When is it ok to drop a student?
My name is Michael, I've been a member here for years, but I mostly just lurk and learn from everyone else's posts!
Say you have a student who you've been teaching almost a year. They started out very enthusiastic and the parent seemed to be pretty involved and interested in their violin playing. Fast forward 6-8 months, several lessons this student admits "I didn't practice at all this week" and when asked why the answer is perpetually "I don't know". Parents seems totally uninterested in lessons and doesn't reinforce a practice routine.
You try giving them less to work on, cut their how long you expect them to practice, try changing material, so on...and no dice.
How long do you (personally, I want to see how other process this) let this go on before having the proverbial "we should see other people" talk?
Do it now.
If both parent and student were interested at the start and now both are not, is it possible that there’s an issue at home that’s impinging on everything? Not sure what you do about that , though.
I would give a warning first. Something like, "I enjoy working with you, but if you don't have room in your life for regular practicing, these lessons are not going to be productive. I don't want to be wasting your time or your parents' money. I need you to commit to practicing (X minutes per day) for (X days a week) in order for these lessons to continue. If that isn't possible for you, then your lesson on (X day) will be our last.
I am not a violin teacher, but I am a parent of kids who take violin, piano, ballet, and karate as part of their extra curricular activities.
My teachers growing up told me that if I did not practice they would not teach me - with my mother's knowledge and approval of his teaching philosophy. So, I'm not really of much personal help because I was terrified of never practicing enough for lessons (even though I never practiced "well")- when in high school, this amount was at a minimum 7hrs per week (1hr per day) - and I had A LOT of extracurriculars.
I'd ask/suggest a few things:
Thanks for the responses guys, I really appreciate it!
I went through a period, from around 11 to 13, when I had very little interest in practicing, and for a whole school year (at boarding school, where there were lots of distractions and very few practice rooms) basically didn't practice at all. One of those years was also spent in a medically-enforced minimal ability to pick up the violin, severely restricting my practice time to just a few minutes a day, plus lessons and orchestra rehearsals. (I spent all three of those years as either a youth orchestra concertmaster or principal 2nd.)
Context: I teach almost exclusively beginner/intermediate children, average age 8, and their parents. I've never dismissed anyone directly (confrontation! ahhh!) because if they are otherwise behaving reasonably (show up, put forth effort in my presence, are courteous, pay tuition as due), I assume they want to be there and work with it, even spending lesson time practicing last week's assignments if that's what's needed. Whoever no longer wants to be there, it doesn't take long for them to initiate leaving.
IMO, the child needs to like the instrument (violin) to learn how to play it. If the interest is not there, there is no amount of nudging that can make them play it. My children hear me play the violin all their life, so it developed an interest for them to learn too (at least this is my opinion). And since their violin teacher also knows that I play the violin, she makes me bring my own violin during their lesson so, a.) she can show me what technique my child is suppose to be learning, and b.) so I can play duets with them --- which she encourages me to do even at home.
Whenever I run into a student such as you describe, I think back to when I was a beginner (trumpet was my first instrument) and I was a horrible student who didn't practice very much. There's a long story about how my musical life got turned around, so that I've enjoyed a long a fruitful live earning my living entirely in the musical world.
Might seem like a silly question, but have you discussed with the student that in order to improve, they need to practice every week? Many kids don't actually make the connection that the only way to move forward is to practice. A surprising amount of parents don't even know this information.
I do not think violin teachers should play psychotherapist. They just don't have the training.
I don't recommend any violin teacher engage in psychotherapy with a student. But, to some kids, their teacher is the only one that will listen to their issues. Keep in mind, troubled kids are also usually the last ones to receive actual therapy. Saying "hey, I think your kid and your whole family needs professional help" rarely works in any positive capacity.
As a parent to an advancing student, i am able to experience at first hand what it takes to achieve serious violin playing.
Erik, I agree with you. A lot of kids do need "someone to talk to" because their family lives are bad. To be a good violin teacher you need to have a certain level of trust anyway, right?
I don't want to come across as cynical or insensitive - although that's probably exactly what will happen - but I come from the tough love side of the coin. If they don't practice then they should move on, and that's that. Life is too short. It's not rocket science. It's not family therapy. It's violin lessons, and that's it. As Kurt Vonnegut said, "You can or you can't, and you do or you don't." If they don't like it, if they don't want to put in the time, if it just doesn't click with them, give them the dignity to move on and find something else without shame or guilt. Perhaps they'll come back to it in the future. Perhaps they will never touch a violin again. So what? It's their choice. Violin isn't the only instrument in the band.
I wish my piano teacher had dropped me.
I think to some extent, parents are trying to protect their investments. If a child has had 5 years of violin lessons then you've probably spent somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000 on lessons, equipment, music, travel, etc. And that doesn't count your investments in time, energy, and love.
Before you decide to drop the student, have you spoken with the parents? An email to mom or dad saying "I've noticed that Jane hasn't been practicing. I'd like to have a quick conversation with you about how. I can support her in her goals. Please call me at XXX."
When I was teaching I "fired" students.If they were children, I discussed it with their parents first, might even have suggested a different instrument. If they were adults I discussed it with them.
So while you were practicing madly and improving for some months, your parents didn't come into your room and ask, "Andrew would you like to take lessons again?"
Ben David wrote: "I am a parent of kids who take violin, piano, ballet, and karate as part of their extra curricular activities."
@George Wells, I take exception to your comment:
I agree with Ben. "Kids these days are overscheduled" is easy to say. And maybe sometimes it's true, but that's really for every family unit to decide on their own. I also object to the idea that I enrolled my children in music lessons (among other activities) so that we could "check boxes" on their applications to Harvard. The goal is to foster a philosophy that one should try to live a rich and full life that captures a broad range of experiences.
The common thread here is "why?"
Be careful of pushy parents who make their lazy offspring play in the school concert without our agreement, and give us a bad name!
My daughter started piano at around 4 years old because she wanted to do so. She was (and remains) talented, loved playing, and never had to be pushed to practice. She played in concerts, recitals, and so forth, approaching all of it with a sense of pleasure. When she was 12 she walked into her lesson with a score of "Great Balls of Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis. Her teacher was incensed. "I am not going to dignify this trash. We are playing Chopin, and that's that." My daughter was angry. "I'm doing this for fun, not for that woman's ego." So she quit, and I didn't get in her way. She had nothing to prove, and that was that. Subsequently, she took up the flute, had first chair in high school, went to Interlochen Music Camp, and played into college and beyond. She did it because she loved it, and that's the point of all of this. Some kids love sports. Some love music. Some love just reading and writing. Give them a chance and see what happens, but don't fill them with guilt or shame. My son plays guitar, piano, trumpet, writes music, and has toured Europe in a rock band. He now has a radio program out in Montana. (Jonathan Kennedy on KGLT - Alternative Public Radio for Southwest Montana - shameless plug.) All of this - all of this - was and remans their choice. I gave them the opportunity and the resources, and trusted them to find their own path. Again, if they want to do it, and if they are willing to put in the time that's great. If they don't, however, they don't have to do so. One of my grandsons, by the way, just took up playing the drums.
One of my pet peeves is when people don't have any idea whatsoever how lucky they've been. Especially with regard to parenting.
Ben, et al.,
Mozart probably told his students not to practice because all the method books were from the "Salieri Method" and everyone knows the fingerings are terrible.
From Laurie's interview with Joshua Bell:
I felt the same as Joshua Bell. Having private lessons and playing in school ensembles was a requirement, not an option. I started all three children on violin at a very young age; one by one they got to fifth grade and expressed preferences for different instruments. My oldest switched to double bass, second son to oboe, and daughter to flute. All became quite proficient on their chosen instruments though only one is hopeful for a career. I don't think any of them regret having music in their lives.
Yes. We felt the same way. It was something we wanted them to have in their lives. We made them eat vegetables too.
Paul, how cruel!