Turning away students - Your criteria?

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Sep 22, 2005 9:34 am

Every teacher will have to turn away interested new students sooner or later. Sometimes, this is just a matter of the studio being full. Other times, it involves the teacher having a "bad feeling" about the student or parent.

Beyond "having a bad feeling," what criteria do you use when you choose to turn away students and how do you do it? A discussion of this should prove valuable for all of us, teachers and students alike.
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Postby Lyndall » Tue Oct 04, 2005 11:02 am

Firstly, I'm very suspicious of transfer students. There is often a negative reason why a student will leave their current teacher to move onto another. Perhaps they didn't like the strict practice requirements & felt a new teacher might be more lenient (wrong in my case because I don't stand lack of practising), or maybe they were losing motivation & thought a new teacher could re-inspire them (wrong in my experience since motivation comes from within).

So in the interview I quiz the student & parent in detail on their reasons for leaving. Sometimes the student confesses right away that they really don't like to practice or don't love piano that much, which saves everyone a lot of time because they end up quitting altogether (not that I want to encourage it, but we need honesty).

I didn't used to be this way - it's come with experience. My first few transfers I had that 'feeling' there would be issues with them, and my intuition always proves right, so now I try to listen to it up front.
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Postby mirjam » Thu Oct 06, 2005 1:59 am

Hello Lyndall

I agree with you that motivation has to come from within, but I think as a teacher you can make all the difference to get this inner motivation in the students. I happen to get a lot of transfer students from my town, where some teachers make no effort to motivate their students whatsoever. They lean back, say 'well, practise this song again and then learn the next page'. That's it. I have some really talented students from there, who enjoy playing and practising, some stayed from childhood until they were adults and turned out to be my favorite students. Of course there are students switching because they're not that serious. But there are teachers who are not that serious too....
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Postby Lyndall » Sun Oct 09, 2005 8:17 am

Good point, Mirjam. I have had just that experience you described with non-involved teachers - the change in the students is remarkable when they learn there's more to music than stickers on every piece every week regardless of whether they deserve them.

Although us teachers can have a positive (or negative) influence on our students, I still believe motivation must come from within i.e. we can't just top it up each week in order to get the student to come back next lesson.
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Postby Stretto » Sun Oct 09, 2005 10:20 am

Motivation coming from within is sooo true. Good point mirjam also that we teachers can work to cultivate that motivation. One way I try to besides incentives is just seem enthused about what I'm trying to teach. For example, pointing out to a beginner student what the simple chord progression is in the piece of music they are learning is so exciting to me - to be able to show a student there is more to the music than just reading the notes. I am so enthusiastic to show them how "cool" that is, hopefully my enthusiasm for all the "neat" stuff there is to discover in learning music will transfer over.
My very best students were/are the one's that are self-motivated. I read somewhere once however that only about 14 % of students taking lessons are the self-motivated type, the rest need outside motivation.

Incidentally, I haven't taken time to post to this thread yet, but probably the only reason I would turn away students at this point is if I was full for time availability. I think everyone deserves a chance. I would hate to think someone would never touch an instrument again or have anything to do with music the rest of their lives just because I wouldn't give them a chance. If they are coming to me wanting lessons, that in itself is motivation. I might warn the parents/students in my policy or information of any potential problems I might foresee, for example, if I found out they had a very full schedule already, I might 'warn' them about the commitment it takes for lessons and practice and that they might want to take that into consideration before making a commitment. Basically, if I had any concerns whatsoever, I might voice my concerns in the same way a teacher in a school setting would to a parent, and leave it in the parent/students court to decide.
I guess it depends on the teacher how high of demand they are in. If a teacher was in very high demand, then they would be able to set their policy more strictly to weed out some that may lack commitment or motivation. I was able to obtain some sample copies of some other teachers policies that a friend rounded up from teachers she knows when I was trying to write my policy. Once teacher had in her policy that if a student came unprepared so many times for lessons, it showed a lack of commitment and they would be dropped so the slot could be opened to someone who may be more committed. This would be a good way to weed out the students who come time after time barely practicing.
I actually am willing to give anyone a chance as I said. My main problem is how to graciously 'let someone go' once they have started. I have mostly had problems with parents who call at the last minute, ask for make-ups with late notice, once in a while just don't show, or forget thier make-up time. Someone who consistently does this I feel should be 'let go'. I have re-written my policy to hold parents accountable for this as it shows lack of commitment - no wonder a student is not committed when the parents aren't. The problem is graciously telling someone your 'letting them go' due to consistently 'breaking' the policy. I might be tempted to tell them in the form of a written letter so that there wouldn't be any misunderstanding and they would have time to let it sink in before responding. Also, in writing, they would not be able to interupt me from explaining everything I might feel the need to. Most of the people I've had like this eventually quit on their own without me saying much although I have talked to students a time or two about the importance of not being spread too thin, and narrowing their interests to a couple things they love the best and really concentrate on those even if it means piano would be one they would cut out. I'd rather have them cut piano then see them be spread so thin and wiped out half the time. Anyway, kind of got on a tangent here. I have not had to turn away anyone, again, I would warn parents/students of problems I may foresee, and let them be the one's to make the decision to try lessons or not. Eventually I will have to 'let someone go' I'm sure however because of lack of commitment as I have explained already.




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Postby pianoannie » Tue Nov 29, 2005 10:43 pm

The only times I declined to accept students after an interview was when they displayed an unacceptable attitude during the interview. That has happened very rarely. Once I was interviewing 2 brothers and their mom (Mom was there only as the parent, not as prospective student). The boys kept giving me sarcastic, negative answers to the questions I asked, and kept saying that they hated piano (they had been with another teacher), then the mom would say "You know you love piano," and they would yell "NO we don't!!!" and so on. When I told the boys I'd like to talk with them about theory to see what they already know, they both yelled in complete unison "BO----RING!!!" Aaaauuuuugh.

I called the mom the next day and said her boys did not seem interested in what I had to offer (I had really tried to be enthusiastic and show them some of the "cool" stuff I do with my students, but nothing seemed to appeal to them in the least). I told her I was apparently not the right teacher for them. I know she was not happy with me for declining them, but life is too short for that kind of misery.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Wed Nov 30, 2005 11:17 am

Hooray for you! Why should we try so hard to please people who are obviously being as negative as they can be?

I've never felt that music would do any good for someone who was forced to do it. I don't mean kids should not be disciplined to practice (or do other things), but after a certain point you begin to realize that maybe some people would probably be difficult to handle in ANY situation, and need a lot more than just a music teacher. I'm sure many of you have from time to time had adults say to you, "Oh, if only I had been MADE to keep up my lessons!" I think this is baloney--they really wish they could have something NOW without the work.

A lady came up to me after a recital once and gushed, "Oh, I'd give ANYTHING to be able to play like you!" I said, Yes--anything but five hours a day for twenty years."

B.L.
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Postby pianoannie » Wed Nov 30, 2005 7:23 pm

Dr. Bill Leland wrote: I'm sure many of you have from time to time had adults say to you, "Oh, if only I had been MADE to keep up my lessons!" I think this is baloney--they really wish they could have something NOW without the work.

A lady came up to me after a recital once and gushed, "Oh, I'd give ANYTHING to be able to play like you!" I said, Yes--anything but five hours a day for twenty years."

B.L.

Those are very interesting comments Bill! You are so right that most people don't have any idea how long and hard we have worked to get where we are with piano.

I read somewhere that on average it takes 10,000 hours to become truly skilled at an activity (be it gymnastics, figure skating, sports, instrument, etc). Now obviously there is a huge variation between people and different activities, but I agree with the general point it was making about commitment.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Thu Dec 01, 2005 12:36 pm

Yes, and another interesting thing is that as you get older and more experienced you automatically see more patterns and develop more practice strategies that make your practicing far more efficient, so you get much more done in a shorter time.

(But this only works after you've learned that technique is primarily in the head, not the hands!)

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