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Feeling fed up with teaching


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#1 The Great Sosso

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Posted 22 August 2018 - 08:04

Hi everyone.  I know there have been threads like this before, but I'm really feeling low about starting up teaching again after the summer holidays.

I reckon over 50% of my students don't practise regularly or effectively.  They come back week after week with the same problems that they haven't worked on overcoming.  I show them how to work on these areas in the lesson, make a note of what they need to do in their notebook, then the following week, they merrily tromp through the sales and/or pieces making all the same errors as before.   My last half term was so depressing in this regard that I cut it short by a week and refunded everyone.  I just couldn't face another week of it all at the end of what was a very long term.  I'm dreading seeing them after the summer and hearing it all again.

 

I really don't think I give people too much to work on - maybe three key things (so maybe 12-24 bars or 8 bars and a couple of scales) to get to grips with between lessons - but to no avail. 

 

If I abandon a piece that's gone stale to move on to new things, I often find that they pick the new thing up happily enough, but as time goes on and they need to get down to the detail of playing musically, or overcome a tricky passage without fudging it, they don't put the required work in and it stagnates again. Those last few errors never get ironed out unless there is an exam or performance looming.  Do others find that non-exam pieces never really get learned properly?  Mind you, this is also true of my own learning.  I have grand ambitions to learn certain pieces but work on them for months without ever getting a polished end result and then get deflated about it.

 

Those I put in for exams do pass convincingly (I've had only one failure, but she just didn't do the work she said she would) - mostly merits and distinctions, although nobody beyond grade 3 so far.  I've been teaching for about 4-5 years I think.

 

I am starting to feel that I am not teaching effectively and maybe this isn't for me after all.  My only qualifications are that I am grade 8 myself and have the DipABRSM teaching diploma.  No music degree - my own musical education between age 8-18 was very much in a hobbyist direction, and I do feel like I'm not a "proper" musician or teacher as a result.  It really affects my confidence.  I have taken additional lessons myself, but these have tended to knock my confidence further in showing me how little I really can do compared to far more accomplished performers.  I feel like a bit of a fraud when I can't solve the problems some of my students have (whether those problems are in ability or attitude).  What can I do to give myself a boost before the academic year starts again?  

 

TGS X


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#2 Norway

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Posted 22 August 2018 - 08:19

TGS you have ample experience and qualifications. Teachers who constantly ask themselves whether they are good enough are the best teachers! It's the arrogant ones who are the problem.

 

Re. the lack of student effort, I'd write a letter to the parents concerned, explaining how much practise needs to happen for progress at each level, and that you'll be introducing a practise chart to be signed by parents, with specific tasks to be done each day. You don't have to do it for ever, but I have successfully used this in the past, and if after that they carry on in the same way, then you've told the bill payer, so just take the money, be an expensive baby sitter, and sight read easy duets each week. Good luck. thereThere.gif


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#3 Bagpuss

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Posted 22 August 2018 - 08:50

TGS, you have BAGMAIL biggrin.png

Well said, Norway.

Hang in there,

BPx


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#4 BadStrad

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Posted 22 August 2018 - 09:40

Sorry to hear you are feeling so glum, TGS. A couple of things spring to mind.

Not every piece needs to be polished to perfection. If it has taught the skill you were using it to introduce, then that is enough. Some pieces won't even achieve that much and just serve as an introduction.

Learning to polish a piece for performance is important, and I would suggest having some easier pieces for them to polish. In local music competitions the winners are often (for example) a grade six player playing a grade four or five piece beautifully, rather than a grade sixer playing a grade six piece and slowing down at the hard bits or struggling with intonation in the high sections etc. As my teacher used to say, practice time should also include playing time, meaning if you don't have pieces you enjoy playing then what is the point.

Lastly, I would suggest that you find a teacher who can raise your playing level. If you're feeling miserable about your skill level, then improve it. From the exam results your pupils are achieving, you are obviously doing something right, but I sense you are concerned that if/when pupils move on to higher grades you might struggle, or feel even more of a fraud. The only way to beat that is to prepare for it, by developing your own skill base. It doesn't matter that there are better players than you out there. There will always be better players out there, but unless you are competing against them, it doesn't matter. And even very experienced players take lessons. My husband used to know a conservertoire piano tutor who would take monthly lessons with a mentor in London (and this was a pianist who had done well in major competitions, so no slouch, but even he felt he could use the help).

Good luck with the new term.
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#5 MollyM

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Posted 22 August 2018 - 10:27

Well said Norway - TGS, you are certainly very qualified! - absolutely agree, the most arrogant teachers are truly the worst and uninspiring!   

 

I can very much relate, have felt the same more recently - I have a few students who are simply NOT practising.  One of my adult students in her 50's, just does not practise!    She explained to me recently that she had practised a total of 30 mins - that entire week (!).  I couldn't believe it.  Amazingly, when I pointed out to her that 30 mins is less then the actual time spent during our lesson together, she seemed surprised by that thought (?!).  To add to that, when I quizzed her further about how she actually goes about her practise, she explained that she cannot practise in front of her husband or grown up children and will only initiate practise when they are out of the house - should they return, she immediately stops regardless of whether she has completed her practise or not (??!)  Despite all of this, she regularly asks me when she comes for her lesson - "do you have a pretty new piece for me?" (?!!!).  Huh???!

 

As Norway mentioned, I have found a practise chart to be helpful for those not progressing due to a lack of  - I print it out and wave it around in front of their face,  send it out to parents requesting they encourage/oversee scheduled daily practise in order to see progress.   

 

So, I too have felt despair and wondered if teaching is for me - but I know, it is NOT me, and it is not YOU! :)  For those students not progressing (not practising) well, I step back the pace, lower the expectations, as I mentioned earlier, enlist the parents help using colourful charts etc - and I only give what I feel they will be able to accomplish given the minimal practise they are actually doing.  If they get bored, I explain that if they want to play certain pieces, they need to put in the time to practise mindfully and I just hope they then see the reward in putting in the effort.  That's all you can do really.  

 

With regards to my adult student - I do feel she enjoys my company - loves the visit and a 'chat' through the lesson.  I have strongly encouraged her to give herself the confidence to practise at home what we have covered together during our lesson - and I have waved the practise / progress chart in front of her (although I don't feel she saw the value in it, she can be very 'down' on herself and could only see herself in the 'red' quadrant! wacko.png  I had to remind her of course, that she could be in the 'green' quadrant if she simply puts aside 30mins 3-4 times per week!).  

 

It is frustrating as a teacher to be teaching someone who is not progressing simply because they are not practising what is being taught.    You have one 30min/45min/60min moment in their week, the rest is up to them.  It can feel like you are repeating the same lesson, every week- because you are! rolleyes.gif     

Take care, and know it is not you - it's universal! :)


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#6 MollyM

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Posted 22 August 2018 - 10:55

PS - I also wanted to add that I spend a bit of time choosing pieces for my students to suit not only their level, but their style/interest.  I know if they like the piece (if it's jazz, melodic, or 'pretty', from a certain composer/era etc)... then they will practise it more then if they simply don't like the piece.   You probably do that already, but I thought to mention it as I find that helps also :) - and when I say 'wave the chart around in their face' - I don't mean literally, I just mean I don't harp on it, but rather, use it as a visual guide to encourage in the student more of a commitment to their daily practise :)


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#7 Hedgehog

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Posted 22 August 2018 - 10:57

Having been teaching for more than 20 years now (wince!) I have found that one experiences troughs in enthusiasm, which generally speaking go away after a bit.  I do agree with suggestions above about taking lessons yourself - important though to find a teacher who is very Positive and Encouraging and on your wavelength. I learnt the hard way and struggled with a rather pernickety and negative teacher for a while.

I have decided this term that I'm going to send my "parents" an email - I may decide to give them a hard copy too - with 3 points on it.  For me, those points will be 1. Practising - how much, parental responsibility. 2 Bringing all your stuff to piano lessons regularly (ie not forgetting specs, or scales book etc). 3 Theory. Everyone will be doing some (reasons explained briefly).

So you can tell from what I've said that I feel the need to raise my profile in the life of my pupils and their parents. I have a couple of shaky pupils who when presented with this may well leave - and though I might be sad to see them go, it will resolve some issues that I don't really want to confront head-on.  Perhaps you could do something similar to remind parents and pupils of their commitment.


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#8 The Great Sosso

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Posted 22 August 2018 - 13:52

Thanks everyone.  That is helpful and I realise that everyone goes through times of discouragement.  I feel that with many students we have reached a point where they need to kick up a gear or quit, and maybe too many of them have got to that point together.  I too have decided like Hedgehog to make theory compulsory next term, and am thinking that an email at the start of term regarding practise expectations could also be a good idea.  

 

Maybe everyone was flagging at the end of last term, not just me, and I should be a bit more optimistic about the new term... I don't feel it though.

 

 

I am a bit mystified by the idea of practice charts - what do they look like?  I've done schedules before, with a thing to do each day (eg which scales or which parts of which pieces to get to grips with but I don't understand MollyM's red and green quadrants - please enlighten me further!

 

One particular problem I am having is with my son who I teach - he's 10.  It's always been tricky with him, due to our respective personalities clashing, but we've worked through some things like me being too pushy and him being cheeky.  However I think we've reached a bit of an impasse and I perhaps need to find him a different teacher.  But of course, this is disappointing and makes me feel like I've failed somehow even though I completely recognise that parents teaching children is a whole different ballgame to arm's-length teaching.  I've given him one or two lessons over the summer and we haven't enjoyed them at all.  He's started avoiding practice and doesn't want lessons with me because it always gets tense.  Parenting and teaching at the same time is just too much for me.

 

I've just made a list of students I'd hate to lose, those I'd rather keep but wish they'd pull their socks up and those who, if they said they were leaving, it wouldn't bother me. Of my 18 students, it's 8 in the keepers pile, 5 socks and 5 please leaves (but I realise that with two of these it's not them it's me feeling not up to the task).  That's not too bad I suppose.  I'm thinking I should work on improving the practise habits of the middle group.  And pray nightly for the third group to decide to take up reeling, canoeing or bassoon and drop piano lessons!

 

TGS x


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#9 Norway

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Posted 22 August 2018 - 14:11

Mine is like a table, with the days of the week down the left hand side, then a column for what to do each day and how long for, and then a column for parental signature. They bring it to the lesson each week and you see how they've done.

 

My CT ABRSM mentor went one step further - she got them to record their practise and post the recording through her door each week! laugh.png


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#10 hls4

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Posted 22 August 2018 - 17:54

I went through this about a year ago - some will always put the work in and some need an incentive to do so. After hunting on this forum and on piano websites I came up a plan of practice charts and stickers.

 

Some haven't kept up with the practice charts (I had a mixture which I had found just by googling music practice charts), but a couple really enjoy using them.

 

But they all like collecting stickers, even the teenagers! At the end of the lesson I decide how many stickers they have earned - some might be for something they have done in the lesson (for example, some sight reading that they did really well, or a new piece that they worked hard at, or a game that they got 100% in), some might be for work they have done in between lessons (pages in their theory book, clear evidence of practice, completing a challenge set as extra work). We agree a number of stickers they have to collect on a sheet (I have a ring bound book of cards and they each have a page - we write the number at the top with their name, the number increases as they get older!) and when they have collected that number then they get a "prize" from my prize bag (small little things bought from the party treats section in the supermarket).

 

It works at the moment (and I have had pupils who have agreed with me that they have earned no stickers as they clearly haven't practiced and we spent the entire lesson going over the same things we had the lesson before) - when it stops working, I'll have to think of something else! But for now, it does the job! biggrin.png


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#11 hammer action

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Posted 22 August 2018 - 20:03

I was at a meeting once years ago and noticed a very good poster on the the wall.  The poster showed a big triangle with the child at one point, the teacher at another point and the parent at the remaining point.  Don't ever feel you're alone teaching kids - involve the parent(s).  Ask them how much practise is done at home, if there's a routine, if the parent reads what you write in the child's notebook, if the parent checks that practise has been done etc.  If speaking to the student about practising doesn't work, enlist the help of the parent.  They have to play a part too, other than just pay and leave you to it.  If possible, try to speak to the parents when they're dropping off/collecting their child.  Difficult I know if lessons are back-to-back, but it can just be a few words to keep you and them up to date.  

 

I've had a few lessons in the past where I've just had to take my foot off the gas and sit back a bit as the students weren't listening to a word I said.  It was frustrating and exhausting.  I've been teaching for just over 20 years and have a pretty low tolerance level now for those who don't practise and aren't interested.  There's just no point.  It's a waste of time and money.  Maybe you could shed some dead wood and that might make you feel better?

 

Private tuition isn't an easy job.  You have to be all things to everyone and each lesson is different, as is every student.  You have to maintain enthusiasm for each student even if you're tired or things are going wrong in other areas of your life and that can be hard.  I try not to worry too much as I know I'm just another activity that they do after school, along with dancing and swimming classes etc.  You can only do your best.  Teaching can be really rewarding though so I'd advise you to get in touch with all those parents and have a chat as you shouldn't feel like you have to cut a term short and refund lessons.

 

Best of luck.  Feel free to PM me if you like.


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#12 semplice

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Posted 22 August 2018 - 22:40

One particular problem I am having is with my son who I teach - he's 10.  It's always been tricky with him, due to our respective personalities clashing, but we've worked through some things like me being too pushy and him being cheeky.  However I think we've reached a bit of an impasse and I perhaps need to find him a different teacher.  But of course, this is disappointing and makes me feel like I've failed somehow even though I completely recognise that parents teaching children is a whole different ballgame to arm's-length teaching.  I've given him one or two lessons over the summer and we haven't enjoyed them at all.  He's started avoiding practice and doesn't want lessons with me because it always gets tense.  Parenting and teaching at the same time is just too much for me.

 

 

 

I've noticed over the years that most music teachers don't teach their own kids ... probably for very good reasons! If you can afford it, why not try another teacher for him? 

Also, wanted to add that I think an ABRSM teaching diploma is a fantastic qualification smile.png.  


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#13 MollyM

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Posted 23 August 2018 - 05:14

TGS, the quadrants you ask about are from a blog - Samantha Coates (Blitz Theory books), where she was discussing practise/progress.... you can find the chart here as well as an entire blog about this very subject - practising and progress:

 

https://blitzbooks.c...ts-responsible/

 

I'm a huge fan of Samantha's and love reading her blogs, love her books!  I have found this chart to be really helpful with my students, it's a fun way of having a discussion about what can be a 'heavy' kind of subject - I also find it is wonderful to be referring to a chart using it as a tool to discuss commitment and day-to-day practice schedules (I have printed mine out and glued it on bright yellow paper and laminated it to make it look more fun!).  I have also emailed it to some parents, and found they too responded well to it.  

 

For those interested in theory - I also highly recommend the Blitz Theory books by Samantha and have found them to be terrific, my younger students thoroughly enjoy working through them.  

 

TMS, I too teach my nearly 10 year old son - preparing him for his exam at the end of this year.  It is tricky, there's no doubt - however, what has helped me is to try to approach the lesson time as though he were any other student of mine.  As parents, we naturally have expectations of our own children that we do not have of others - so I have found, approaching the lesson this way helps, keeping strict with our time, locking in a time with him each week and keeping to that time is very important, and not 'teaching' during their practise (even if you hear something not quite right!).  If you can persevere, and do this with the 'you are my student and this is our lesson time together' approach, then I feel it really helps to keep it light and enjoyable - both my son and I have enjoyed our lessons together - when I make this transition in my mind from 'mummy' to 'teacher' smile.png

 

I hope that helps.

M


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#14 SingingPython

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Posted 23 August 2018 - 06:02

This year I've gradually "let go" of teaching my son (now just turned 13); I had the wonderful situation of being able to arrange ad hoc lessons with the father of one of my own pupils.  In some ways I've realised it could have been good to have started doing that earlier, so would also encourage you to look at finding your son another teacher.  But the right teacher may be willing to have less than weekly lessons at first if that is something that would work for you all, so it can remain a joint effort if that feels appropriate.

 

It has been an absolute joy teaching a child when you know that "any problems" with my own teaching will be able to be sorted out at home ...


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#15 Dorcas

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Posted 23 August 2018 - 12:07

Teaching an instrument can feel like pushing a boulder up hill.  Learning can feel exactly like the same process. Not everyone has the privacy to practise at home, and sometimes the audience can be prone to heckling!  As far as reluctant practisers are concerned, I try and leave it up to the families to decide to leave, unless continuing to teach a student is untenable.  I agree with the remarks that not every piece needs to be polished to exam entry standard.  The choice of pieces is often like a mosaic, with each bringing a small segment to the finished picture.  

 

Chins up everyone, September is only a couple of Saturdays away!


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