Parents hired a 2nd Teacher: What do I do?

March 6, 2023, 11:57 PM · I've been teaching a 7 yo for about 9 months now. The parents recently hired another teacher who is vastly more experienced and knowledgeable than me - they are a higher-level professional violist (principle violist) with several decades of experience teaching. By contrast, I am an in-home teacher with a few years of experience and not suited to any professional orchestra. I know from my experience with my other students,though, that I am a competent teacher and well worth my fee.

They hired the other teacher partially for the father since he is also a viola player. I am glad to not be teaching the father anymore, but I am still teaching the son while the son also takes twice-monthly lessons with the other teacher. His son is... certainly above average in his aptitude for the violin; but I don't think he is any more than that. I think the father has an idea in his mind that his son has greater potential (and possibly the idea or the question in his mind about whether or not I am holding his son back).

So my question: I feel that I have found myself in a situation where I am being compared with someone who is vastly out of my league as teachers or musicians go. They did elect to keep me on as a teacher; good in-home teachers are rare in our area.

The father sat in on the lesson this past week, something which he rarely does, and he sat in in a way that made it clear he was watching and engaged- something which he never does. But he was watching more in a way that seemed critical rather than trying to learn how to teach his son. It was making me very uncomfortable, to say the least.

The way I see it, I have three options: Walk out; stick it out; or talk to them and communicate more clearly about needs and boundaries. I am favoring the last option, atm, but not sure about it.

What's yall experience taught you?

Replies (24)

March 7, 2023, 12:30 AM · I'd keep doing my job as professionally as I could while trying to keep the kid happy and being internally prepared for a talk with the parents. But I'd let the parents start that talk if they want to.

I used to play competitive tennis at 15. There was that 10-11 yo kid who trained with us because he had some potential. His father was a retired soldier who closely observed every single training session in a similar fashion to what you describe while he smoke and annoyed us with his cigarette addiction. Our trainer was sick of him, but never told him anything. He kept doing his job. The kid was nervous and I only remember him being a happy kid the day his father was I'll and couldn't watch the training session. That kid also trained elsewhere. In the end, the father was satisfied. The kid was runner up in many national tournaments but never made it to the professional level and today has a completely non-tennis related job. Thanks to his father, he hates tennis now.

So I'd just keep doing my job without being preoccupied.

March 7, 2023, 12:48 AM · It sounds like there are two different issues to disentangle. One is that I'm reading you to be projecting judgment from the parent, because you feel insecure; forgive me if that sounds harsh, but that's what I get from what you wrote. I think that your professional obligation is to push through and teach the best you can, and that parental engagement is ultimately good, up to the point where a parent is being rude, second-guessing you, or disregarding reasonable boundaries that you set. Maybe there was something you didn't mention, but it's not clear to me what specifically occurred where the father was watching in a way that seemed critical; was something said or done, or did he just look at you cockeyed the whole time?

Now, the other issue is the strange one of how you are supposed to fit with the other teacher. It's something that I'm sure some teachers are fine with, and I think it's easier when there are two teachers that don't overlap in the particulars of the service they provide; it sounds like that may be the case here if you are on violin duty and the other teacher is on viola duty. However, it's a very reasonable thing to not want to split a student with another teacher, who may have a very different pedagogical approach. I'm not a teacher, but if I was, I would really think about whether this kind of arrangement is worth it for me, and perhaps I would decide that this is a hassle and the parents can go do their thing with the other teacher, freeing you to focus on students who aren't splitting their attention like this. It's up to what works best for you; I don't think it would be unreasonable to wish this family well and bow out if you were thinking about that.

If you want to keep the student, I think your preferred option is your best bet. If you don't want to keep the student, you can just end it. Gritting your teeth sounds like a terrible option.

March 7, 2023, 4:57 AM · You often find reports of conservatory students having more than one professor. That's probably due to Brand X teacher being too important to give weekly lessons, but there must be some way of handling that.

Still, some have a policy not to divide teaching. That is a totally reasonable way to keep your life simpler and possibly benefit the student.

March 7, 2023, 6:24 AM · I personally don't think it is helpful or appropriate for a 7yo to have two teachers unless they are working closely together and exactly on the same page in terms of curriculum or method, plan, etc. The child will be confused; the parent will be confused. Two teachers can work later on, especially if the duties are divided (ie one for technique and one for pieces), but that is in kids who already are well-established, and in most cases the two teachers are still working together to some degree.

Unless there is a financial need to keep this student, I would discuss with the parents that having two teachers at this age is really problematic and that they would be wise to make a choice.

March 7, 2023, 7:06 AM · Hopefully all parties will be able to prioritize the best interest of the student.

It is strange that the other teacher is taking on a beginning student with lessons twice a month.

Can you coordinate with the other teacher? That would be a very important thing to do.

Baring that, the best thing would probably be to just keep teaching the student. Dropping thr student would probably not be helpful to the student.

March 7, 2023, 7:18 AM · I agree with Susan 100%.

I’m also a little confused by the willingness of the “higher level” teacher to accept this arrangement. To me it’s like assembling a bicycle with two different sized wheels and expecting it to ride smoothly.

March 7, 2023, 7:37 AM · Sounds like the father may feel they are missing something from your instruction. Often people are uncomfortable having an open and honest discussion with others. He may not give you the actual reasons. At the end of the day one teacher will probably be a better fit for this family. I would recommend open-mindedness and patience.
March 7, 2023, 7:37 AM · O.P., this doesn't need to be seen as some kind of a territorial struggle. Continue to do your best. If the parents become dissatisfied with the situation, I'm sure they'll make a change, or let you know.
Edited: March 7, 2023, 8:14 AM · I agree with much of what has been written. I agree particularly with Susan that the child would be far better off to have just one teacher at this age.

Regarding all the other [stuff] about whether you're insecure, or whether you're being compared to someone who is several levels above you and whatnot, the fact is that the family has kept you on payroll, so there must be a reason for that. One possible reason is because the child really likes you. That was my situation as a child -- I really liked my violin teacher even though all of the objective advice and comments that I was getting from other violinists, other violin teachers, etc. (of which my parents witnessed basically none), was that I would be better off with someone else.

March 7, 2023, 8:13 AM · Form a price-fixing cartel with the other teacher.
March 7, 2023, 8:16 AM · Or take lessons from the other teacher.
March 7, 2023, 8:32 AM · I had a similar situation with our kids. The one I remember most clearly was my youngest. I'm not a teacher, so she went to a good local teacher for lessons. I tried to stay out of it unless she was doing something horrible. When I'd be told that "her teacher" said that's the way to do it.
We had similar problems with maths. When they (all of them) were young, their teacher was the expert. My wife was a maths teacher, with experience from Primary schools (up to 11) through to Grammar School. I just had 3 'A' levels in maths and read Engineering at university
March 7, 2023, 9:27 AM · Morgan,

Is teaching the violin your primary or sole source of income? Or is it an outlet for you?

While I teach, I have two target markets. First are aspiring young musicians who do not have the financial resources to pay the local going rates of $60-120/hour. The other market is late starting adults who want to play the violin for their own enjoyment.

All of my lessons are "Pro-bono". I get the occasional gratuity which is always edible not bankable.

My goal with young musicians is to get them capable in first and third positions using Doflein. I then have some professional teachers willing to provide discounted price lessons for my former students.

Currently, thanks to Covid I don't have any young musicians in my studio but I do have two wonderful adults.

March 7, 2023, 10:37 AM · Does the other teacher even know about you? From the sounds of it, they do probably do not need another student, especially one being taught with a different approach.

Perhaps you could get an agreement that you take the child to a certain level and then he moves on to the more advanced level teacher?

Edited: March 7, 2023, 11:00 AM · In my team of two, (in a boarding school) where my colleague was a dry-as-dust distributor of études who never played to her students. I had one defection (who did not play better afterwards), and one secret double-up (which simply gave the poor girl a double program).
I had the reputation of being kinder, which some parents see a weakness (if not actually unwholesome?) and of creating and choosing material in these busy students' interests. In fact I was much more "technical" than my colleague.
A few who transferred to me played better and seemed happier ...

I had one girl who continued with her old teacher at weekends, but we were able to share our thoughts and programs. I was her "répétiteur", although I actually gave more technical advice.

I tried to say to parents that seeing a totally different teacher in a workshop context is stimulating and rewarding; one seems to make more progress than ever (which is nonetheless built on top of previous work!)

In Morgan's case, I would suggest agreeing to share the work in an organised way. It might benefit both teachers, the child, and the parents..

March 7, 2023, 12:04 PM · I'm going to do what George is doing after I retire.

@Malcolm, I think the violinist-parent is a different thing entirely, but not necessarily either easier or harder for a teacher to deal with.

Edited: March 7, 2023, 12:20 PM · This is a situation that I experience in one of two ways:

1. I purposefully send a student to study with a colleague whom I collaborate with in order to address a specific need. Sometimes the student needs work on specific audition repertoire I am unfamiliar with, or is preparing for a competition and needs as much outside feedback as possible, or I am gone for whatever reason and they student needs someone they can trust to answer their questions while not running afoul of our training goals, or I already know a few lessons in that I'm not the best fit for the student and send them to someone in my network that I think they will do better with. The key here is that we all communicate about the "big picture" and there is no activity happening "under the table."

2. A student's parents decide that they need a "more famous teacher." Of course, they don't bother to talk to me about it. I've gotten very good at sensing when this happens, especially when the student struggles uncharacteristically in their lessons. I calmly and professionally sever our relationship and wish them the best.

Life is too short, and my time is too valuable, to allow people to undermine my work.

March 7, 2023, 12:24 PM · The parent may not be aware that having 2 teachers without their explicit consent is kind of a no-no. I would speak to the parent and get his real intention. I know our teacher has a written policy that he needs to give consent if the students seeks instruction from a second teacher.
March 7, 2023, 8:38 PM · Teachers, too, regress to the mean, and become repetitious. Anyhow, we're supposed to always keep a diversified portfolio...unless you have insider access.
March 8, 2023, 9:01 AM · I'm curious to know what the other teacher is thinking. What did the dad tell them that made them agree to take on a 7 year old that was keeping the first teacher?

March 8, 2023, 9:12 AM · I think the situation here is different from other two-teacher scenarios, because apparently Morgan is teaching the kid the violin, and the other teacher is teaching viola.

Violin and viola are sufficiently similar as instruments that I imagine it would potentially be confusing to the kid (or really, any beginner). But if the kid is doing well in their violin lessons and simultaneously doesn't seem to be having issues learning the viola, this doesn't necessarily have to be a bigger deal than the kid starting to learn the piano.

I imagine the kid would benefit from his violin and viola teachers coordinating, though.

It's possible that the kid isn't getting full lessons from the viola teacher either, given that his father is taking lessons from them -- i.e. maybe the kid is getting a 15-minute viola tag-on after his dad's lesson twice a month.

Or his parents are trying to make a decision right now about whether the kid sticks with violin or goes with the viola. (If they've prepaid lessons for the semester, they may want to finish what they paid for before making a decision.)

March 8, 2023, 2:13 PM · Thank yall for the comments. One clarification: the 7yo is still just getting violin instruction, but from the two of us. His dad is the one getting viola instruction.

I think I will approach the parents and have a more intentional conversation about the arrangement. I agree with with Adrian in that it could be a very beneficial arrangement for the student, the parent, and myself if I am able to work collaboratively with the other teacher and ensure we are not working at cross odds.

I also, think, though, that pulling out from the situation seems best if the parents are unwilling to agree to a more open, transparent and collaborative approach with the second teacher. I appreciate the perspective of professionally carrying on, but I don't need that at this time. Practicing good communication and boundary setting seems like the more valuable exercise for me at this time.

Anyways, my roster is full and I don't think it would take terribly long to fill in the spot if I need to leave this student go.

Again, thank yall for your perspectives! This helped tremendously.

Edited: March 8, 2023, 3:32 PM · @Morgan - Good luck! You have received lots of good advice, and your take on the situation seems sound. The main thing is to make sure that you have some contact with the other teacher so that you can ensure that the two of you are not working at cross-purposes.

One thing to remember about the other teacher is that your interpersonal/nurturing skills may be much better than his. If so, your work with the student can be crucial to his work. It is hard to know.

One experience I can relate that might be of relevance. I started violin at about age 8 and had quite well-respected teachers including a first violinist in the Boston Symphony. When I was 15, my family spent a year in Paris. At that point, I was a decent amateur but nothing more. Somehow, my parents arranged for me to study privately with Rene Benedetti who was the best violinist in France and the best teacher. He was light years better than any of my previous teachers. He thoroughly enjoyed teaching me and was very nurturing. I have no idea why he agreed to take me as a student (maybe because this was in the 1960s and my parents were paying him in dollars), and maybe, since I was a non-professional student (his only one at the time), he simply was having fun.

In any event, I spent one year studying with him, and when I returned to the US, I played for my previous teacher (the BSO violinist). He was totally astounded by my progress. However, M. Benedetti's nurturing style was crucial to my development. He did not make a professional out of me (although he told my mother that if she let me have three years with him, he would make a really good violinist out of me), but he improved my playing immeasurably. So, maybe what you are able to give this child is something nurturing that the pro is unable to give him.

March 8, 2023, 4:18 PM · I'm curious how this happened - did they tell you they were seeking or express concerns about perceived gaps in your teaching? Did they see / start with the other teacher, then tell you? Did you suspect and ask?

In general, I'm not fond of taking transfer students and will always probe for any concerns a parent/student had with the current/previous teacher and what they have done or not to address those? As the "another teacher", I would not have taken on someone who intended to stay with the previous teacher (exception: I had a student studying Carnatic violin and came to me for western classical). How did the other teacher agree to this, does other teacher know about you?

7yo beginner of 9 months is not a good situation for having two same-instrument-style teachers. Order of skills, techniques, and especially pacing are concerns, and information and expectations can potentially be laid on the student that are not *wrong* but are arriving at the wrong time. I'm not interested in co-teaching, and in order to continue with this relationship, I would have to establish whether I'm the primary or secondary teacher...

I am in fact the primary teacher of a cello transfer student (who moved from out of state). They started with a cobbled-together schedule and it took a while to get a regular spot...I said they could feel free to take lessons with another teacher and still join my Suzuki group, and they did find another teacher (possibly in-home, I'm not sure), then insisted on staying with me. The other teacher is apparently skipping him around book 1, I have no idea why, but seeing as they aren't raising alarms about "being held back" by me in terms of repertoire and are practicing what I assign, I'm letting it stand. Perhaps they are happy with getting supervised cello playing time with the other teacher. This is highly unusual though; in every other case, a family seeking another teacher is looking for someone to do something differently and the new plan is likely to interfere with mine.

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