not make sense for the teacher to put much energy into sorting this single issue and get further overwhelmed. simply tell the parent that she has certain expectation from her students and if a student does not perform accordingly, she needs to stop the lesson.  what is holding her back is that the student seems talented.  well, victims of domestic abuse always find something worthy in the abusers as well... 

as a poster has pointed out, this is not an aggressive music parent. a lazy parent who is apologetic is another story.  this is a rude, irresponsible and inconsiderate parent.  fits my label of a loser imo.

September 12, 2011 at 03:31 PM ·

Civility, so it seems, is becoming rarer and rarer. Thanks to much needed counseling I am happy that I can exercise it during episodes when others do not. I am not saying that we are not entitled to self defence..... All of us have a right to a measure of dignity, and self preservation. The person who looses the most is the child. How sad that such traits the parent demonstrates becomes a sick heirloom passed down each generation! And a teacher/mentor denied the joy of being one of the elements of shaping a young one like this child into an asset to a community/society.

September 12, 2011 at 03:58 PM ·

 john, i love the phrase,,,edit out...:)  my kids play sports competitively and at times negative emotions can be real and overwhelming.  i need to introduce them to this phrase.  my older one is quite nerdy so she will love it:)

i also appreciate royce's  lament.  it is indeed a pity that at the bottom of this is a child who has a right to thrive and it seems unfair that she may be hurt as a bystander, to be dumped by her current teacher (not saying it is necessarily the course of action in this case).

but the thing to consider is that it is likely that the family will eventually settle down with a teacher who is a better fit, as the logic implies, right?

the mom will find her "superior" in the next teacher and in return the next teacher actually,,,enjoys,,,the stimulating interpersonal dynamic!  

hey, you never know.

September 12, 2011 at 06:26 PM ·

Hey Rachel, how did you resolve this?

---Ann Marie

September 12, 2011 at 09:48 PM ·

Hi, everyone!

 

Again, thank you so much for your participation in this thread.  I wanted to reply and let you know how this panned out for  me, since you’ve all gone to great lengths to share your knowledge and experiences here for my benefit (and that of my students).  

 

I decided that, after careful reflection, the best route for this particular situation was to send a letter to the parent involved, instead of discussing the issue face to face.  I know many of you discouraged me from doing this, but considering the way in which she left my home the last time I met with her (throwing money on the table and storming out with doors slamming behind) and the proximity of the parent’s home to mine (they live about an hour away), I decided that it would be better to write to her a letter.

 

I worked on this letter for about three days and drew from not only this thread, but several other teacher resources that I located, and finally decided that I really needed to draw some clear boundaries about what is and is not acceptable in the studio (thanks for the reminder, fellow contributors!).  

 

In short, I made a few very important points in the letter:

 

1.      I wanted very much to make sure that we could be on the “same page” in terms of where we were going and how we (parent, teacher and student) would plan to get there.

 

2.      Disagreements about teaching methods, studio policies or other matters need to be addressed at a time when the student is not present (and a brief explanation of why this is so critical to the success of our endeavors).

 

3.      I then provided specific examples of behaviors that had occurred that I felt were not only disrespectful to me, but harmful to my relationship with the student, as well as damaging to my credibility.

 

4.      I made a point to draw attention to the fact that I believe very strongly that she wants the very, very best for her child and an assurance that I, too, want the same things.  

 

5.      I concluded by stating that I know that she took great care in selecting me to teach her child and that I intend to honor that by teaching her child to the very best of my ability.  In return, I must insist on her respecting me and the practices by which I teach in the studio, and that if there are questions/concerns about either, that she address them with me in a way that helps maintain my credibility as her child’s teacher.

 

6.      I also noted that I understand that not every teacher may meet the needs of the student or family and that if she felt that this was the case that I would be happy to help her find a qualified teacher who might be better suited to work with them in the future.

 

I did receive a reply, to my letter.  It was full of bold capital letters, exclamation points and ultimately, a little bit of name calling.  Unfortunately, the whole experience didn’t work out the way in which I’d hoped, but I replied and simple said, “Thank you for taking the time to let me know about your decision to discontinue lessons.  I’m very sorry to hear that we couldn’t come to an agreement regarding acceptable studio behaviors, but I wish your child the very best in all future music endeavors.”

 

 I think that I did the right thing, but this whole situation has been very unsettling and unfortunately, I lost a very talented young student.  I do hope that this experience will help strengthen me as a teacher in the future, however, and I am so grateful for all of the great input and support I have received here in this forum.  

September 12, 2011 at 09:50 PM ·

 A post script here... My letter included a lot more specifics than included here, but I wanted to try to be as concise as possible here so that you didn't fall asleep reading my reply.  :) 

September 12, 2011 at 10:04 PM ·

It's probably best that you left out the details, to keep things more anonymous.  From what I see of your discourse, it sounds like you went above and beyond the call of professionalism in your dealings with her, and that she indeed has some personal issues that have nothing to do with you as a person, your teaching methods, or how you were handling the situation.

I just wish I could give you a hug!  I know how it feels to go through teaching traumas like this, and if you're anything like me, it can really leave a lasting effect on your psyche.  Hopefully, you're thicker skinned than I am. 

Instead of your lost student, train your focus on the potential awaiting you with your next student.  You did great, and you learned.  Good for you!

September 12, 2011 at 10:07 PM ·

PS  Give me a heads up if she ever moves to AK, save me some grief...

September 12, 2011 at 10:25 PM ·

Rachel - good for you and BRAVA! The way the mother reacted speaks volumes. This sort of thing can be very upsetting but you'll get past it it. I'm sure that most of us have horror stories in this vein we could share. Try to concentrate, as I'm sure you will, on your nice students and nice parents. I feel sorry for that little girl.

September 12, 2011 at 10:33 PM ·

Too bad for the kiddo.  Steven Garza's post above about growing up with a parent like that speaks to what her life must be like, assuming she's old enough to have figured out what a piece of work her mother is.

September 12, 2011 at 10:41 PM ·

Her reply said all you needed to know.  You did a good job, and, while it must be very difficult to lose a good student in whom you had invested a lot of effort, over the long run, you will be better off for not having to deal with the mother, and down the road, being in the middle of power struggles.

September 12, 2011 at 11:15 PM ·

Congratulations on reaching an outcome.  It wasn't the outcome you wanted, but it's an outcome nevertheless.  Now you can get on with your life.  I was among those who discouraged writing a letter or email, but you seem to have executed your letter very gracefully.  Among my reasons for suggesting face-to-face conversation was to spare you the three days of work on the letter.  :)  But after reading what you wrote about the money-throwing and door-slamming, I'd have been concerned about your safety in a direct confrontation.  I'm sorry you lost a talented student but there will be more of them.  If you believe what you read in the papers, they're "a dime a dozen."  :)

September 12, 2011 at 11:34 PM ·

I feel you handled the situation honorably and struck a good balance between diplomacy and frankness -- setting clear terms and boundaries.  The way you handled the situation, this mother may yet see the light at some point -- maybe not right away but eventually.

In the 15 years I've been in business for myself, I've had the occasional dissatisfied customer -- often one who thought he or she knew best, at the start anyway.  In all but two of these cases, I've been able to bring them around by the combination of 1) diplomacy and 2) willingness to "tell it like it is."

The two I couldn't satisfy, no matter what -- well, run any business long enough, and you'll probably come across at least one such case.

I don't mean to go off on an editorializing tangent, but here is where I feel good early home training is so important.  If my parents hadn't invested the time in me, from my very young years, setting boundaries, teaching consideration for others, showing right from wrong -- who knows?  I might well have turned out as obnoxious as this parent did -- or worse.

September 13, 2011 at 01:25 AM ·

My department head at my school had a great bit of advice for everyone:

No matter where you are, in any enterprise, a small percentage of the people (5% or so) are always toxically unhappy.

Everything could be going perfectly, but they will find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Ignore them, and concentrate on the majority of people who value what you do every day!

September 13, 2011 at 02:18 AM ·

WOW!!

September 13, 2011 at 02:23 AM ·

September 13, 2011 at 03:48 AM ·

Beautifully handled, Rachel.  (I've been reading but not posting anything.) 

Sounds like the outcome you wanted --- the demon mother would suddenly become nice, or at least civil, and you would get to keep working with the student --- was never going to happen.  The outcome you got --- you behaved honorably, the demon mother is out of your life, hopefully forever --- sounds like the best POSSIBLE (as opposed to the best imaginable) outcome. 

You did the right thing.

September 13, 2011 at 09:07 AM ·

Heifetz had a simple solution: no parents allowed in class. There is no other gentle, polite way out of situation where stage moms and pushy dads are involved. It's your way, or the highway. And state that from the beginning (in the most polite and unassuming manner possible).

You should impose this practice to all your new students from now on. Make sure that the parent understands that your services are of the highest quality and, as a consequence, no interference from third parties will be allowed on the duration of the class.

September 13, 2011 at 10:43 AM ·

 as a pushy parent, i do not agree with this line:)

"Heifetz had a simple solution: no parents allowed in class."

for one, i do not wish my violin child turns out to be like H, and therefore, whatever H does, even musically speaking, has no bearing on my assessment on child bearing or violin learning.  he is a genius, we are not.  his way was his, our ours.  whoever showed up in his studio were not regular kids.  in fact, do we even know for sure when H was a child, how he took lessons?  probably not.  

if this particular mom was told to stay out of the class, will there be world peace?   i figure she is the type that will demand the teacher to explain after the lesson for 5 hours everything that has gone on while she is not in command...

on the other hand, what's done is done.  it fits in the category of what we call,,,no good deed goes unpunished,,,or,,,the way to hell is paved with good intentions.  considering what i have read, i would not have engaged that mom with an in-depth letter which serves to enrage/confront her even more.  i see congrats and well dones; me too, except for having survived reasoning with a rabid animal...

September 13, 2011 at 11:32 AM ·

I would only allow a parent into the lesson in exceptional circumstances. My wife as head of dept allows a mother into one of her teachers classes because the child is blind.

If I were still teaching I might allow a suitable parent in occasionally, but not all of the time. They have to sit in the car or another room.

If they didn't like that, then goodbye, and don't come back.

But I'm very well known here for my tact!! (Wink)

September 13, 2011 at 11:55 AM ·

 i think it makes a lot of sense to have family members staying out of the site of action in some cases.

for one, it is probably not a good idea for a wife to scrub in and help to hand out clamps to the surgeon when the husband is undergoing open heart surgery.  some bleeders can really squirt.

but teaching violin to young children can be tricky.  many students are very young and among those, some have difficulty remembering things on the spot...having a family member during the class CAN make the learning experience more efficient and less frustrating.

when a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it,,,is it every parent's fault? :)

  

September 13, 2011 at 02:27 PM ·

"when a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it,,,is it every parent's fault?"

Probably.

September 13, 2011 at 03:01 PM ·

     I am very impressed as to how this was handled and.... yes I liked the medium on which you communicated (by letter) for several reasons concuring with yours as well. Also by with holding the details that you did speaks volumes in your favor (after all this was between you & the other person and some privacy must be administered)! I would certainly score you high marks as someone with an outstanding character, very mature and allot to offer my child (if I had children) meaning I would hope that my child would pick up your good qualities! Even I could learn a few things from you!!!!!! Honestly speaking!!!!

     I also would like to say that I concure with al. With no deminishing of Heifetz he had his methods that worked for him. As I am learning to appreciate, teaching method can be just as unique to the individual(teacher & student) as much as we are all unique individuals!

September 13, 2011 at 03:59 PM ·

 just want to shout to all those hard working violin teachers out there:

it may not be the most glamorous work, but you guys make it worthy and worthwhile.  

you take great patience in seeing your students improve note by note, day after day, when saints would have long given up.

you put yourselves in a vulnerable position by inviting people into your home along with all kinds of germs from sneezes and coughs,  and the bigger ones called pushy parents with their character flaws. 

you exercise great tolerance and try to make the most of each and every situation, to ameliorate.

you skip meals or even bathroom breaks to accommodate your students' schedules.

when the best your students can come up with are poor intonation and musicality, you see the silver lining and potential.

you teach and show us what beauty is.

you provide encouragement and kindness when to the students and their parents the future looks so bleak and hopeless.  you never stop believing.  you give the family the strength to march on for another week.

you play a great and important role in shaping everyone you come in contact with, not only in music, but in valuable life lessons on hard work, goal setting and discipline,  that accomplishment is built one note and one day at a time.

so thank you!

September 13, 2011 at 04:09 PM ·

Cue Mantovani violins ...

September 13, 2011 at 05:44 PM ·

Yes! a huge Thank You to all who endevor to teach... we love you!!!

September 13, 2011 at 05:46 PM ·

Well done, Rachel!  I was one of those who recommended just getting rid of the student because I feared that the mother might turn nasty if you attempted negotiation, and so cause you more hurt and pain than you had already had to bear.  Well, she did turn rather nasty and you have been able to process this state of affairs very well.  I did realize that simply getting rid of the student would have cast him/her in the role of sacrificial victim, and realized after my previous posts that I wouldn't have felt very good afterwards if I'd been in your place, but I had thought that firing the student would minimize further suffering on your part.  Instead, you have sorted the matter out in a much better way than a simple firing, and so you have nothing whatever to reproach yourself for after the event.  On the contrary, you deserve many congratulations.

September 13, 2011 at 07:28 PM ·

 As a parent...I am shocked at the behavior of the mother while she is in your studio, and again shocked at her response to your very professional letter.  I don't think this was a situation you could have ever 'won'.  Had the student stayed, the mother would have been a nightmare and constant source of anxiety for you.

Toxic unhappiness...I agree with that.  The poor woman is carrying around a chip on her shoulder the size of Texas and you will never know what the cause of her issues are.  Sadly, you lost a talented student and no one can save him/her from this mother but, stop...take a deep cleansing breath and move forward.

Be thankful for the kind, positive parents you do have in your studio.

 

 

September 14, 2011 at 05:10 AM ·

 "Toxically unhappy," that is a good description.

You did all you can, and I think you can be happy with the way you handled the situation.

September 15, 2011 at 12:58 PM ·

Rachel:
Bravo !!!
Sandy
 

September 15, 2011 at 04:32 PM ·

John, you asked a question I have been dying to ask; Does mom play?
Is she trying to teach by proxy, or does she just have a driving need to be the only adult force in daughter's life?

September 15, 2011 at 05:16 PM ·

and I can't but help think of that poor daugher.  I wonder if she cried herself to sleep - having finally found a teacher she could work with and who appreciated her, only to have her domineering mother destroy yet another one of her tastes of pleasure.

I have to conjur a scenario where the daugher finally turns on her mother but even that has perils of unhappy endings....

maybe I'm not in the right mood for this!  But congrats Rachel - and I'm sure you will not get into that situation again :)

 

September 15, 2011 at 06:28 PM ·

Kudos, Rachel!

Your approach was professional and a credit to you. The key is that both parent and child understand that you are the teacher and set the parameters. If a parent insists on interjecting, challenging the teacher's authority in this regard, perhaps they should try teaching violin themselves.

I had a potentially good student with a very pushy parent.

  • First lesson was a minor infraction on her part - I overlooked it.
  • Second lesson it escalated. I countered politely.
  • Third lesson, a further escalation. I asked the parent why she brought her son to me? "To learn how to play violin." I asked  "Do you play?" She said "No, but I have watched people play." My response was: "Playing the violin is quite different from watching a violinist play the violin. Your son has potential, provided that we correct some of the bad habits he has already acquired and he applies himself to the task at hand. I cannot accomplish this if you insist on distraction and challenge. Perhaps you should look for another teacher."
  • That was the last lesson.

We have to value our time as teachers. As parents, we have to respect the person we have engaged as a teacher. Some parents do live vicariously through their children... the hockey dad, the tennis mom...

The solution is a "What to expect and what is expected" chat, rule book, guide, lesson rules - call it what you will, before the lessons begin. In the end, the only things that matter are:

  • The teacher teachs
  • The child learns
  • Both enjoy the process
  • The parent is rewarded and appreciated by the child for the gift of music.

Been there, done that... as teacher and parent. Yes, I practice what I preach.

My son wasn't interested in string instruments. He wanted jazz and saxophone. The deal was simple: for one year, music lessons, practice at home, and no missing band practices; a good student saxophone will be provided. At the end of the year, he could choose to continue, change instruments, or choose a different artistic expression. He had a wonderful saxophone teacher who spared nothing.  We had to schedule time in the music room at home to accommodate both our needs. There were concerts, school band field trips, lessons, summer camps, that culminated in a place at a music school.

Every music teacher will handle a sticky situation differently.... because there are so many variables. Perhaps the worst thing a music teacher can do is not to address the problem.

 

 

September 20, 2011 at 12:23 AM ·

 First of all---well done.  I admire the action you took.  In my opinion, it was the correct course of action.  Never forget that you were never the problem---and you were not going to be allowed to be successful no matter how hard you tried.

A wise man once told me something very true: "There is no rational response to a crazy  person."

That is almost entirely correct.  Better to say: there is only one rational response: "Good-bye".

 

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