Changing teachers

July 15, 2018, 8:14 AM · Hi all,

This has been discussed before here I know but I would still like to know your current opinions.

I'm thinking of changing teachers -I havent confirmed this 100%- and I'm not sure how to break this to my current teacher (Ive been with him for nearly a year minus couple of months). What is the 'usual' étiquette in this situation.

We've currently stopped the lessons for a couple of weeks (he's away on a work trip). It nearly goes without saying that I dont want to hurt his feelings but I also want to avoid the awkward explanation part that will not be that constructive I think. I was thinking of writing him an email stating that Ive decided to stop the lessons...but Im still not secure with the reason why I would stop the lessons.

The most direct way would be in the vein of: You have helped me a lot and I would now like to benefit from another perspective. However, perhaps in the future, I could again return to taking lessons with you and I hope that you would have me back. (the latter part Im more or less paraphrasing what Yixi had suggested in a previous thread).

The escapist part of me would just like to say: Owing to some circumstances, Ive decided to stop the lessons for the time being.

And leave it sort of at that. There might be less chance of the teacher feeling hurt by it.

To add, obviously Im only going to inform him of this once Im 100% sure that I can continue with the new teacher.

Thank you for reading and hopefully contributing

Replies (24)

July 15, 2018, 8:35 AM · "The escapist part of me would just like to say: Owing to some circumstances, Ive decided to stop the lessons for the time being. "

That's what I'd say. Unless I had some personal relationship with the teacher, I wouldn't feel in the need of giving him/her a lenghty explanation about my decision.

"I dont want to hurt his feelings"

You won't. (1) He likely has many more students to be concerned about one dropping lessons, (2) I expect he has gone through this many times before, (3) Unless thiss teacher-students relationship has developed on a more personal level (and it shouldn't, at least in a period of months) he probably considers this just a strict business relationship; might miss some of the money that came from these lessons, but not that much to be emotionally hurt.

July 15, 2018, 11:17 AM · Thanks Damien. It's also that he keeps on remarking that I've been making progress, etc. So it might come across as a not too pleasant surprise.
July 15, 2018, 1:00 PM · I agree about saying for whatever reasons you can't have lessons anymore. You can say that your finances are tight right now or you need that money for an emergency. Just make sure he doesn't know your new violin teacher.
Edited: July 15, 2018, 1:28 PM · First, find your new teacher. Then tell your old one something like this, "I wanted to say how much I've appreciated working with you for the past year. I've learned a lot, and my playing has certainly improved, but I also feel that changing teachers might the best thing for me at this point. I'll be studying with (name)."

If your current teacher really honestly-and-truly cannot figure out why on earth you are doing this, then they've got their own soul-searching to do.

If you're switching teachers but you tell your current teacher that you've decided to stop having lessons altogether, that's not honest, and in the long run it will damage your credibility and create more animosity than the direct, forthright approach.

July 15, 2018, 1:54 PM · Paul's advice is good. Honest, forthright, and final is the best approach. If you have not scheduled your next lesson with him, I would call him to tell him -- it's much like a break-up in that it's more polite to not do it via email/text. If you have scheduled the next lesson, I would email him to inform him (so that he knows that he has room for a new student in his studio), but say that you'll still be attending the next lesson, and you can say your good-byes then.

(I think it's different when there's been a years-long relationship, but in this case, it's been a few months short of a year.)

July 15, 2018, 1:56 PM · Most people don't want to hear the bad news about why you're not choosing them, and also understand that a large number of factors are beyond their control. However, for those few who might be genuinely interested in learning from their mistakes (from a student!), it would be dishonest to not tell them if/when they've asked; and then they've asked for it. Moreover, the best teacher for you is the one you learn from best; another teacher might be better for another.

That said, if I was your teacher and that was anything like your real name, I'd try to find some way to have fun with it. Like maybe schedule a 3 year old or an 83 year old in your lesson spot and tell you what great progress they're making.

July 15, 2018, 2:58 PM · I switched teachers a few years ago, and I bet I could have done it better, but when my teacher went away on vacation for a while, and came back and called to schedule, I said I wasn't going to continue lessons, either because I was switching teachers, or I didn't go into the details for what I was going to do.

I would try and do this as soon as possible (once you know) so your teacher has the longest time to plan around, and to just thank the teacher for his time and not get too far into details, unless the teacher asks for feedback. It's hard to know if there were some specific things you didn't like whether or not someone will want to hear them, so I would focus on your positive thoughts towards the teacher and their lessons and let them take the lead if they want constructive criticism.

It's kind of a bummer since someone can take this kind of thing as a personal failure, but you gotta just pull the trigger at some point. I realize that a lot of the relationship is down to a personal fit that isn't going to be anyone's "fault".

Edited: July 15, 2018, 3:44 PM · Paul and Lydia, the honesty factor is what causes me dilemma, and this is why I called that the other part of me escapist.

However, the scenario where I would say this on the phone or in person, then being asked what i found lacking or whatnot, what it was that 'drove me away' so to speak will most likely drive the other party into a defensive corner. That is not what I desire as an outcome. We say that criticism is good and whatnot, but when it comes to it, rare are the people who actually take this motto to heart.

àAlso he's currently on a trip abroad, so it gives me yet another alibi to email him rather than to talk on the phone :)

Would an email to a teacher informing him of the situation be tantamount to breaking up with someone via email? I think theres more responsibility and attachement when it comes to matters of intimacy, no? Im asking the question with sincerity.

Christian, yes I agree , personal rapport also plays a significant role. With the potential new teacher, not only did I see a direct correspondence with what Ive been reading in terms of violin technique and pedagogy literature, i felt that i was comfortable with his person, and therefore more able to communicate. But then again, this has only been one lesson Ive taken.

Just to note, my current teacher is in fact far from being a bad teacher or a player, has always been professional and respectful and has helped me a lot.

J Ray, yes one of my current teacher's assets is that he is positive, he's really great that way. But I also do practice and take my lessons seriously, so yes Ive made not so bad progress since starting with him.

Anyway, I just wanted to test out the idea here see what everyone has to say. I would also love to hear from more teachers if possible, what they think.

July 15, 2018, 3:42 PM · Why exactly are you switching teachers?
Edited: July 15, 2018, 5:47 PM · When students quit on me (as their teacher) I had no trouble thinking of why they might be doing so. If they had told me why, I would have considered their opinions, but weighted them more lightly than my own.

It would be polite to let your teacher know you are quiting as soon as you can to allow for scheduling other students. It would actually not be polite for the teacher to inquire why you are quitting but if you want to answer you can always say "I am making some changes in my life!" That will be true, and not embarassing to either of you.

Or just follow Lydia's advice - except, I think once you have given notification I see no need for a follow up lesson unless the teacher requests it - or it is already paid for.

July 15, 2018, 5:41 PM · If you are currently occupying a place in a teacher's studio, it is courteous to pay for whatever lessons you have scheduled. Whether or not you want to attend those lessons is up to you, but payment should be made. Just because you've made a decision to move on to another teacher does not mean that your remaining lessons can't be productive, though. (However, beginners should probably not overlap lessons between two different teachers.)

I don't think it's necessary to leave a teacher with criticisms that explain why you're moving on. If they ask for feedback, be polite about it, and offer both positive things and things that you wish had been better. The objective of that conversation is not to justify why you're moving on, though. It's to provide some closure for both of you and a polite good-bye.

July 15, 2018, 6:45 PM · Whatever you do, don't offer "critiques" of your soon-to-be former teacher's teaching or teaching style. That's pretentious and inappropriate. They know way more than you do about the violin and how to teach it.

Non-musical issues like cancelling and rescheduling too frequently are not off limits.

You never know - your teacher may be wracking their brain trying to come up with a way to unload you gently as a student as well.

July 15, 2018, 8:24 PM · I would leave with as much gratitude as possible. As PP mentioned, “I am ready for a change in my life.” is both accurate and polite. I wouldn’t offer anymore details.

The key to things ending well is having had a good professional relationship with your teacher and it sounds like that applies here so it probably go okay.

Edited: July 15, 2018, 9:22 PM · Lydia, actually no lessons were scheduled. He went on a trip and I had my vacations coming up so we said we'd confirm later. you have given me stuff to ponder over and incorporate though, thank you.

Ryan, I dont want to offer criticism (see my above posts), hence my reluctance to draw this out to the point where he would ask me what was lacking. I dont want either one of us to be in this situation. This does not mean however that my reasons are necessarily pretentious, whether i enunciate them or not. Although I am not an expert, I am not totally ignorant and devoid of some agency to make some observations . I have quite concrete reasons and observations. But neither does it mean that I might not be wrong in somethings. But pretentious, I dont see what warrants such a description.

Andrew, yes perhaps. I havent so far given any indication that I would stop the lessons though.

Nina, off the board, I would be less reluctant to talk about them but I dont really want to here, especially that this could so easily spin in wrong directions. id like to seperate that topic from the issue of how to ethically change teachers.

Kiki, yes we do. there are no negative personal or Professional shortcomings.

thanks all

Edited: July 15, 2018, 9:37 PM · @Tammuz

The comment wasn't really directed at you, it was meant to be more a a general observation on a topic that is somewhat of a sore spot with me.

Music instruction is one of the only professions in existence where people who know next to nothing about it feel somehow qualified to make a judgement call on the abilities of the experts who work in the field. How many times has a vapid soccer mom complained that her kid's violin or piano or flute instructor is a "bad teacher" because her brat (who practices 30 or less minutes a week, if at all) comes home "bored" and "isn't improving as much as they should be"?

Far too many.

In the same vein - Students who are nowhere near mastery of their instrument have no business criticizing the teaching method or style of an experienced, professional teacher. That IS pretentious and inappropriate. If the teaching is not to your liking, then change teachers. End of story.

Do you have any idea how many times it took me YEARS to understand the essence of what some of my teachers were getting at?

July 15, 2018, 11:50 PM · I agree with Paul and Lydia.

Whatever you end up deciding to say, do not lie. That's disrespectful to your teacher and to your own integrity, not to mention how mortifying it will be when the lie comes out. Violin teachers do talk to each other.

Edited: July 16, 2018, 6:40 AM · If you call your teacher on the phone and (s)he asks you "Was there something wrong with my lessons" or "why are you not satisfied," you can deflect and pivot: "I enjoyed my lessons but I think it's time for me to move on. I'm sure we'll see one another in town from time to time."

You might feel bad that you're withholding information that your teacher seems to want or need. But that's not your responsibility, and please believe me when I say that your constructive criticism might not be as well received as you'd like.

One thing I'll warn you is that there are weeds in every lawn. I'll be greatly surprised if, in a year's time, you have absolutely no quibbles with your new teacher's lessons.

July 16, 2018, 10:24 AM · You might want to check if your current teacher has a policy on discontinuing lessons--perhaps check their studio policy if they have one. Not every teacher has one. Also, if a student wants to transfer into my studio, I won't accept them until they have quit with the current teacher. As a teacher, I don't want the possible perception of raiding another teacher's studio to be an issue.
July 16, 2018, 10:58 AM · I see what Jim is saying, but from a client's point of view, you want to have something lined up because you don't want to end up with no teacher at all.
July 16, 2018, 5:58 PM · Mary, thanks for the advice.
Ive decided Ill just tell my teacher that Ive decided to benefit from another perspective on my playing and that hopefully we could work again later on and that in that case he would accept me back. SOmething of that sort. I think I will email though, he wont be around.

Jim, thanks for the advice but if my teacher had a policy on discontinuing, he would and should have stated it from the beginning. People do not enter into contractual agreements, let alone noncontractual agreements, without knowledge of the conditions.

I agree with Lydia in that if i had scheduled lessons, I should pay for them although with my teacher it was just assumed that the following week, same time, would be my appointment. But given that we've taken a few weeks off, this wouldnt apply in this case.

July 16, 2018, 8:25 PM · Honesty is always the best approach IMO, so that sounds good. Beside, never blow up your bridges, you may wish to go back to him/her in the future.
July 16, 2018, 8:50 PM · Tammuz, I think it is very thoughtful of you to take such concerns with your teacher. I know a few music teachers and they have mentioned to me that it is common for students to just stop showing up for lessons when they quit or change teachers without giving any notice!
July 17, 2018, 8:20 AM · Thanks Timothy. If I were in his position, I would want to at least be informed in a proper way too.
Edited: July 27, 2018, 10:39 AM · OK, so I eventually wrote an email to my teacher that I would be continuing with someone else for the moment and that when I'm ready that it would be a pleasure to work with him again if he would have me back (again, I have Yixi to thank for this last part - but it's also true, I don't want to close that door for good), He responded in an exceptionally understanding and warm way, very positive. He's a really nice person, so I hope I have been fair here. Thanks all for your kind and helpful advice and for telling me to be straight up about it. Im happy with how it worked out.

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