The question of this thread is: "Is it morally superior to use my limited time/energy as a teacher to only teach students who are healthy, functioning human beings, or to let those students find other teachers who you suspect to be less experienced and skilled, while keeping the students that everyone else would refuse to teach?"
As a disclaimer, I want to start this discussion off by stating that I'm one of the most forgiving teachers ever, and even with my most poorly misbehaved students, I keep giving them extra chances because I think there is value in everyone and that almost any problem - technical or behavioral - can be solved through a combination of cleverness, willpower, and time on the part of the teacher.
Perhaps it is because of this that I've come to wonder if I'm doing the "right thing" by continuing to try with certain students.
You see, I'm basically full of students. My schedule can't easily handle more, and so I'm often forced to tell new prospects that they'll either need to wait until a slot opens up, or that they must try a different teacher. Meanwhile, I know that in my area, I'm one of the more experienced and capable instructors, and that most of the other good teachers are also full. So I might be sending a potentially great little musician to someone won't do the best by them.
So, here's the issue: part of the reason that I have so many students is because I keep ones that others would refuse to teach.
I have a few very poorly behaved kids that I continue to teach, and I tell myself that it's important for me to fix their issues so that they can go on to become more effective human beings and not stay devil-people forever. And, in a pragmatic sense, I know that a poorly-behaved child cannot learn the violin effectively. So I have undertaken the task of doing what their parents won't (or can't) and teaching them simple-but-vital concepts like compassion, empathy, and patience. It helps them, but of course my level of control is limited by only seeing them once a week for 30 minutes. My efforts are only a drop in their bucket, but I know it's a good drop. So I tell myself that I'm planting a seed which will grow into something more as they get older.
I know that the typical advice in these sorts of situations is going to be along the lines of "discuss this with their parents" and "you're a violin teacher, not a therapist, so send them to a shrink instead."
But of course, anyone who has dealt with devil children knows that they're a result of devil parents; thus, neither of those options will actually do anything. All it would accomplish is alienate the parents if I'm too honest, and pass through one ear and out the other if I'm too tactful.
Then, there is the more tolerable grade of "bad students": the ones who are just very, very unmotivated and won't do what I tell them even though they always say they will. The ones that I've spent years trying to find the SPARK in. Doing ANYTHING to get them to try, but at the end of the day I am constantly reminded that no matter how creative I get with them, they're just going to keep passively resisting. They're usually nice, and they honestly think they'll try THIS week, but it never ever happens.
And the final grade of "bad students," the ones that honestly just crawl in their progress, no matter how much they try or how much you try. I tell them that everyone learns at their own pace (and I'm not lying), but in my heart it just gets so exhausting to see them be disappointed and to feel myself be disappointed because after years of going home and practicing, even doing PRECISELY what I say, they still don't sound remotely musical. And I don't mean they're not getting the nuance of a piece; I mean that they can't sing, their motor skills are poor, and there are a million other problems that I have to PUUSSHHH to fix. I can get very creative, try to hit them from a different angle, maybe more ear-training, maybe improvisation is their forte, maybe they need to sing the notes out, etc etc etc.... But everything I've done is about .0001% effective, even after years.
These, of course, are almost always adult learners. It's pretty uncommon for me to acquire students who have such a multitude of pre-existing issues, but they do come along and I have accumulated a few over time. I tell myself that it's like drilling for water. You might drill for 1000 feet and get nothing and finally hit that water, and if I'd stopped drilling at 900 feet, I would have forever believed that they were hopeless.
Sorry if this post came across a rant - as it wasn't intended to be - and truthfully I don't have much of a issue teaching any of these "problem types." My question is simply: would it be morally better to use my experience and skill in teaching to "water the healthy seeds" (you know, the ones who WANT to play, have some talent, and aren't poorly behaved) instead of taking my limited time and energy to make the most of the bad seeds?
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