Learning Disabilities in Students
Editing to clarify, due to a puzzling amount of misunderstandings: *I have never attempted to diagnose any neurological conditions in students; I have simply remarked on their progress or behavior, and in some unusual cases, this led to the parents seeking advice from a physician who then gave them a formal diagnosis and treatment*
An experience I had today made me want to bring this subject up. Essentially, after a few months of teaching a new student and going through every possible variable, I concluded that the student was learning at a significantly slower rate than average, and emailed the parent to inform them of my findings. It's always been my policy to let people know how they or their child is progressing, if it's outside of the norm (whether on the high side or the lower side).
*Note that the parent attended most lessons, but didn't seem to notice/care that her daughter was not able to make some rather simple connections
Part of the reason I do this is because many parents don't realize that their child needs extra help until a teacher actually mentions that they're having trouble. Although I'm a violin teacher and not a school teacher, my observations about students in the past have led, in some cases, to the parent seeking a formal diagnosis and then getting proper treatment. Some parents are too busy working to notice that their child is falling behind, and so I see it as a teacher's responsibility to be up-front about this. Generally, people don't take this information personally, and appreciate my insights.
But today, in response to my email, the parent gave me a very passive aggressive response, saying that a "good teacher wouldn't give up after a few months", that they would definitely be discontinuing lessons with me, and instead seeking a "teacher who is compassionate."
Keep in mind, I never said I wouldn't teach their child anymore. I said that I just wanted them to know the correct expectations, and that it may also be worth experimenting with different art forms that don't require such a high level of focus as violin does (the girl's attention wander ever few seconds or so, and thus she can't play rhythms correctly, since her sense of time becomes very non-linear).
She also said she disagreed with my assessment, and thought her daughter was "doing *great*", despite her profession not being music/teaching, and having no actual reference points. However, she did admit that her daughter indeed has learning disabilities, but she said they had no obligation to disclose those to me, since "other teachers never needed to know."
(another edit here: I never asked/hinted about a learning disability, but simply remarked on the daughter's attention wandering every few seconds)
So, my questions for this topic are as such:
1) Should parents let teachers know about learning disabilities ahead of time? And if they don't, should they have the right to get upset when the teacher inevitably brings it up later on down the road?
2) Should teachers pretend everything is fine, even if the student is making nearly no progress despite every effort from both the student and the teacher? Or should they be honest about sub-par progress? (obviously, I don't mean discussing this in front of the student)
3) Is it somewhat toxic to promote an attitude of "everyone can do everything," as opposed to accepting that certain people have specific limitations, and would actually have a much better chance of thriving if they tried something less challenging, or more fitting to their particular neurology?
1. I think that it's helpful for teachers to know what they're dealing with, but parents may have the perspective that a child will be treated differently (in a negative way) if they have (or are perceived to have) either a learning difference, some form of neurodiversity (such as ADHD), or some kind of diagnosed physical difference (like the kind that might be getting addressed with OT).
Doesn’t it really depends on what goals have been expressed? I understand wanting to set expectations if, for example, you think they’re hoping for a professional career that you suspect is out of reach, but all of this:
I think it is absolutely critical that parents disclose not only learning disabilities, but as much information as possible to a teacher about learning styles and personality traits. Obviously, the teacher will figure most of it out eventually, but it saves a whole lot of time if you can have an open dialogue about these things.
I "fired" a young (cello) student who seemed to become frustrated by his lack of progress, but only after discussing it with his parents. He switched to double bass lessons and last time I saw him he was playing it in a student orchestra.
This seems to be a delicate subject as it might be prone to misunderstandings.
Very, very thoughtful observations and discussions by all.
I don't see anywhere in the OP's post an attempt on his part to "formally" "diagnose" or "label" the student. He describes alerting the parents that the student's progress is slower than usual, presumably to begin a dialogue on how to proceed...
Disclaimer: I’m a parent of children with minor and with major disabilities, all of whom have or have had private music lessons.
It seems there have been some misunderstandings based on my original post, so I just want to clarify:
The complexities of this topic and the complexities of teaching and learning the violin are because, I believe, that there are no such things as universal artistic absolutes or standard human beings. As Vince Lombardi (the famous football coach) once said: "We will chase perfection. While perfection cannot be attained, we will catch excellence."
Communication and observation are both very important for teaching. Although it may be good to ask a parent and or student about disabilities or their goal in studying the instrument, in many cases it can be somewhat obvious, making the conversation not strictly necessary.
While very true, Marcus, I do believe one can come up with an idea of what a 'standard' rate of progress looks like for a given subset of people, if the sample size is high enough, and making some basic assumptions about practice habits, etc...
Mark, you said this:
I would never intentionally put a student in an embarrassing situation in a recital. To perform, they would need to be competent in what they are playing and want to share that with others. Thus, they have something to be proud of about what they are doing.
Mark, you said:
As Susan suggests, progress reports, but for the fee-paying parents, not the children. Maybe you could just make them numerical. (progress from 1 to 3 or 4, effort, interest, attentiveness, that kind of thing), so that there aren't words that can be misinterpreted or from which offence can be taken.
Well, I suffer from long-term depression, sequelae from a Traumatic Brain Injury, and music is one of the "cures" for it. It does mean I am somewhat hobbled - on the other hand, I am well aware that I can set up strategies to counter this.
What I’ve learned over the years is that while having a formal diagnosis is helpful, at the end of the day, teachers work with the child, not with their diagnosis.
Erik, I totally understand where you are coming from. I don't even think I have a helpful answer that you may not have considered yet, because you seem to have a lot of experience. I just wanted to say that I think it is a real issue with music teachers, but also a complex one that doesn't have an easy solution that will work for every student. You're doing good, and just the fact that you are reaching out for help says a lot about how you teach and ultimately want what's best for your students.
Thank you, Rebecca.
A great deal has been written here. I don't have much to add except:
Kiki's post ended with:
Elise, that's perfect.
Yes, I suffer from attention deficit dis... say, what's for lunch?
This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.