Spring, summer and early fall are the most busy and unsteady times for private instructors. Many of us get requests to accept new students, and many of us have students leaving us for the “greener grass.” Students come, and students go; students are not our children, and the parents are free to cancel lessons and find a better match (closer, nicer, cheaper, more accomplished, someone who has so many competition winners… whatever are the reasons and qualities parents look for in the “greener grass”).
In this short blog we will stress a few aspects of private teaching that should cause parents and students to reflect about the manner of doing the switch. Music lessons are not like a community center aerobics class: they are one on one, and over the duration of one or many years, students and teachers spend time talking about about music, art, and its expression. Students prepare for festivals and recitals and during the preparation or just after, the teachers are extremely supportive, optimistic, joyous, and fun. It all takes so much of us—much more than what the teachers are paid for, regardless of the price per lesson. Even $200 an hour does not cover the kind of mental and emotional engagement into a student that teachers give.
Students, on the other hand, do treat their instrumental teacher as a different type of a teacher than a classroom teacher. It is a person with whom they spend time one on one week by week, sometimes twice a week… This person knows about their childhood tragedies—“our pet dog just died. Little Susan can’t concentrate and focus on the lesson.” The instrumental instructor is visited more often than a grandma or a close uncle! Teachers are close to students’ hearts, especially when they already start discussing more emotional repertoire and go together through the difficult world of competitive events, sharing failures and successes together.
To be short and concise—let’s be decent in how we end things. If a parent believes that there is greener grass somewhere else, then let’s first finish the lessons with one teacher before switching to another one. Let’s not treat the highly educated and devoted person like a vendor on the market. When saying goodbye, do show your old teacher some appreciation. Flowers, cards, and kind words—because you did not just dump Comcast for Qwest. You were dealing with a personal relationship one on one—without the impassive apparatus of the corporate firewall.
Yes, perhaps the private music instructor should be colder. You know, detach from “clients” emotionally, charge for emails by the minute like a lawyer, charge for time spent driving to competitions, charging for any extra time spent talking outside of lesson. But you don’t want that, do you? And we, the instructors, did not become musicians because we are cold and calculating people. We could have become lawyers if we wanted—but instead we chose passion and beauty over calculators and accounts receivables. There’s no other way around it.
We, for example, make it very clear that we do not teach any student until they are already “parted” from their former teacher. Music teachers, who are essentially competing businesses, should also exhibit ethical behavior and not solicit students of other teachers (and it is expressly forbidden in the MTNA code). Approaching a child in a neighborhood party and convincing his or her parents that you live closer and/or are cheaper and so much more fun, is fundamentally unacceptable and unethical. Parents bear the sole responsibility of recognizing such behavior, and for not exposing their children to such unpleasant sides of our lives.
If you believe the grass is greener somewhere else, please, part nicely and create only “good karma” for yourself and your child—we teachers do know each other, and sooner or later you will see them again at some other music festival, at Safeway, or on the bike path. It is amazing how small the musical world is! Isn’t it nicer to greet like good friends (especially on a competition day when your child’s performance is at stake!) rather than being stressed and uncomfortable?