Students from hell? :-)

August 17, 2013 at 07:24 PM · Here it was happening again:

as I was happily telling my husband about my day filled with the usual joys and frustrations of my other private students while trying to shove down lunch between lessons, there was an impertinent ring of the doorbell.

After using a famous French word, I looked at my watch. “Na-ah! - I said to my husband. - Too early. No way.”

The next student was, indeed, too early. Time is a mysterious thing. If your lesson is scheduled at 3 pm, you should come at 3 pm. 2:59 if you are polite. 2:58 if you are extremely talented and your teacher has told you so and does not mind spending more time with you chatting about your life affairs. Not when you try to steal 15 extra minutes of his or her time. Not when your mom is going to be late again picking you up, leaving you in your teacher's home for entertainment.

There was another ring of the doorbell.

I did not open. Not until it was her time.

I want to know what you, gentle men and women of the jury, do in a case like this. What do you say to a parent, a mom who sometimes comes in and not only sits during lessons (she's welcome to), but lies down on MY couch and pretends to be asleep even when her daughter talks to her. Is she just comfortable? No inhibitions? Mi casa e su casa kind of thing?

I wonder sometimes how to explain the simplest things on Earth to an adult.

Anyone has similar experience? I'd love to hear it.

Replies (24)

August 18, 2013 at 12:09 AM · Learning from the school of hard knocks, I have gradually established a set of 15 rules of the studio that all parents read and agree to at the beginning of each year. One of the rules is, " don't arrive more than 5 minutes prior to the lesson if you're the first lesson of the day or the first lesson after the dinner break. Enter quietly and tune. If the door is accidentally locked, ring the front bell. Wait 20 minutes in case I am unavoidably detained. Parents, please pick up your child on time if you are the last lesson of the day or the last lesson before the dinner break."

The reason for allowing students in five minutes ahead of time is so they can come in and get their books ready, get their violin out and tuned if they know how to do that, while I can continue to finish my meal or whatever else I was doing. You may not have that luxury with a very tight schedule for eating but, over the years, I expanded the dinner break to give enough time to comfortably enjoy my meal while allowing for that five minute period in which students could get set up and ready to start.

As for the 20 minute-waiting rule, I guess I got that from my college days when we were told to wait for professors for 20 minutes, in case they arrived late, before leaving the class.

The"when to arrive" rule was born out of the fact that one parent would drop off her child almost 30 minutes early and then not pick the child up until 20 minutes after the lesson had ended. Because I had a need to leave the house one time and the parent hadn't yet come, I was forced to wait and explain to the parent that this could not continue. Thus the rule was born, and no one has ever violated it since. You live and learn and you explain to the parents that this is your home and you have to establish these common sense rules so that you can have the time you need away from teaching without being disturbed. It's not meant to make anyone feel neglected or unappreciated. It's just meant to separate teaching time from "the rest of my life" time. Any reasonable parent should understand that and if they don't, and you don't need the income from their lessons, you should politely but firmly explain that they need to find a different teacher.

We all have our limits on patience and it's important that all parents know your rules upfront and it be made clear that you cannot be taken advantage of.

I do not know how many years you've been teaching but my experience has been that this can be difficult for a younger teacher when the parents are all older than you and you feel that they won't respect your authority. It certainly gets easier as one gets to be older than the parents but still, your rules for your studio are yours to set as you see fit and you should not be afraid to stand by them.

It is a sad fact of life that sometimes you have to let go of a student through no fault of their own because the parents have been unreasonable or difficult, but for your sanity and own sense of self-respect, it may be necessary to do so.

Good luck and I hope your situation can be turned around so you feel you're being respected and treated fairly.

August 18, 2013 at 02:32 PM · I'd say it just depends...every client is a little different...and every teacher is a little different.

We live in the country...when I took my kids to lessons in the city I couldn't always manage my time to just drop them off and then pick them up...and sitting in the car in the winter when it's -40 C, for an hour, with the engine running really isn't a good option.

However, as a parent I am most comfortable, if waiting with my child - to have a clearly designated place to sit (and maybe a table that is okay to put a coffee on). A chair in or outside the studio is just fine...

And yes...I appreciate that people who teach from their homes also live in their homes...and try not to come too early and to leave promptly afterwards...

I think if you're clear on pick-up/drop-off times and waiting areas from Day 1...most people should comply.

August 18, 2013 at 04:41 PM · N.A. Mohr gives good, simple practical advice. A waiting area, however small, gives the parent a place to be while the lesson proceeds and being clear from the beginning about drop off and pick-up times is best. If everybody knows what has to transpire from the get-go, there are fewer surprises and difficult moments in trying to make the rules retroactively fit.

August 18, 2013 at 10:25 PM · i'll take the chance in assuming that a student's opinion is welcomed also. while i find your concern rational, i believe it is too sharp on the professional side. i have the impression that lessons and teaching in general are just another responsibility that have to be fulfilled from X o'clock to Z o'clock precisely. the 15 minutes spent before the lessons can mean a lot to both student and teacher. i have the impression that in the past, teachers were also mentors, whereas now they are just professionals. getting to know a student by allowing small talk is an important part in bonding with them. personally, i enjoy a lot having lengthy discussions during the lessons i pay. i expect the pleasure i get out of them to be reciprocal.

on the lest idealist side though, some rule-setting would do.

August 19, 2013 at 03:53 AM · If your students are coming from long distances away, or you live in an area where traffic makes times unpredictable, you might often find that your conscientious students do in fact arrive more than 5 minutes in advance. (Thanks to unpredictable traffic and transit times, I can end up arriving 20 minutes early to a lesson if the stars align right, for instance.) And if you have any students who aspire to play professionally, it's good to teach them not to ever be late to a music event -- not even their lesson.

Observing the previous student's lesson isn't a bad thing -- you should expect a student to sit down and be quiet while it's happening. If it's the first lesson of the day, answer the door, let them in, and allow them to warm up while you go do your thing until it's start time. You're not obliged to start early or to chat.

August 19, 2013 at 04:44 AM · I have kept up with this thread and have been reluctant to respond to it even though I have wanted to for the fear of coming off offensive and cocky. Seeing that the name of this thread was Student from Hell, I was interested in hearing the "horror stories" of teaching and instead was smacked in the face with the written story.

I am currently a student now aspiring to be a professional and now looking at colleges; this is my senior year. I was shocked and made uneasy by the sheer coldness of your professionalism. It seems harsh that if a student is anywhere from 5-15 minutes early that you should reject them as you do and then accept them into the studio afterwards and continue on. 15 minutes or more and not wanting to let them in then I can understand but only if they live close has Lydia has said. I can even understand not letting them in if its not possible. My current teacher lives an hour away from me and was willing to give me my lesson earlier when I arrived much earlier at no fault of mine. I'm not suggesting that you do this though, just bringing up a ancedote. From experience it is not always the child's fault for being early or late. It's not that the student is trying to steal more of your time, they just happen to be early or their parents late. Why should the student have to feel the negative affects of this?

I can't explain exactly why your story has made me feel so uneasy and a little insecure. I say insecure because it makes me think what if I get a teacher that acts in this way or what have previous teachers thought of when i have arrived too early or left a little late. I have been late to lessons as well as early and have never received this type of treatment . If I have been early I have been glad to wait in the car (if possible) or sit in my teacher house and wait for her to finish. You seem to be the type of person to be strictly professional with you students. I have no problem with that and I have no say whatsoever in what you do, but speaking from the point of view of student I would like to suggest maybe letting that student come in five minutes earlier and maybe talk a little before starting the lesson and it doesn't have to be personal. It could be musical and maybe they can learn something else that is not strictly related to their instrument.

I'm sorry if this post offends in anyway seeing as how I'm only 17, but I have been itching to say something.


August 19, 2013 at 08:41 PM · As a I am usually very flexible with my time, but I also have to respect the time of other students, colleagues, my own family etc.

I love my work, and my students often tell me it shows; but I do have some sympathy with Mariam. Between lessons is MY time, to eat, drink quantities of coffee (not in front of the children?) pratice the music I am about to teach(!), make notes about the preceding lessons, or simply "switch off" for a while. Giving all you've got in each lesson is immensely rewarding, but it is also very demanding.

In "home concert" situations I have been horrified by the way some parents let their children have a free run of some-one else's house, opening private doors (and drawers!). The same families will be very upset if I dare to point out that I would not do the same in their houses...

At the institute, I have started locking "my" studio at lunchtime, to re-appear shortly before the appointed time, refreshed and eager!

August 19, 2013 at 10:00 PM · I should clarify two things: establishing a rule or policy doesn't mean it won't have to be broken on occasion and that arriving early is not really the problem as much as expecting early entry into the house would be. There are all kinds of situations that could happen that cause a student and parent to be early or late or a teacher to be early or late for a lesson.

One practical reason for not wanting students to expect entry too early into your home before their lesson if it is the first lesson of the day is that if it were winter and cold outside and the teacher had an errand to run and was not home at the the time the student arrived and anticipated getting back just a few minutes before the lesson was to have started, the teacher would not want to be worried that a student was waiting out in the cold or that the parents had to waste gas by running the engine and staying in a heated car until they could be let in.

Of course, if you live far away and traffic is that unpredictable, you would let the teacher know your situation and you would in turn understand and accept the teacher's flexibility in being able to let you in to warm up or just relax inside way ahead of the lesson time or the teacher's not necessarily being home to let you in and your having to wait.I would venture to say though that the majority of students and parents agree to a lesson time with the teacher because this is when they expect to be able to have the lesson.

Certainly, if the teacher and students allow it, coming early to observe others lessons can be quite a good thing. Certainly also, staying afterwards to watch can be good too.

However, if the teacher needs to do other things, the parent shouldn't make a habit of arriving late to pick the child up if it is the last lesson of the day, because if the teacher needs to leave their house they certainly would prefer not to have to leave a student by themselves not knowing when the parent was expected to arrive. Suppose, as it was in my case, that I had to be with an aging parent and did so before and after a caregiver was expected to arrive or leave. A parent repeatedly showing up late would have put me in the difficult position of leaving their child alone or going to my aging parent's place to takeover from the caregiver who was helping out while I was teaching earning a living.

I hope you can see why situations with people arriving early or late habitually need to be dealt with and that a rule needs to be established with the understanding that things may come up and the rule may not always apply.

As for the parent or student chatting with the teacher about other things unrelated directly to the violin lessons and not thinking of the lessons as strictly business, I agree that teachers should not be cold-hearted and looking at the clock and just treat the student as a pay check. Without even having to make it a requirement in the job description, a violin teacher, as a human being, should be capable of doing more than just teaching how to play the violin, but each teacher must interact with the student and their family in an appropriate way such that the main focus is never lost and that no one feels taken advantage of. I always welcome parents or students to call or e-mail if they have questions or concerns that would otherwise not be best dealt with during the lesson. Again, if one has time to do so or makes time to do, fine, but not every teacher can spare that kind of time if they are carving together a living by teaching and performing and have a lot of commuting to do- their time may be eaten up so much each day that they need time to themselves to catch up with other things in life after their day of performing and teaching.

I think everybody has brought up sincere and valid concerns- I would just say it doesn't hurt to have a rule or policy in place and to allow for the fact that things can change and you try to adapt and be flexible when you can.

August 19, 2013 at 11:18 PM · I don not generally teach in my home, so maybe my perspective is different, but I am happy to have my students arrive 5 or 10 minutes before their lesson times. This is time to get materials out and take off out garments. Most can tune themselves reliably, and have a short warm-up regimen they can do in the next room while I finish a lesson, or attend to my snack or personal needs. I'm often hearing just the edge of things they're doing: clues me in on what they may want to work on, or to ID little problems right up front.

August 20, 2013 at 11:22 AM · I think the title to this piece is what some folks are finding offputting. It comes across as an overreaction. I would expect a "student from hell" to be wielding a knife or damaging property, not simply schedule-challenged.

August 20, 2013 at 01:09 PM · > If your lesson is scheduled at 3 pm, you should come at 3 pm. 2:59 if you are polite. 2:58 if you are extremely talented and your teacher has told you so and does not mind spending more time with you chatting about your life affairs.

Yikes. Not even five minutes for them to set themselves up, warm up? Speaking from the student's POV, I find that harsh. I'd have mixed feelings about being expected to warm up on my own dime.

The eating-lunch thing, and not allowing them in, I can appreciate. A mealtime should indeed be the teacher's time. But hopefully it has been clearly stated to the student and parents that "it is as if I am not here, and I won't allow a student in during that time." But please, factor in a five-minute-early policy for the poor kid to warm up. And, speaking from the perspective of a parent who has to drive long distances, traffic can be unpredictable, that five minutes always needs to be there as a cushion. Sometimes you need it, sometimes you don't. But better five minutes early than one minute late. That's my thought as someone who's paying for the lesson. And, as someone pointed out, it's an ethic we should be encouraging young musicians to develop for the future.

Sorry - this turned into a "you should" lecture and not the commiseration you were anticipating. Guess it's b/c I'm the student (and parent) and not the inconvenienced teacher.

PS: I am visualizing my life in the U.S. but now I see that you live/work in Thailand. I have no idea how the rules and cultural etiquette are there, but I can see how that might create an entirely different ball game. And the "lying on the couch" business is quite funny, and even I was bug-eyed about the inappropriate nature of that.

August 20, 2013 at 01:15 PM · >I'm sorry if this post offends in anyway seeing as how I'm only 17, but I have been itching to say something.

Nairobi, you stated your opinion eloquently and politely. I appreciated your perspective and comments both, and don't feel like you wrote anything offensive. (Then again, I'm pro-student in this discussion as well!)

August 20, 2013 at 01:33 PM · Like many other replies here I too was a bit offended by the coldness of the original post. Calling someone a student from hell for being more than 2 minutes early. And, 2 minutes is only allowed if student is extremeley talented AND has your permission to talk to you about "life". Otherwise, it is 1 minute. Please lighten up.

August 21, 2013 at 01:34 PM · Strange to find this very same post in the blog section. Two conversations at once. Maybe next time pick one or the other?

August 30, 2013 at 03:04 PM · LOL I tend to be a bit of a Clock Nazi, too. Perhaps it's a holdover from being a symphony musician for many years, or maybe because I don't have enough teaching time after school to schedule breaks between each student - they are back to back - so early arrival is fruitless and late departure is rude to the next student. My small breaks during teaching time are important to me, so 3 pm is 3 pm and that's it.

My personal setup allows a lot of latitude, but that won't work for everyone. The main thing is to have the proper mental attitude. When I examined my resentment of early arrivals, I decided it was unreasonable to expect people to operate like a clock, and came up with win-win solutions that would free me from resentment, and free them to be human. Start from there.

1. If possible, have a break area somewhere with a door. If a student arrives early, usher them in, tell them to warm up, and reappear at lesson time.

2. Cover furniture used by students and families with washable covers. This helps with cleanliness for your families, and wear and tear on the furniture for you.

3. Have somewhere to wait outside the room you teach. If a Mom is late, make sure the child is packed, instruct them to wait there, and don't worry about it. You are not a babysitter, so your responsibility is met by providing a safe place to wait for pickup. Standing on a street or sidewalk is VERBOTEN, but it is not necessary to be physically present with them unless you teach toddlers. If you do -good luck - I have no idea.

4. Pay attention to chronic early birds and late comers, and adjust next year's schedule accordingly. ;-) NEVER put early birds first, and NEVER put late comers last, and everything will eventually sort itself. Until the next one appears...LOL

August 30, 2013 at 03:50 PM · Great tips, JJulie--especially the last one! :) :)

August 30, 2013 at 05:44 PM · I wouldn't dream of not letting a student in because they were early. I would of course request to them/parent that they be on time next time, but I certainly wouldn't leave them outside!!

Did I read the original post correctly?!

September 1, 2013 at 12:13 PM · A student comes in early and you call him/her "from hell"? Oh dear, you must really not be aquainted to what I'm dealing with here.

September 1, 2013 at 06:20 PM · I would imagine a student arriving early like this is a good-faith attempt to be diligent and on top of things. If not desired, a simple word to that effect would be sufficient. Doesn't seem to be any reason to impute bad faith, and use that to justify a rude punishment. Verbalization is usually much more civilized than non-verbal, and is typically much more readily understood towards the desired outcome.

September 1, 2013 at 07:12 PM · I had one family who arrved unfailingly 2 hours late, and no, I am not exagerating!

The following year, I told them 2 pm but in fact reserved them for 4 pm. It worked!

They were rather surprised when one day they saw the computer printout..

September 3, 2013 at 01:20 PM · Srsly? Two hours? LOLOL Were they flying in from overseas, or something? This HAS to be a record!

September 3, 2013 at 03:23 PM · I had a student who threw screaming tantrums and point blank REFUSED to play her violin nor respond to anything I said. THAT'S a 'student from hell' :)

September 3, 2013 at 09:26 PM · I had a student parent from hell who left cigarette butts by the door and poked around my house while I was teaching. They usually showed up half an hour early, and the child did cartwheels and somersaults off of the couch in my living room while they waited for their lesson. After a month, they stopped coming and stiffed me on the bill, but I didn't have the guts to call and ask for my money because I was afraid I'd have to see them again.

September 4, 2013 at 11:49 PM · I think if you can arrange an isolated anteroom where your next student can warm up and tune, then you should make it a policy that they're not only welcome to come 15 minutes early, but expected to.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, would solve all of these problems better than a waiting list.

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