Departing student feedback - Do you ask for it?

Talk with other teachers, exchange tips, participate in polls regarding a teaching studio business

Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Apr 02, 2008 8:01 am

As we've discussed elsewhere, student turnover is a natural part of the teaching studio business. Sometimes, a student leaving the studio can be an awkward situation and, rarely, downright unpleasant! In most cases, the teacher is never really aware of the full reasons why the student left, since most people won't tell the teacher the full truth, especially if there are some perceived problems with the student's training or interactions with the teacher.

Yet, departing students can be a source of some of the most honest and valuable information a teacher can get about how students and their parents view him/her as a teacher, what services they considered valuable and which ones they didn't care about, and what they would like to see changed. Although I'm not aware of any teacher who does it, using a form that the student or parent could fill out and return in a postage-paid envelope might be a good way of getting honest feedback on how one is doing as a teacher. Do you use such a form or have you ever had a teacher who did? Do you use any other organized way of getting feedback from departing students?
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Postby Tranquillo » Wed Apr 02, 2008 11:29 pm

Wow, this is what I am going through now ... hehehe ... I've called a few teachers around the area and one teacher in particular I am looking to change to. Leaving my current teacher yeah, its "down right unpleasant."

I have expressed my goals and desires as a student, I have felt that due to teaching for so long my current teacher has decided to teach the way he has been teaching. Because of this I feel like my teacher should know why. Its really awkard and I havent told him that I want to change. Some teachers out there I know reccommend change and will give names of other teachers. My teacher is quite the opposite, which makes the situation harder.

But that idea of telling the teacher the honest truth makes me think, maybe I'll it.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Apr 03, 2008 7:26 am

Becibu wrote:Its really awkard and I havent told him that I want to change. Some teachers out there I know reccommend change and will give names of other teachers. My teacher is quite the opposite, which makes the situation harder.

But that idea of telling the teacher the honest truth makes me think, maybe I'll it.

Let me suggest an article here on PEP that may help a little, Talking With Your Piano Teacher. It gives general advice on how to carry on a good conversation with the teacher and how to broach the subject of changing teachers.

Your comments illustrate a little of what I was saying about the fact that few parents and students tell the teacher what they think when they leave the studio. That's the reason a form for them to fill out and drop in the mail might be a good way to get their thoughts.
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Postby Tranquillo » Fri Apr 04, 2008 1:54 am

Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:
Becibu wrote:Its really awkard and I havent told him that I want to change. Some teachers out there I know reccommend change and will give names of other teachers. My teacher is quite the opposite, which makes the situation harder.

But that idea of telling the teacher the honest truth makes me think, maybe I'll it.

Let me suggest an article here on PEP that may help a little, Talking With Your Piano Teacher. It gives general advice on how to carry on a good conversation with the teacher and how to broach the subject of changing teachers.

Your comments illustrate a little of what I was saying about the fact that few parents and students tell the teacher what they think when they leave the studio. That's the reason a form for them to fill out and drop in the mail might be a good way to get their thoughts.

I have looked at the article. It does look at changing teachers and how teachers do accept change and are used to it. Its not the case in my teacher, if anything I think he'd be quite shocked if I mention that I intend on changing.

A teacher I spoke to recently reccommends change because of being exposed to different methods and through that discovering 'personal style'.

But others I know talk about methods being 'clashed' with. So really there are so many differing perceptions on changing.

I intend on telling the truth ... but perhaps in less of a detailed manner. Becasuse I have expressed my goals and he has not met them so he should very well know.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Apr 17, 2008 9:36 am

Becibu wrote:A teacher I spoke to recently reccommends change because of being exposed to different methods and through that discovering 'personal style'.

But others I know talk about methods being 'clashed' with. So really there are so many differing perceptions on changing.

I intend on telling the truth ... but perhaps in less of a detailed manner. Becasuse I have expressed my goals and he has not met them so he should very well know.

Telling the truth is always the best policy! You don't have to be brutal or over-dramatic in doing so, but both you and the teacher can learn valuable lessons if you are truthful. Try to be as specific as you can, respecting the feelings of the teacher.

Change for cause is often healthful. Change for its own sake is usually not helpful. It's the truth that different methods introduce different concepts and techniques at different times and give them different emphasis. I wouldn't say that they actually "clash", since all beginning piano methods much teach the same things eventually. For the intermediate to advanced student, methods are almost irrelevant (gasp! :D ), as the student will have moved beyond most of them. With the best teachers, as we've said incessantly all over PEP, the teaching approach is individualized by the teacher to fit the particular needs of the student, so methods are, again, of limited relevance. Go for the best teacher you can get, period!

Getting back to the core topic of the thread, what are some of the things that should be asked of departing students, if you devise such a form or document? The tone of such a document should be as neutral as possible. Questions should be limited in number (ideally, no more than ten). I have my own thoughts on what these questions might deal with, but I'll save them until others comment. :)




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Postby Tranquillo » Mon Apr 21, 2008 12:27 am

Telling the truth is always the best policy! You don't have to be brutal or over-dramatic in doing so, but both you and the teacher can learn valuable lessons if you are truthful. Try to be as specific as you can, respecting the feelings of the teacher.


yes... honesty is the best policy ... BUT ... how would you communicate this appropriatley would phone call be enough? Or is it best face to face? ... Even so how specific should I be and how long should the conversation be for?

I have no intention of being brutal I just want to state the facts and my opinouns ...

Getting back to the core topic of the thread, what are some of the things that should be asked of departing students, if you devise such a form or document? The tone of such a document should be as neutral as possible. Questions should be limited in number (ideally, no more than ten). I have my own thoughts on what these questions might deal with, but I'll save them until others comment.


Can I ask a question back? What are some things a departing student can impart and inform to the teacher? ...
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Mon Apr 21, 2008 7:43 am

Becibu wrote:
Telling the truth is always the best policy! You don't have to be brutal or over-dramatic in doing so, but both you and the teacher can learn valuable lessons if you are truthful. Try to be as specific as you can, respecting the feelings of the teacher.


yes... honesty is the best policy ... BUT ... how would you communicate this appropriatley would phone call be enough? Or is it best face to face? ... Even so how specific should I be and how long should the conversation be for?

I have no intention of being brutal I just want to state the facts and my opinouns ...

Getting back to the core topic of the thread, what are some of the things that should be asked of departing students, if you devise such a form or document? The tone of such a document should be as neutral as possible. Questions should be limited in number (ideally, no more than ten). I have my own thoughts on what these questions might deal with, but I'll save them until others comment.


Can I ask a question back? What are some things a departing student can impart and inform to the teacher? ...

How you communicate with the teacher depends a little on your relationship with him. If you're on reasonably friendly terms with him, I would suggest a face-to-face meeting, perhaps at or around your last lesson. Although not everyone would agree with me, I think specificity is desirable; otherwise, how can the teacher learn anything of value from the conversation?

Generally, in any conversation involving constructive criticism, it's best to point out positive aspects along with the negative. The goal in doing so is not to "sugar-coat" the bad news, but to provide a balanced view that the teacher will be more likely to act upon after you leave. You can bet that if the teacher thinks you're unreasonable because of the way you've presented the information, he won't listen to or benefit from it. You have then just wasted your time and effort. The conversation should be under an hour, given your and the teacher's time constraints.

Keep in mind, too, that the teacher is a human being who makes mistakes! This may sound like a criticism or tautology, but let me offer an illustrative example from my own experience. I was a research manager, as well as researcher, for a number of years. I had a technician who actually carried out most of the experiments that I designed. In trying to treat the technician the way I wanted to be treated, I would carefully explain not only what I wanted done, but why we were doing it, what we would learn and why it was important. I only found out years later that the technician really just wanted to come to work, do the job and go home. All the explanation was just a waste of time for the technician (in the technician's view). My point here is that what the teacher is doing can be well-motivated, but just not something you want or appreciate.

When you talk with the teacher, take some notes with you about things you want to say. That way, you won't forget items and you'll do a better and more organized job of presenting the matters you bring up. As you compile the list, try to look at things from the teacher's standpoint. If you do that, you may find that some things that seemed really bad to you may not have been so bad after all. That doesn't mean you shouldn't bring those items up, but, rather, that you present them as a matter of changing his approach, instead of changing his actions, per se. As you talk with your teacher, try to avoid presenting things in such a way that he will feel a need to "justify" the way he has taught you. Present ideas as changes that would have helped you, personally, rather than changes that he should make right away for his whole studio.

Here are some of the general topics you might consider touching upon, recognizing that I know little of your interactions with your teacher:

1) Matters pertaining to professionalism (appearance, timeliness, knowledge, effectiveness,etc.)
2) Any deficiencies you see in your progress. This is a good one to bring up because you may find that the teacher can give you some hints and ideas that will help you in the future.
3) Matters of personal interaction. This should not be about whether or not you "like" the teacher, but about what things (if any) the teacher could have changed in his way of interacting with you. For example, some teachers like to "kid" with their students. A little humor is a great thing, but sometimes the student doesn't see the kidding as humor. I just made that last example up to show you the kinds of things that you might want to bring up. If there are any such issues, chances are that your teacher doesn't have any idea that your feelings are being hurt.
4) Matters strictly related to the functioning of the teacher's studio. This might include something like the teacher not being willing to teach on Saturdays, but Saturday is the most convenient day for you. Of course, this is another example used only to illustrate the kind of items you might discuss. Another matter in this area is fee structure, if it's an issue for you. Everyone wants to pay as little as possible for lessons, but do you feel you got "good value" for money? If not, why?
5) What kinds of changes the teacher could have made that would have helped you. Some of this is implied by the other areas I mentioned above, but it's always easier to accept criticism when the person offering the criticism also offers some possible solutions. You don't want to come off here sounding like you're trying to tell the teacher how to run his studio, but simply offer some ideas that would have made a difference to you. The teacher doesn't have to accept them, but at least you've made the effort.

I'm not trying to script your conversation with the teacher here, as only you know what's important to you. I just hope this gives you some ideas for a discussion that might help both of you. I'm impressed that you care enough about your teacher that you're willing to take the time to have what might seem to be a "difficult" discussion with your teacher. Sadly, the majority of students don't have that kind of concern for the teacher and courage to present their ideas. :)




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Postby 112-1182392787 » Mon Apr 21, 2008 11:45 am

Sometimes a student and teacher part ways because of differing philosophies and goals. There is no "wrong" about it. There may be no errors. A student may see something as a fault which is not a fault - in fact the teacher's choice might have been a wise one but the student does not have enough knowlege of music pedagogy to be able to tell.

I would tread very carefully around the notion of giving any negative feedback. If the teacher really did make mistakes, his professional pride may not allow him to hear it. Often teachers will not accept such criticism from students, only from peers, and even then, with difficulty. In all likelihood the teacher has done his best in what is a tricky and difficult job.

Were I to leave a teacher I would give advance notice. My reason would probably be that of following a different pathway. I would thank my teacher for his efforts, and point out two or three positive things that stand out the most in my mind. In what way have I benefited, in what way do I see something unique that I will always carry with me.

I might ask this teacher for feedback on his experience with me as a student, any advice he would like him to impart for the future, any suggestions about my future path in music.

If the teacher wanted feedback on his teaching or anything pertaining to lessons, and asked for them, I would have something on the ready - prepared in my mind ahead of time - otherwise probably not. Since it's the last meeting, any misunderstanding or hurt cannot be repaired. Why not leave on a positive note?

One of the things I have noticed on the music boards is that teachers in general do not see their efforts as being appreciated or noticed. That is the moment for offering up such appreciation. Any one thing that this teacher has done which you feel has been positive, may bolster the giving of more of the same to other students.

If there are problems - the time to bring them up is while still being a student, with the effort of resolving that problem, so that you don't have to take this step.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Mon Apr 21, 2008 1:10 pm

pianissimo wrote:I would tread very carefully around the notion of giving any negative feedback. If the teacher really did make mistakes, his professional pride may not allow him to hear it. Often teachers will not accept such criticism from students, only from peers, and even then, with difficulty. In all likelihood the teacher has done his best in what is a tricky and difficult job.

Any kind of conversation of this sort requires one to tread carefully. However, teachers who refuse to learn from constructive criticism or even hear it, whether from peers or students, calmly and carefully offered, are shooting themselves in the foot (if not the head). There is no doubt that the great majority of teachers try to do their best, but the wise ones want feedback from all their students, especially those who are leaving. The feedback need not be about what the teacher might have done "wrong", but also about what services the teacher offers that students might not care about. This can save the teacher time and money in the end.

The teacher can always choose to weight student feedback in any way he/she chooses or even completely ignore it (at his/her peril), but should always be open to client comments. It's just hard sometimes to do it face-to-face. That's the reason I suggested a form in a self-addressed stamped envelope as a non-confrontational way of getting it.

In science, that feedback process is done regularly and is called "peer review". It's a tough job for the reviewer, but honesty is required if peer review is to work as it should to weed out error and misinterpretation in the literature. I can't speak for others, but I always suggested my toughest competitors as peer reviewers for my scientific work, figuring that they would take the most care in finding any errors in logic or data in the paper. I would much rather they found any problems, than see them in print.

The peer review process isn't perfect, but I think most teachers could benefit from honest, constructive criticism from both peers and students. Since most piano teachers don't publish or put their students in competitions to receive much peer review, input from students is probably the most important feedback the teacher can get.

Although I take a bit of exception with the idea of avoiding negative input to the teacher (if there is something negative to say), I see most of pianissimo's advice as helpful and valuable, when properly applied.




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Postby 112-1182392787 » Tue Apr 22, 2008 6:37 pm

Music is not science. At its best, a thought process is altered and new realities enter. It can happen that a student literally does not understand what the teacher's intentions are and how this works, and that what the student would like the teacher to do would be harmful to the training he might receive. The two fail to meet, the teacher has not budged on what he knows is right for the student, and the student's criticism entails the teacher's failure to do what the teacher knows would be wrong to do. In science everyone is involved in the same conventional thought process.

I saw an example of this today in another forum. A student was unhappy that a new teacher was dropping repertoire and adding repertoire not to his liking. The teacher had explained the reasons. A quick exploration revealed that this repertoire had technical qualities that would strengthen the student's skills and knowledge. Continuing with what was familiar was comfortable for the student, but would not allow him to grow.

In this case, the student might leave his teacher, and explain that the repertoire was the cause. Since I want the kind of leadership and guidance that this particular teacher is offering, I would hate for this teacher to take the student's feedback to heart, so that if became the next student I would not be offered the teaching the first was offered. The student in question was not in a position to judge the teacher's choices because he did not understand enough about pedagogy.

Thinking this through, perhaps the KIND of feedback should be qualified. Feedback on pedagogy may not be wise because of the question of expertise mentioned above.

However, other things such as availability, time slots, temper outbursts by a teacher, fee that cannot be afforded, preparedness, disorganization, cleanliness, availability, the parrot above the piano that squawks tunelessly as soon as you play, the family member who walks in and out as you play, the loud t.v. next door - yes.

Can the question also become: what are appropriate and inappropriate subjects of feedback?
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Apr 23, 2008 7:32 am

pianissimo wrote:Music is not science. At its best, a thought process is altered and new realities enter. It can happen that a student literally does not understand what the teacher's intentions are and how this works, and that what the student would like the teacher to do would be harmful to the training he might receive. The two fail to meet, the teacher has not budged on what he knows is right for the student, and the student's criticism entails the teacher's failure to do what the teacher knows would be wrong to do. In science everyone is involved in the same conventional thought process.

...
Thinking this through, perhaps the KIND of feedback should be qualified. Feedback on pedagogy may not be wise because of the question of expertise mentioned above.

...

Can the question also become: what are appropriate and inappropriate subjects of feedback?

You're right that music is not science, though it's hard to imagine most music without the discipline of mathematics, which is at the core of both music and science. That aside, your comment that "In science everyone is involved in the same conventional thought process." is a common misconception among those who are not scientists. As I've said elsewhere on the Board, the best science is always creative and often challenges the prevailing view. That's the way major leaps are often made. Those scientists who use the "same conventional thought process" are always the also-rans.

However, I was referring specifically to the mechanics of the peer review process as a paradigm for the idea of outside review and feedback, as my statement "In science, that feedback process is done regularly and is called "peer review"." makes clear. Piano teaching is almost certainly worse off for the lack of such a process in that field, even if it's much harder to do in an artistic field. As we discussed, in the What is good music thread, the world behaves as if there are musical standards, even if they are hard to list and apply in all situations. Although some organizations offer certifications to piano teachers, they are not the same, in flavor or depth, as peer review.

I would disagree with the idea that feedback should be limited to areas outside of pedagogy. The teacher is the one with the training and expertise. He/she is in the best position to decide if feedback can be used in the studio or not. The teacher is always free to ignore or discount feedback, if it's inappropriate. The student may not be able to describe his concerns in pedagogical lingo, but the teacher should know enough to translate what he says. If the teacher finds that students complain about, say, learning music theory, he/she shouldn't stop teaching theory, but should try to find a more palatable way of doing it.

Of course, I would draw the line at feedback that goes outside the bounds of acceptable polite discourse, but that isn't what you were referring to in your post. I think it's perfectly appropriate to channel feedback through a feedback form as I proposed to start this thread, so as to keep it on track, but not to limit it. Limiting feedback sounds a little like "burning a few books". How can one meaningfully limit feedback without damaging its value and usefulness?

My answer to your question is, "Any feedback that relates to piano, music and the functioning of the studio is appropriate," subject to the qualification I indicated above. Of course, a discussion of what feedback might include could be very valuable. Thanks for proposing it. :)




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Postby 112-1182392787 » Wed Apr 23, 2008 7:11 pm

The term "peer review" has the word "peer" in it. Students are not peers. The problem that I see is that there are certain processes that a good teacher wants to do that a student, not understanding these processes, will be against. It may be that something which is unpleasant, and of necessity is unpleasant, still must be gone through, and that the "palatable" is not effective. These are actual realities that I know about. If this is the scenario, then reviews of these particular types of things are not possible. The student literally does not know what is good or bad for him, and may criticize something that is good for him, thinking it bad. Of course the teacher can ignore it since he knows the true situation, but it also serves no purpose if that is the case.

I absolutely do not want my teacher to make my lessons "pallatable" because my predecessor gave him feedback to that effect - I want them to be effective to my teacher's best judgement, not my own. If it means that I will hate certain of my lessons, but will eventualy grow through them, so be it.

The problem is precisely that such palatability is happening, lessons are being watered down to cater to client wishes, and it is a personal source of frustration as an adult student.

I cannot tell my dentist what kind of drill or procedure he should have used, and I cannot tell my teacher how he should have taught me.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Apr 23, 2008 8:11 pm

Getting back to the thread topic, that of the teacher seeking input from students, I forgot to mention the possibility that the teacher can, and perhaps should, ask for feedback from all students, whether they are leaving or not. I should not have limited the thread to departing students only, even though I suspect they might be the best sources of information.
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Thu Apr 24, 2008 6:19 pm

That is an excellent idea, because it seems that the most effective feedback is when lessons are still ongoing. If student A is not comfortable about something the teacher is doing, then it helps lessons of the teacher is aware of it, and adjustments are made. Leaving because of that means it is told too late.

However, what makes student A uncomfortable may be just what student B wants, so the message of A will not affect B's lessons positively if acted upon. The right time would seem to be during the course of lessons.

There can be small things. I have seen students write "My teacher explains things. He talks for 5 minutes and he loses me after the third word." Why, for heaven's sake, allow this to go on? What teacher wants to make an effort in explanations when not a thing is understood, and do this week after week?
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Apr 25, 2008 7:10 am

pianissimo wrote:That is an excellent idea, because it seems that the most effective feedback is when lessons are still ongoing.

Yes, I think the more information that the teacher can get on how students view their lessons, the better the teacher can do her job. A teacher can get a lot of indirect input just by talking to students when they come in. The problem with that is that the feedback the teacher gets that way is unorganized and, to a certain extent, haphazard, making it hard for the teacher to get an overall picture. That's the reason I think it would be valuable for the teacher to survey all students at least once a year, as well as doing a more in-depth survey with departing students.

I might add that these surveys could easily be done on a teacher web site. The web site approach has the advantage that, when the site is set up with database links, the answers are added to a database automatically and then easily queried for specific trends and ideas. The disadvantage of the web site approach is that it may be more difficult to get people to visit the site and answer the questions than to simply supply them with a form they can fill out and drop in the mail.
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