Changing teachers?

February 18, 2021, 6:01 AM · Hello everyone,
I hope I can get some advice here about what to do with our 9 year old. I’m thinking about switching to a different teacher, but I’m not sure. Since there is no one to talk to about this, I hope you have some wise words for me. My daughter is studying for almost 3 years with this teacher now. On a personal level I'm having doubts: the teacher gossips a lot about other parents and children. I know she gossips about me too, I don’t like that. There are also a lot of promises that aren’t fulfilled (for example masterclasses or pieces) and she is extremely chaotic (not always sure what has to be done at home when studying, or suddenly changing pieces). On the other hand, our child is really fond of her teacher and she is improving fast.
The reason I’m having doubts is because our child did very well at a couple of competitions and now pre-conservatories are interested. But we are not allowed by the teacher to join these conversations about our child. Last time she said: I’m the one who decides when she (our child) is going to pre-conservatory, to which one and to which teacher. Is that normal? Isn't it normal that the parents are involved in this process? I’m not thrilled about the idea that our child will join a pre-conservatory at this young age, but on the other hand I can see that she is longing for kids her age that are also passionate about music. There are other options outside pre-conservatory (like summercamps or youth orchestra), but our teacher is forbidding that. She doesn’t want any other teacher hear our daughter play without her being present. I’m having a feeling that the teacher is more working her own agenda than making decisions in the best interest of our child. What to do?

Replies (22)

February 18, 2021, 7:38 AM · I would search for a new teacher if I was in your position. If you really think she has an ulterior motive, move to someone else. Your child may get on with this teacher, but there will be others she may get on with better
February 18, 2021, 7:49 AM · This teacher is completely lacking in professionalism and has severe boundary issues. I would fire her immediately for the sake of the child's mental health.

I had a similar unprofessionally behaving teacher myself recently and the relationship ended in a very ugly way. This can be avoided in this case I think with a little tact. Though it's possible that the teacher won't respond to tact.

Of course parents should make the ultimate decisions for their children. The teacher is trying to supplant the parents' interest in the child and that's a definite warning sign that something is wrong.

It also sounds like the teacher is putting too much pressure on the child. Music camps, youth orchestra, etc. are fun and the children learn a lot from them. There is nothing wrong with having fun while learning. Not having fun while learning is a recipe for burnout especially at such a young age.

Edited: February 18, 2021, 7:53 AM · That’s not normal with a 9-year-old. A parent should be involved.

It sounds like your teacher is worried about other teachers taking her student. Some teachers want to keep their best students to build their credentials. How well do her most advanced students play?

You may want to interview other teachers or the pre-conservatory faculty quietly. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be a situation where you can seek guidance from your teacher.

February 18, 2021, 8:43 AM · The chaos and the gossiping are absolute deal breakers.
February 18, 2021, 8:59 AM · After 21 years of teaching all kinds of students with varying levels of parental involvement, I agree with Ann, Jake, and Frieda 100%.

February 18, 2021, 10:21 AM · The above is right. But only you know what your reaction would be if she stopped making progress.

I stress, however, that her wellbeing has to be #1.

Edited: February 18, 2021, 10:43 AM · That teacher's attitude is not normal but more common than it should be. Teachers don't own their students. Some forget who is paying whom. The teacher is the employee of the parents. Time to leave. If your town is big enough there will be other teachers
February 18, 2021, 10:50 AM · Joel wrote, "Some forget who is paying whom." And that's certainly true, but often the relationship between teacher and student is one of guru and apprentice, and there can be a prevailing sense of loyalty in the student as well. So even though I agree that this teacher seems to behaving poorly (from the side of the story we see here), it's not necessarily all that easy to uproot and start afresh with another.
February 18, 2021, 11:03 AM · Paul makes a valid point. But I still believe it would still be worth it in the long run, assuming that you find a teacher who plays and/or teacher well
February 18, 2021, 11:47 AM · "guru and apprentice" I agree, and I have done that. I think that is more appropriate for late teens to early adult.
February 18, 2021, 12:32 PM · Put another way, teachers are not employees-- they are authority figures in their own sphere.
But authority must be earned, and the sphere must be limited appropriately.
February 18, 2021, 3:37 PM · Everything you've described is inappropriate and unprofessional. It's also worrisomely controlling. It's not at all normal or expected. I'd shop around for a new teacher.
February 18, 2021, 10:34 PM · Ditto Lydia and others. Not normal, not healthy.
February 19, 2021, 2:09 AM · Thank you all for your answers. When you are in the middle of it, it's sometimes difficult to see it clear. And offcourse it's not all bad, my daughter really loves her teachter. She is also fun and sweet and doing a lot of creative stuff with the kids, really learning the kids to love music. We moved this year to another area, so she had to switch schools, but the violin teacher stayed. That was a big help for our daughter when a lot of things in her live where uncertane.
But as a parent I'm having big doubts. Some of you said it right, our daughter is her most advantaged student at the moment and it feels like the teacher uses our daughter for her own portfolio. And like Lydia said: it feels unhealthy controlling. But the teacher also said that this is the way things go when you have a talented child. I can't compare teacher, but now I will informal talk to other teachers.
February 19, 2021, 7:14 AM · Perhaps its more important to start the conversation with your child? If you terminate the lessons (and I agree with the above) without getting her on board you may invite all sorts of problems down the line - ones that could damage your relationship with her and even her sense of wellbeing and independence.

Please just tread very carefully. It might be a good idea to get some professional advice on how to proceed.

February 19, 2021, 10:00 AM · this does sound like the teacher is dysfunctional, but may not be as atypical as you'd think. There is a type of teacher 'mafia' in some places that is very possessive and controlling of their 'turf' and acts like this. Some of them can be very difficult if they feel threatened! They do tend to have good students who perform very well, and that's the rub. Main thing that strikes me in this post is the daughter seems happy and doing well with her playing. You may try to strike a better balance with this teacher, under threat of quitting, but I'd be sure to have a new teacher already lined up who your daughter is on board with. No reason to alienate her. Also, be on guard for repercussions down the line, if this teacher is ever in a position to trash talk or sabotage your daughter down the line. This is not a reason to stay, but something to be ready to counteract if needed.
Edited: February 19, 2021, 1:09 PM · The teacher sounds like a jealous, abusive partner–not appropriate or professional or healthy for anyone involved.

I hear you on the progress that your child is making and how worried you are about jeopardizing this. But a couple of thoughts worthy of consideration:

1) this might be more to do with their talent and motivation and the support you're giving than with the teaching. In other words, perhaps they'd thrive as much or EVEN MORE in a healthier teaching environment.

2) it won't get easier to switch teachers down the road–only harder. It sounds as though you live in an area with abundant options for musical development. Avail yourself of them!

February 19, 2021, 2:22 PM · From what you describe, the crux of the problem is that the teacher is overly controlling. And, in my experience, that type of personality is rarely amendable to changing their ways no matter how carefully and reasonably you try to discuss the issues. You could test that theory by sitting down with her, politely voicing your concerns, and gently but firmly explaining that you must -- not would like to or hope to, but must -- be part of the discussions relating to your daughters futures. Maybe she will pleasantly surprise you and back down and be reasonable. If not, I don't see what choice you have but to find a new teacher for your daughter. It's either that, or hand over your child to someone else's control.

The hard thing is that there is not going to be a good way to gracefully exit without some hurt feelings and possible upset to your daughter. Your daughter maybe highly resistant to the change and it may be difficult to explain your concerns to her in way that she understands, and that doesn't come across as simply badmouthing the teacher to her. I would try to take the high road as much as possible. Thank the old teacher for all her help (even if she doesn't seem interested in hearing in) and focus your daughter on the excitement and opportunities that a new teacher will bring.

February 19, 2021, 2:38 PM · continued,-- when I switched to a rather famous teacher, she insisted that I resign from my current teacher before even considering accepting me.
February 19, 2021, 3:21 PM · Please navigate this transition with care. 3 years is a third of a 9yo's life and she seems to view it positively and has a rapport with this non-family adult's supportive/nurturing/coaching role. This is a good time to model a healthy way of moving on with a life change. If that sounds dramatic, just consider it teaching/learning the life experience of moving on from stuff, which will forever be a part of life. Unless you are *certain* that personality-wise, she won't have any trouble with being yanked from the current situation, then some kind of preparation conversation is probably in order. Here are some other considerations:

You start teacher-shopping before informing the current teacher. Do you carry on with lessons as usual? Is your daughter likely to innocently make any comments about prospective-teacher-meeting experiences? Show doing something in a different way that she was unlikely to have stumbled upon independently? Are you going to *ask her not to say anything* to current teacher? IMO, it's highly unfair to put that kind of burden on a child - and especially when the teacher has a track record of...unusual reactions, assuming fair and objective* reporting of the story.

(Once I correctly suspected that a particular family had started with a new teacher already. However, they had honored my multi-year relationship with them and my schedule by finishing out the term and scheduled ensemble events, giving appropriate notice, and having time for closure. I honored them by treating them as professionally as I would any student, but I did adjust by backing off on things that would require significant follow-up (because I would no longer be following up). Not everyone does this - I've had my share of parents saying at the end of the lesson, this is (was) our last lesson, or worse, texting after the next term had begun and their spot had been planned for, or even no-showing to a previously consistent schedule. I think people must be trying to avoid perceived awkwardness after essentially telling someone you're breaking up. I get it but my view is that there is always a time in a student's educational journey when it's beneficial or necessary to move on, which I communicate to parents early on and some definitely forget when it's actually time.)

*The details are irrelevant but for example, there are certain things I do as a teacher that I could write about and portray in the appropriate, intended context. I could also write them in a biased manner, recounting them as gossipy, chaotic, and controlling. Personally, I would want to know if a parent disagreed or had concerns about what we were doing or not doing and work with me on resolving perception vs. reality. There seem to be plenty of red flags, but OP's last line says it all, perceiving that "best interest of the child" is not being observed by the teacher, that there is a loss of trust in the teacher's guidance. Having one foot out the door can make one view things more negatively.

Edited: February 19, 2021, 3:29 PM · I taught for 37 years. I wasn't a music teacher, but that hardly matters. She won't let you in conversations? Insist. She gossips? Tell her to stop that nonsense. Your child - your rules. Teaching through intimidation and fear will give secondary lessons to your child you want to avoid. You're dealing with a teacher who is way too full of herself. She's on a power trip and presumes she is the alpha and omega. Find another teacher as soon as possible, and walk away without looking back. There are many excellent, dedicated teachers who have a sense of their students needs, and a sense of boundaries. Your child may like her, but find a caring and dedicated teacher and you child will love that person.
February 20, 2021, 9:03 AM · I am a bit late to respond. Certainly there is unprofessional behavior, such as the gossip. There is the secrecy, which can be a red flag. However, I did want to play the devils advocate, at least a bit. Artists are known to be temperamental and sometimes chaotic. Working with a great artist sometimes involves putting up with that. It is not unheard of for a teacher to strictly control a pupil’s activities. They do not want the pupil influenced by other teachers or programs. In terms of being left out of the communication process with pre conservatories, what do you expect to contribute in the process? The teacher is charged with directing your child’s education on the instrument and making decisions that are in your child’s best interest.

After saying all of this, the relationship with the teacher is based on trust. It sounds like you may have doubts and do not really trust him or her. To some extent there is good reason not to, gossiping, being unreliable, and distancing you are all huge red flags. However, as I mentioned above, these things in and of themselves can be explained away a bit. My advice would be to really think over your trust in the teacher. After you have thought it over, if you have any doubts, it is probably prudent to change teachers.

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