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To let go or not to let go....


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#1 BabyGrand

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 13:40

Have you ever decided to let a student go?  How did you go about having that conversation with the student / parent?  

 

I am currently debating whether to suggest one of my pupils stops lessons with me.  She's 7 and has been having lessons with me for about two years.  I know there are two good teachers who teach violin at her school so I do have somewhere to suggest she goes instead, but this would be coming entirely from me and not from the pupil / parents themselves, and I'm not sure I'd know what to say.  Lessons at school actually came up at one point in passing conversation, but they stated they weren't considering them because they are happy to stay with me.  

 

The thing is, I'm not so happy.   :unsure:   There is no major problem - it would make the decision much easier if there were - just a growing sense that this family don't really fit in to my studio and I would prefer not to have them on the books.  There have been a few niggles with parents questioning me, taking a while to be 100% on board etc, and there was an incident last year where I had to cancel lessons last minute due to a family emergency and she was very unsympathetic, which upset me at the time.  Their daughter is the only one out of my entire studio who does not participate in anything - concerts, group lessons, ensembles etc - by parents' choice.  She does practise regularly and has made good progress, although she is strong-willed and tends to think she knows best, so she can be reluctant to follow instructions.  The parents are of the "my child is special" variety; they will listen to me and support what I say, but I do always have to justify myself first.  Dad is a violinist himself, which has sometimes been helpful and sometimes not!  

 

Anyway, I have never 'sacked' a pupil before!  I have had conversations of the "If your child isn't going to practice then we're just wasting your money" variety, and sometimes that has led to parents stopping lessons of their own accord.  But I've never actually got to the point of having to let someone go.  I suspect this family, Mum in particular, would take it very badly if I suggested / insisted upon stopping lessons.  But if were entirely my choice (which I suppose it is!), I would prefer not to teach this pupil any more.  But I feel so guilty for even thinking that!   :(   Since it's all just minor grievances, the type that we meet with all the time and I am quite used to putting up with, I feel like I should just stop moaning and get on with it!  And I don't want to let any of my students down.  But there is also that niggling voice in the back of my head that says, "It's your business.  All it would take is one conversation, and then they would be gone!"  (Oh dear, that sounds more sinister than intended!   :ninja:  :lol: )  I do have a long waiting list so could fill the spot straight away.  It's very tempting...  

 

What would you do?  Have any of you ever taken the plunge before?  How did it work out?  


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#2 Dorcas

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 14:16

There are always going to be students or their parents who are a little awkward.  I would think carefully about terminating lessons unless you absolutely have no choice.  It is always a good idea to consider that the family will be upset and not recommend you to others. This might seem a minor point at the moment, but waiting lists have a habit of evaporating very quickly.  Only teaching those who we like is something of a luxury.  What is important is progress by the student and no arrears regarding fees.  I understand you find them hard work, but they are paying for a service. Remember, the replacement student could turn out to be a complete nightmare!

 

Edit.  You may find that over the next year, circumstances change and the student moves on anyway.  I suppose, after having students leave for really horrible reasons, I always try and take a long term view of student issues.


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#3 ten left thumbs

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 15:02

I think we have to take minor niggles on the chin. Every job involves dealing with people who may not be the ideal fit for us, who may be inconsiderate of us, and I think a professional gets on with it, and is professional!

 

It's different if there's a problem of persistent rudeness, non payment or disobedience in a lesson. If you can imagine yourself having a face-to-face conversation with the parent and saying, in all honestly, 'I am giving notice to terminate lessons because....' and holding your ground, then go ahead and give notice.

 

I once did terminate lessons with a girl because the father refused to read or follow the practice diary, so got his daughter to practice hands together what I had assigned as hands separate. She was routinely confused at lessons because she couldn't do what I had assigned her, and didn't want to tell me her what her dad had done. We decided to part and they came for lessons in the notice period, with the mum refusing to talk to me to say hello, goodbye, or even acknowledge my presence. It was awkward and I am glad to be rid of them.


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#4 HelenVJ

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 16:54

She's 7, practising regularly, making good progress, her father is a violinist and her parents are happy with you! Well, of course it's your decision, but as you actively solicited advice, I'd personally be inclined to stick with this one -  she sounds like a dream student. And I rather like strong-willed children ( maybe because I guess I was one myself :)). Seriously, you might be more important in this little girl's life than you realise, and she could end up feeling dreadful if you ditch her. What would you give as a reason to the family? If they choose for her not to participate in group activities, then of course it's disappointing, but ultimately their loss. How about sticking it out till the summer, at least?


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#5 BadStrad

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 17:13

I guess a part of the decision comes down to how much you feel affected by lessons with this child. I had one pupil who eventually made me dread the lessons and kind of spoiled that whole week. I was able to be honest when I wrote to his parents and say I'd tried everything but he wouldn't make the effort required, so perhaps another teacher could reach him, as I obviously couldn't.

I do wonder if your feelings are kind of repressed anger at the mother's behaviour when you needed her to be more understanding. I am sure you've thought about that, but the question now is can you move past that, if it is the issue? If you can't then as you say, it may be time to make a decision, either to continue or terminate lessons. The wondering what to do can only be holding you in that state of tension.

If you do decide to end lessons could you say something about wanting to focus more on ensemble work and you feel that Rainbow-starchild might thrive better with a teacher focussing on one to one, like at the school (assuming they get one to one lessons at school). Of course there is the chance that mother might then insist she join in with the concert and ensemble work, which could bring a whole new world of pain. I guess you'd need to judge whether that would be the right card to play.

Of course you can always point out the reluctance to follow instructions and work that into an immediate, or towards a future, get out clause along the lines of perhaps a different teacher would be a better fit. Either way I find taking the it's not her it's me and I want what's best for her approach is a useful technique to use.
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#6 Grace Notes

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 17:24

I tend to agree with what the previous posters have said. It does not sound as though you have solid grounds for terminating lessons with this child, although I know it is hard to quantify a gut feeling that you obviously have and I do understand that. There is always the distinct danger that these parents could put a very negative spin on their child being 'dropped' (for want of a better word) and could damage your reputation as a professional. For what it is worth, as a parent I would be really upset if my child's teacher didn't want to teach them any more, let alone if I felt they were being rejected with no concrete reason. The child and their family obviously like and respect you and your teaching or they would have taken the (probably easier) option of in-school tuition. I would honestly stick with it if you can....
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#7 linda.ff

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 17:29

You did mention a couple of incidents with one of the parents, which nobody else seems to have mentioned.As the father is a violinist, and obviously has therefore been through the process himself, it's possible that their expectations are slightly different. My own gut feeling would be to "have it out" as nicely and as positively with the parents as you can - arrange a chat, to make sure you're all singing from the same hymn sheet, so to speak, and stress the fat that you look on the learning process here as being a triangular relationship, child, parent and teacher - this is assuming you do, since I know one or two teachers here don't - and that you wanted to make sure, for the coming term, that you all had the same aim in view.  

 

Make it sound as though you're doing this "review" with every family! You could even check to make sure there was nothing they were dissatisfied or uncertain with, and in any case it's not always a bad thing to do that (I'm sure mine would all say they were pleased with everything except my timekeeping as I overrun at times and therefore start the next one late). Then you could say (even if you don't feel it's true) that you're happy to carry on being this girl's teacher, but you won't be offended if they decide to consider lessons in school. Again, present the possibility to them, but if you can, make it sound as though you are running this past everyone and not picking on them.

 

If I had the energy and I thought the parents had the time, I suppose I ought to be doing this once a year as well. That way the idea might get planted in their minds as being their decision, without them feeling slighted - and you never know, you may find that you're hoping their decision will be to stay once you've given them the option to leave! 


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#8 BabyGrand

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 19:17

Thanks you everyone.  The whole reason I asked was that, as someone mentioned, I have this gut feeling that I can't shake, but I wasn't sure whether that was enough.  Your posts have been helpful.  I definitely agree about that putting up with small niggles is just part of the job.  I think why I've started thinking like this is  that eventually there can be so many minor issues with one family that it starts to feel like more trouble than it's worth.  I also don't know whether my definition of minor is the same as everyone else's.  I guess that's part of what I'm asking - what would you consider 'major' enough to have to take that step?  

 

To be a bit more specific, some examples with this family are:

- Dad going against what/how I've said to practise because he doesn't agree with me or doesn't see the point in what I've asked her to do.  He always backs down eventually (after a few weeks) but it keeps on happening.  

- Mum also often asks me to justify what I'm doing.  Once she spent an entire 30 minute lesson questioning me about why her daughter was struggling with something (it was partly just a common struggle and partly due to deliberately not doing things the way I'd taught her) and demanding to know what I was going to do about it.  Poor girl never even got a chance to get her violin out before my next pupil turned up!  I answered as politely and helpfully as I could, and what I said seemed to satisfy her, but I found the whole thing quite stressful.  

- The incident I mentioned - I cancelled a lesson last minute due to a family emergency, that resulted in a bereavement (which she knew).  All the other parents involved were so lovely and understanding, whilst all this Mum was interested in was telling me how inconvenienced they were and how I must make sure it never happens again!   :o   :crying:  I think Bad Strad is probably right that this has had a major effect on how I feel about them.  

 

Those last two occasions actually happened quite close together last year, and I thought they might end up deciding to leave.  I found both incidents upsetting and was quite relieved at the thought of them leaving, but it never happened.  So I have been in a constant state of unease since then really.  

 

I think why I'm feeling like this comes down to 3 things:

1) Having to constantly fight to get the parents on board with what I'm doing, so that I am forever justifying myself rather than just being allowed to teach.  (If they don't trust me, why do they keep bringing her to me for lessons?!).  Plus finding out she has been allowed to what she wanted (or what Dad wanted) rather than what I asked her to do at home.  (I don't mind strong-willed children either but I need the parents to back me up!)  

2) When I have an email or letter to send out about something, I am always worried about this Mum's reaction.  My other parents vary from absolutely lovely to basically civil, but she is the only one I have (currently) who I think is likely to react badly or complain.  I would love to be free of that fear!  

3) The daughter's non-participation.  The other things I do like concerts and ensembles are so intrinsic to the way I teach that I find it very difficult that the parents are just not interested and refuse to let her take part in anything.  I never had any other family be like this - normally all the extras I do are one reason people choose to come to me.  It also left a bad taste the way it happened because for the first year they kept saying "Oh we can't make that date, it's Granny's birthday", etc, until eventually an excuse unravelled and they said they just weren't interested.  I was really shocked that they'd lied to me.  

 

Anyway, I had already felt that probably these things aren't really enough reason to call time.  I feel bad for even thinking about it - I feel like it makes me a bad teacher, or a bad person.   :(   But I wanted to ask for a second opinion because feel like I'm constantly biding time and hoping they will leave, and I'm not sure that's healthy for either of us!  


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#9 BadStrad

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 19:28

Perhaps just say that your approach and daddy-dearest's approaches are obviously diverging/incompatible and so you feel it's better for Rainbow-Starchild to work with a teacher who is on the same page, rather than become confused.


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#10 HelenVJ

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 19:29

Do you have at least one parent sitting in for the lesson? Nomrally I am all for it at this age, but in this instance maybe you need to ask them to come back 5 minutes before the end of the lesson, and say you'll address any issues then. I agree that 30 mins of questioning is ridicuous. I like to think I would have nipped this in the bud somewhat sooner, saying firmly 'Well, we can discuss this at the end of the lesson. Clarabella really needs to crack on now, or we won't have a chance to play!'.

 

Of course, it's also important to listen to your gut feeling. On the occasions when I've ignored this, I've generally regretted it. Perhaps once the Nightmare Parent is on the other side of the door, you and the 7-year-old might establish a better rapport. It must be quite confusing for her to have all these conflicting instructions.

 

Not easy - good luck!


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#11 BabyGrand

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 19:47

Do you have at least one parent sitting in for the lesson? Nomrally I am all for it at this age, but in this instance maybe you need to ask them to come back 5 minutes before the end of the lesson, and say you'll address any issues then. I agree that 30 mins of questioning is ridicuous. I like to think I would have nipped this in the bud somewhat sooner, saying firmly 'Well, we can discuss this at the end of the lesson. Clarabella really needs to crack on now, or we won't have a chance to play!'.

 

Of course, it's also important to listen to your gut feeling. On the occasions when I've ignored this, I've generally regretted it. Perhaps once the Nightmare Parent is on the other side of the door, you and the 7-year-old might establish a better rapport. It must be quite confusing for her to have all these conflicting instructions.

 

Not easy - good luck!

Thanks Helen.  

 

They don't sit in, she just started questioning me as she dropped the daughter off, and then never stopped!  I was quite flustered by it all and didn't realise how much time had passed until the next pupil turned up!  I did say a number of times that we could talk about this another time (preferably not in front of her daughter) but it fell on deaf ears.  

 

BadStrad - I love 'Rainbow-Starchild'!   :lol:   The thing is, Mum says 'if' my way is right (!), she wants her daughter to do it my way and not Dad's way, and then she says that I have to convince Dad why he's wrong!!  So I go through this cycle of first convincing Mum and then convincing Dad, before I can get onto my actual task of convincing Daughter!!  They always come round eventually, it's just a rather exhausting process to go through.  


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#12 Grace Notes

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 19:48

Hi again Babygrand
Having read your later post, I can really see where you're coming from. I think actually you do have grounds to say to the parents that you feel unable to carry on whilst they are undermining you. The situation where their little girl has come for a lesson and did not get to play because her mother's agenda was to cross-examine you is awful; I would have felt horrible after that and, like you, very uncertain about moving forward.
I think you have every justification to request a review, as has been suggested, and explain that, if lessons are to continue, things need to change dramatically. Then the ball in in their court and, if their attitude does not change, you can terminate lessons.
Poor you - not nice or straight forward. Best of luck and I hope things improve and resolve one way or the other.
Incidentally, the fact that these parents were so selfish as to only think of their own convenience when you were going through a bereavement is disgusting! Even my most high-maintenance parents were lovely when I had to deal with a family emergency recently. Where is their humanity?!
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#13 Dorcas

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 20:07

From the extra details, I tend to agree that you have come to the end of the road.  I think you need to find a tactful way to say that you feel that your methods do not fit with their expectations.  Always try and terminate lessons with the sense that it is done with regret, and you want the best for the student and wish all the family well.  Think in terms of damage limitation rather than all guns blazing!  That way, when your paths cross again, you will not feel the need to hide behind furniture! I hate bad feeling, not just for its own sake, but in terms of current and future business prospects.  

 

Can you talk to the people on your waiting list, and make sure that you do indeed have a student who is able to fill that slot?  Business is business, after all.


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#14 Hils

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 21:51

I think this would all cone under the heading of Unreasonable Behaviour quite frankly. Give notice but only a review if you are sure you will hold your ground. They sound quite domineering and I am not sure I would be up to battling it out with them myself. Shame for the girl though ????
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#15 BadStrad

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Posted 18 March 2016 - 22:04

I would suggest sending a letter, if you have the address. That way too I have time to construct your message and don't get flustered by the immediate response that comes from saying it face to face.

I think a letter is polite and business like and gives both parties time to consider the situation and response. Face to face can become very confrontational, especially when there is a history of domineering behaviour.
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