Piano studio demeanor - How should teachers and students behave?

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Apr 02, 2004 9:52 am

Surprisingly, one of the most common questions we get is how teachers should conduct themselves in the studio (from parents and students) and what standards of conduct should apply for students in the piano studio (from teachers). If you're a piano teacher, tell us what you expect from a behavior standpoint from your students and their parents. Let us know if these expectations are indicated in your studio policy. If you're a parent, share what you expect from the teacher, again along the lines of general behavior and presentation, rather than the specifics of the lessons, per se. We have discussed this in several ways on the site, but it should be interesting and valuable to get the insights of others. :;):
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Postby Mins Music » Sat Apr 03, 2004 5:28 am

Here's some of my thoughts from what I expect from myself as a teacher:

1. Dress nicely. Not formally, but not something I would do my housework in either. Neat and clean appearance.
2. Friendly and approachable disposition, even when discussing 'problems'. No displays of 'temper' or scolding. If disciplinary action is needed, I take the student over to a couch, sit down, and 'discuss' the problem, explaining what is acceptable and what is not.
3. No insults, name calling, belittling, deriding, making fun of etc.
4. No 'prying' into family life. If I have a concern, I would address the adult, not the child. This is not to say I don't show personal interest. I often ask a student if they have a dog, for instance, what their favourite colour is, their favourite subject at school, sport, T.V show, how a certain event in their life went.
5. I don't talk about the student to the parent as though the student isn't there. I include the student, addressing both.
6. As much as it's difficult at times, I do not initiate displays of affection - and NEVER unless it is in full view of the parent/guardian. It is for this reason that I like parents of young children especially, to be present at lessons.
7. I NEVER EVER physically disciplin a student - no slaps on the hand, no shaking of shoulders.
8. I do not swear. Ever. Not even in my private life. This includes cursing of any kind. (I use to say "oh bum," if I made a mistake doing something, until a young child said "um ah!" and I realised this was not a good example to be setting. Piano teachers teach more than piano, even if they don't realise it at the time).
9. I do not 'gossip' with parents about other students and their parents.
10. I make sure I am on time, and the lesson ends when it's scheduled to. This has taken some practise, but is so important to stick to if I want the same from them.


Here are some things I expect from a parent.
1. To sit in the allocated area quietly, in view of the lesson (although they have the option of 'dropping' their child off for the lesson). Tea/coffe is available, along with reading material, a guest book they can leave comments in etc.
2. Do not disciplin their child during the lesson - to leave that entirely to me.
3. Not to make comments to me or 'chat' to me during the lesson.
4. To keep their conversation with each other low.
These four points are in my studio policy.

Here are some things I expect of a student
1. No running, skipping, cartwheeling, handstanding outside or inside the studio (yep! I've had students do this in the past)
2. No playing instruments when others are having their lesson.
These two points are in my studio policy.

I do not tolerate offensive language - that includes the adults. I won't have a student 'argue' with me. Over to the couch we go for a 'discussion' if that happens. I expect students to listen, and do EVERYthing I tell them to. I don't recall have any problems with this anyway, so it's not something I've included in my studio policy. I have one new student, a young boy 'testing' me pretty consistently. "Now we're going to do this," "But I don't want to do that, I want to do THIS". He's never had his way yet, and he's beginning to realise that I don't give in like his parents. EVery week, he's becoming more of a pleasure to teach, so I don't even consider this a problem really. Kids will test you. I think that's a good thing. I let them. They learn pretty quickly who sets the rules and who's expected to obey them!
"I forget what I was taught, I only remember what I've learnt." - Patrick White, Australian novelist.
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Postby 81-1074658942 » Mon Apr 05, 2004 9:41 am

Sounds like you've got a brilliant studio policy mins! :) :)

I wish I had more to contribute, but I'm a student, and I don't run a studio. [which is probably good since I can't even drive yet. he he] Looking put together for lessons is always good. I always try to do the same. I don't know why it helps, I guess you just wake up and get dressed and you think "aha! I have a lesson today!" Get's your brain running. funny how that works.
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Postby Mins Music » Mon Apr 05, 2004 5:56 pm

Quidam wrote:Sounds like you've got a brilliant studio policy mins! :) :)

Thanks Quidam! My policy is always changing - just the other day I made a note to include about three extra points for next year's policy.

Quidam, as a student, what kind of behaviour do you expect from you teacher, and what kind of behaviour would you think is unacceptable from a teacher?

Question for other teachers: Do you ever include ammendments in your policy during the year? If so, is there a clause in your policy that says you have the freedom to do this, or do you just do it?
"I forget what I was taught, I only remember what I've learnt." - Patrick White, Australian novelist.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Apr 07, 2004 6:39 am

To Mins regarding updates to the studio policy:

For years, I've had available a set of templates in a package of customizable critical studio documents called The Studio Pack. In the studio policy document template is a provision which says something to the effect that changes or additions to the policy may be made at any time by written communication to all studio clients at least one month prior to the effective date of the change/addition. Such changes are considered a part of the studio policy. Typically, in the one studio with which I was directly involved in such matters, announcements of this sort would be made via the studio newsletter, which was delivered via mail or e-mail. Several attorneys have looked at this policy document and indicated that there was probably no problem from a legal standpoint with such a provision in the U.S., so long as the prospective student/parent were told about, given a copy and signed the policy at the initial interview. :)
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Postby Mins Music » Wed Apr 07, 2004 5:59 pm

Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:In the studio policy document template is a provision which says something to the effect that changes or additions to the policy may be made at any time by written communication to all studio clients at least one month prior to the effective

I will definitely be including a similar clause in my policy next year.
"I forget what I was taught, I only remember what I've learnt." - Patrick White, Australian novelist.
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Postby 81-1074658942 » Wed Apr 07, 2004 10:21 pm

As far as what I expect from a teacher.... Kind of a difficult question actually. My teachers have always been great professional people, so in a way I can't really explain what I expect. But it would probably not be good if my teacher looked like they just woke up, or was eating during the lesson, or was trying to juggle about fifty random things during lesson time. Just set aside and hour and leave the other stuff alone. But as I said, I've never had any problems with anything of that nature.
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Postby 112-1093136018 » Sat Aug 21, 2004 7:19 pm

I have a problem with one of my students:
she is 8 years old and extremely rude. I have talked to her and her mother (who is convinced that her daughter is "special", and therefore thinks that normal expectations, eg politness, practicing, etc, should apply to her), but neither would listen. She also has a brother who takes also, but he's just as nice as he can be, and I really don't want to drop him, which will happen if I discontinue lessons with his sister.
Does anyone have any suggestions?
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Postby 112-1093136018 » Sat Aug 21, 2004 7:20 pm

* should not apply to her
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Postby Mins Music » Sun Aug 22, 2004 10:17 pm

Do you mean pianogirl, that the mother believes her daughter has special needs in some way? Perhaps you could post in the Teaching Disabled Students forum and Marianne, who is a music therapist may be able to help you.

Or did I misinterpret 'special' and you meant 'talented/gifted' or something else?

Either way, rudeness is not necessary at a piano lesson. Set the example yourself. I always say please and thank you to my students, and pretty soon they follow suit. If she yells at you for instance, say firmly "We don't yell in my studio thank you" whatever her name is. Another favourite phrase I use (which I'veadopted from my high school teaching husband) "that's not acceptable".

How specifically is she rude pianogirl? If you give some examples, I may be able to help you a little better.
"I forget what I was taught, I only remember what I've learnt." - Patrick White, Australian novelist.
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Postby 112-1093136018 » Tue Aug 24, 2004 8:11 pm

special meaning she thinks that her daughter is "talented" in some way (that i have yet to see!).
i do not however, treat her anyway differently than i do my other students. I ALWAYS make it point to never use crude, demeaning, rude, etc. language during lessons.
an example of her rudeness:
me -- "i really would prefer if you wouldn't write on this piece of music."
girl -- "oh, i really think you do."

etc, etc.
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Postby Mins Music » Wed Aug 25, 2004 7:38 pm

me -- "i really would prefer if you wouldn't write on this piece of music."
girl -- "oh, i really think you do."


Ooooooh, whip that out of her quick smart! I'd say "You're wrong. Don't write on the music." Use a low strong commanding voice.

I just had a newish student try something similar with me this week. I bent over her, looked her straight in the eye and said quietly, "It's not funny. You're wasting your time and my time." No problem after that. We got back to the task at hand, I resumed my enthusiasm, praise etc. Of course she sulked for a while, but at the end of the lesson realised it wasn't her I didn't like, it was the one instance of behaviour I didn't like.

I think I mentioned in a previous post that it's pretty natural for some kids to 'test' the who's really the boss around here.

And this part of my post will no doubt sound SHOCKING to many reading, but I treat children very similar to the way I train dogs. (oh dear, I can imagine all the abusive emails now... :D ). Clear, simple instructions, lots of praise when they get it right, pulling back into line when they want to do their own thing. When teaching in the class room I would even use some of the dog training terminology and hand signals. "Sit!" It worked brilliantly. Instead of the 'well done or good boy' that would be given to a dog on obedience, I replace it with "Thank you." Then resume what we're doing.

Hang in there with this child pianogirl. You're the boss. Just because you need to use firmness now and then doesn't mean you are strict or mean. It may seem like a very small thing, but our choice of words can have a huge effect. Eg, if my husband asked, "What would you like for tea?" and I said, "I'd prefer chicken." Then lovingly, he'd cook us up a roast chicken dinner. But if it was your worst enemy asking you that question and you said, "I prefer chicken," then don't be surprised if you end up with meatloaf - your worst enemy doesn't want to make you happy.

Kids aren't our worst enemies. Far from it. But they do like to see our reaction, and if they haven't voluntarily shown respect,it won't be important to them to please us. Until that testing ground has been tested and you come out the winner, keep your instructions to the point so that she has no option ( unless of course you give her an option, "you can do this or this" "But I want to do that!" No, you can do this, or this. Which one. Your choice.")

Avoid phrases like "I think, I would like, would you be able to, can you, it would be good if, would you like to," etc. It leaves room for argument, or the wrong answer!

All the best with your 'talented' girl. Students like this can be our testing ground, can't they? But in my experience, once you've won a strong willed person over, they can be a strong ally and become a pleasure to teach.
"I forget what I was taught, I only remember what I've learnt." - Patrick White, Australian novelist.
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Postby Wild Rose » Thu Aug 26, 2004 2:16 am

I pretty much agree with Mins about the "dog training". The point to dog training is that you only pay attention to the positive and ignore the negitive. Rather the opposite to abusive.

I've had a couple of problems like this and usually it was that the truth was the child was more intelligent than the parent (or at least thought so - if they were both rather slow. Oh, well. It happens). Generally the solution was to show the child that they were wrong by catching them out on one of their tricks - of which there were many. And prove that I am smarter .

Usually what happens is 1) they gain respect and start learning, or 2) quit - which is also OK. If the girl quits (because the lessons are "so boring") that does not mean the boy will, as they have probably BOTH learned that they can get anything they want out of the parent.

Another possibility you might think about would be to recomend that only the girl learn with someone in the area who is really 1)top notch 2)very very expensive 3)not a good friend, because "she is so special you just don't think you can do her justice". With the extra expense the boy will PROBABLY be left to you - but it is a chance.

Good Luck with this Mins - we all hate situations like this, and we all have them.
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Postby 112-1093136018 » Thu Aug 26, 2004 6:58 pm

Thanks for the help! :D
I'm definitely going to keep trying to work on this -- i guess i do use a lot of "i think"s and "i would like" s, etc. I just don't want to be the "mean" teacher!
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Postby Wild Rose » Fri Aug 27, 2004 5:12 am

Define what you mean by a "mean teacher" pianogirl. If you have a difinate picture in your mind it will be easier to stay away from - and easier to avoid guilt about. And a lot of teachers get hung up, and confused by, guilt. I bet Mins can tell some real horror stories about students who have "laid it on the teacher". My daughers who all teach went through some terrible experiences with their first classes.

Kids are expert button pushers, and some are very abusive to those around them. That what civilization is all about. If you have a button sticking out - it will get pushed.

Good Luck
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