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#1 diane

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Posted 01 June 2019 - 11:36

A curious situation has arisen between a new student and myself. Since April, the adult student has been for a lesson only three times, instead of weekly as agreed on her signed contract. She is currently away until next week and plans another break two weeks later. The result is, she is learning very little of what I'm teaching her. Now retired from teaching, she told me she'd learnt when young but didn't practise and gave up.

 

We started from scratch but on the three occasions she's been, she has failed to remember the new notes; failed to look in her info pack that I give students free on their first lessons and which contain tip sheets on practising and learning notes; hasn't practised regularly or learnt the left hand notes; has long fingernails which she hasn't cut as advised and a poor attendance record. Apart from that, she's a very pleasant woman who belongs to a good choir I used to belong to. She has inspired me to rejoin the choir and I see her there too.

 

Last week over tea break there, while sitting with two other choir members, the student suddenly told us all that I hadn't given her any positive feedback. She said it was like dealing with a brick wall as I gave nothing away. She had gone home to her husband and told him this and said she didn't know whether she was wasting her time because she didn't know how well she was doing. One of the listeners was also a retired teacher. She began to tell me that teachers should always give positive feedback as well as pointing out the critical things.

 

I've been teaching piano for about 14 years (I began learning in 1946) and I've taught PR at uni level and creative writing in secondary schools and been a senior tutor on distant learning courses for writers - perfectly successfully - and I think the several people who have been learning here every week for the past 7 or 8 years and are now performing or doing grade 8 speaks for itself. I'm very positive with students normally but in this student's case there is little to be positive about. 

 

The main thing is that this was a confidential issue that the student should have brought up at her last lesson and discussed with me, not openly in public. Rightly or wrongly, my teaching should not have been criticised at an open discussion in front of strangers who could repeat this to others.

 

Because I've been ruminating over it for a few days (not a good thing) I am probably over-reacting and could do with some advice. Should I leave it until next week when she has a lesson - I do think it needs to be discussed - or, as I'm tempted to do, send her an email now outlining my concern, probably ruining our relationship and preventing me from continuing with the choir as well as her lessons. I need to hear some balanced thoughts on this, so I don't do the wrong thing! Thanks.  

 

 


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#2 stringfellow

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Posted 01 June 2019 - 11:53

That is so disheartening for you and as you say, it should be confidential.

 

My inkling would be to wait until the next lesson and speak to her quite candidly about the lack of confidentiality and the lack of continuity in lessons.

It is always hard to gauge a reaction in an email, tempting as it might be.

It just doesn't seem worth the hassle to me teaching her and if you enjoy the choir, why should you stop going.

I think I would then give her a miss and keep your distance at the choir but remain pleasant which I am sure you will.

 

Good luck and let us know the outcome!


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#3 BadStrad

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Posted 01 June 2019 - 12:09

What did you say? Or were you too flabbergasted to say anything?

 

I don't understand the confidentiality thing. People can say what they want to whomever they like.  It's obviously uncomfortable to hear it, but at least you know what she is saying 

 

My confusion is why you want to teach someone who so obviously doesn't value you or the lessons.  I am guessing she hasn't paid for the skipped lessons. 

 

So I would contact her and say it's obvious from her comments things aren't working and wish her well with her next teacher.

 

As for choir if you enjoy it brazen it out. If anyone says anything give them a breezy smile, tell them it's ancient history, no point dwelling on it and ask if they've rehearsed their part, or some other deflecting question.

 

Good luck getting the situation sorted. 


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#4 HelenVJ

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Posted 01 June 2019 - 12:24

Definitely talk rather than email - and tell her exactly how you think she's doing! Of course see if you can find something positive to say, but be sure also to mention the nails, the lack of continuity, and the consequent lack of progress. These would be deal-breakers for me, for sure.  I'm sure you can manage to keep it all pleasant, and I agree with BadStrad that you can then wish her well and continue to meet in choir if that's what you want to do.


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#5 ten left thumbs

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Posted 01 June 2019 - 13:16

I'm struggling to understand - you were there, in choir, as part of the group, when she directly criticised you, to the others? Or maybe you were not there (as you said this is a choir you used to belong to) and you have heard this from another source? 

 

I'm afraid people can and do criticise us to others - sometimes fairly and sometimes unfairly. But it would feel awkward, to everyone present, if you are there to hear yourself being compared to a brick wall. ouch! How did the others respond?

 

Either way, it sounds like you need to end the teaching relationship, which is going nowhere, just like her learning, and move on. 


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#6 elemimele

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Posted 01 June 2019 - 14:06

don't abandon the choir. Remember, when people criticise, listeners also use their judgement. The people who heard her comments might have been thinking "Oh, here we go again, she's always bad-mouthing...". People tend to behave consistently, it's in their character, so if she's saying things about you which are decidedly inaccurate, and if her lack of progress is down to her own inflexibility and unwillingness to put the effort in, it is likely similar features have shown up in her interactions with other choir members, and they may be more sympathetic to you than you think! Good luck with a horrible situation, I hope you find a resolution.


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#7 Piano Meg

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Posted 01 June 2019 - 14:12

I wouldn't worry from a confidentiality point of view. We need to be confidential about our pupils, but really they have no reason not to talk about us (unless it's in your contract). If they have a tendency to criticise or overstate things, their friends will know about it and take comments with a pinch of salt. You and your other students know what is true, and one person is not going to change your wider reputation. Any pianist need only look at her fingernails to be suspicious!!

 

Being respectful is another matter though, and it seems very odd for someone to make those criticisms so openly in front of you! Did she not realise you were there? Or maybe she thought it was just teasing? Or maybe she's actually very nervous (less likely), or has realised it's harder than she thought (more likely), and is looking for reassurance or someone else to blame. In any case, it might not be very nice, but dealing with pupils' weird ideas and attitudes is (in my mind) part of the job.

 

Clearly, she's not going to make much progress if she doesn't change her approach! The question is whether you want to put in more time with her and see if she can be encouraged to change, or whether you want to stop lessons now. If it's the latter, attendance or nails could be a suitable reason - depending on your contract. Has she been paying for the missed lessons? Is it likely she signed without reading anything and needs it all spelling out? I would think in this case a phone call would be better than an email if you want to stop lessons, then she has the chance to agree or discuss and hopefully it can end peaceably.

 

It's hard to say without knowing the pupil, but you say she's nice apart from all that, so if it was me, I'd probably talk to her about it next lesson. You're right - there are definitely things to discuss, and maybe her dissatisfaction is a good starting point, as it means you can be open about the issues. Having a bit of time to recover from the last choir practice might be a good thing too, as you'll want to be as non-emotional and kind as possible, whilst being firm on the problems. She may one of those who simply doesn't read/ take in information and needs direct input - working out when she should practice, setting specific weekly goals and going through your info pack (which sounds very impressive!!) in the lesson. I'm often perplexed by how many adults seem like they could really do with parental supervision! 

 

edit: elemimele - looks like we thought the same!


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#8 diane

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Posted 01 June 2019 - 14:56

Thank you all so much for your wonderful comments and advice.

Yes, I was there when she suddenly came out with this. I was stunned and of course didn't have time to think clearly about what I should have said, like 'I don't think this is the time or place to discuss this - can you talk to me about it in your next lesson?' for example. There were four of us there - one woman didn't seem that interested and didn't comment; the other one felt she had to tell me how to be with students. It seemed out of character for my student to do this. It's true people are entitled to say what they like to others; however in this case it would have been unprofessional of me to respond to it in front of others. I couldn't say well yes, you are wasting your time in that situation. And I would never criticise a student in front of others.

I think it was an issue of ego. She needed hers stroking and I hadn't done that. She's very self-confident and often that covers up a lack of confidence in fact. That may be going on here. I returned to my old choir because she reminded me how good they were and I went along and enjoyed it again but I might feel awkward now if this creates an atmosphere there. I think she did think she was teasing actually. And no, she hasn't paid for any of the time she's been off. I only charge if they last-minute cancel. Ironically, it was me who was being criticised, without any praise this time! Many thanks for your support and I will speak to her next Monday at her next lesson. 

 

 


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#9 jenny

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Posted 01 June 2019 - 15:05

 

Last week over tea break there, while sitting with two other choir members, the student suddenly told us all that I hadn't given her any positive feedback. She said it was like dealing with a brick wall as I gave nothing away. She had gone home to her husband and told him this and said she didn't know whether she was wasting her time because she didn't know how well she was doing. One of the listeners was also a retired teacher. She began to tell me that teachers should always give positive feedback as well as pointing out the critical things.

 

 

This is the paragraph that worries me the most about your situation. Not only did this pupil criticize your teaching, but another person seems to have joined in the criticism. You must have felt very uncomfortable. I would want to sort this out straight away, either in person or by email if you need to collect your thoughts about exactly what you want to say. As others have said, the issue of the long nails and the missing lessons should be discussed and I do hope you were paid for the lessons. Good luck - and let us know what happens.     


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#10 ma non troppo

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Posted 01 June 2019 - 18:30

This sounds very odd. Do you think it could have been meant in jest? Sometimes my adult students tease me that I am a hard task master, but I know they like me really. Sometimes it is easy to misread friendly teasing. I'm not saying that is the case here, but could it be?
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#11 dorfmouse

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Posted 01 June 2019 - 19:11

Hmmm .... adult "teasing" can be quite a passive-aggressive way of expressing feelings. (A sort of sober version of in vino veritas!)
You as the receiver are totally wrong-footed and are expected to laugh it off, for fear of making everyone else uncomfortable, or coming across as defensive or up your own you-know-what. Not nice.
And the retired teacher should jolly well know better.
I would have felt publicly humiliated and be fuming. At the very least I would be preparing a polite "we-are-obviously-not-a-good-fit" dismissal.
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#12 Gran'piano

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Posted 01 June 2019 - 19:56

Last things first - I have a feeling the lady may have had a very nasty shock about her level of playing when she first came to you.
It sounds as if she has forgotten everything she ever learned. Starting from scratch as an adult is hard going and was really not what she had in mind. This is not necessarily that one learns more slowly but one has higher expectations. A child beginner who has both hands in the middle C position is coming along nicely. An adult may have subconscious illusions about playing like other pianists they have seen. However good the teacher, I doubt that this feeling will be gone after two or three lessons.
That said, if a teacher says that the finger nails should be shorter and nothing changes, this is a sign that the pupil is not taking things seriously. Having difficulty learning is one thing, long nails are another. I would not have waited until after a third lesson. First lesson, explain, second lesson remind, third lesson, here are nail scissors and an emery board. It just saves time and avoids weeks and weeks of frustration. A different situation in a different country and my pupils didn‘t like it but it worked.
When I have been caught out by critical remarks and did not know how to react, I found that shrugging my shoulders and just saying “soso” gave me a breathing space and avoided starting an argument in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. I don‘t know the English equivalent but it just implies that you don‘t agree without saying so!
I hope you find a solution but I have a feeling it will end in tears.
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#13 ten left thumbs

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Posted 01 June 2019 - 20:29

Wow. That was incredibly rude of her to come out with it while you and others were there. I'm guessing she is upset that learning piano is so darned difficult, she wants to take it out on you, and it is safer for her to do so in front of others than with you privately. In front of others, at choir, other people may be inclined to openly agree with her (as one did, whether she really thinks that is another thing) and you are effectively silenced. If it had been in private you may have been able to point out that, for example, your advice on fingernail length hadn't been heeded, attendance had been inconsistent and practice had not been effective.

 

...

I think it was an issue of ego. She needed hers stroking and I hadn't done that. She's very self-confident and often that covers up a lack of confidence in fact. That may be going on here. I returned to my old choir because she reminded me how good they were and I went along and enjoyed it again but I might feel awkward now if this creates an atmosphere there. I think she did think she was teasing actually. And no, she hasn't paid for any of the time she's been off. I only charge if they last-minute cancel. Ironically, it was me who was being criticised, without any praise this time! Many thanks for your support and I will speak to her next Monday at her next lesson. 

 

You are probably right about the ego-stoking. Probably she wants you to tell her how musical she is, naturally gifted. Maybe that's what she wants out of lessons, and why she chose you, so you would tell people at choir about her. It hasn't panned out from the start so she lets things get in the way of attending lessons. Now she wants to quit but can't bring herself to. So she does passive-aggressive things to sabotage the whole affair. 

 

I'm sorry. I think she's playing games and you just need to bring things to a close, using all the professionalism you can muster. Please don't quit choir. You don't know what people really think.


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#14 EllieD

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Posted 02 June 2019 - 06:45

…. I found that shrugging my shoulders and just saying “soso” gave me a breathing space and avoided starting an argument in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. I don‘t know the English equivalent but it just implies that you don‘t agree without saying so!
…..

 

I guess the modern day English equivalent would be a shrug of the shoulders, a look heavenwards, and saying "Whatev's" in a bored voice … 

 

Diane, good luck with the situation and huge congratulations for not being sucked into her game and saying those things about her that you could have said at the time. 


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#15 Gran'piano

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Posted 02 June 2019 - 06:53

It will always be hard for a teacher with a good track record to hear criticism of his or her professional qualities. However, ignoring the ‘impolite‘, ‘rude‘, ‘lack of respect‘ aspect and replacing the word ‘criticism‘ with ‘comment‘ makes the situation sound a bit different. If some form of positive feedback is to be considered a vital part of each lesson, a valid question might be to ask if, in fact, the teacher managed to fulfill this requirement. This is a yes or no question not a point for discussion as to why no positive feedback was possible. Either there was positive feedback or there wasn‘t. Taken like this, the comment of the third person was ‘uncalled for‘ and ‘tactless‘ but not so far off the mark.
I appreciate that this is harsh but it is not a judgement at all, but merely reflects my own problems in the past in coping with ‘learners‘ who make little or no effort to do their part while expecting me to successfully ‘teach‘ them.
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