Scolded by parent for 25 minutes of instructional time in half-hour lesson

Heather Reichgott said: Mar 24, 2013
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
95 posts

Hi, I wanted to get other teachers’ feedback on an incident that occurred with one student’s parent a couple of weeks ago. I travel to this student’s house once a week for a half-hour lesson. The parent complained that I had been “shaving off time” over the past several lessons, teaching for 25 minutes instead of half an hour.

I teach mostly at my home studio, and travel to the homes of a few students (currently 4 out of 26). Whether at my home or theirs, everyone gets a half-hour or one-hour block of time. The full block of time is never purely instructional time; there are always a few minutes of greetings, getting books out, putting books away, check-ins with parents, etc. I am sure that I have always been at this student’s house for at least half an hour every week. I am conscious of time as I am due at other places later in the afternoon, so I do not stay much longer than half an hour. On the day the parent made the comment to me, I later discovered a three-minute discrepancy between my watch and my car clock, so it is possible that I was there for three minutes less on that day.

During my five years of teaching so far, this is my first complaint about usage of time. For what it’s worth, my fee is significantly below market rate, due to my beliefs about making music education available to everyone, so by working with me, families are getting a bargain to begin with.

At the time I was quite upset about the implication that I am being dishonest. I am sometimes disorganized in managing my studio (and myself) but never dishonest. After I was done being upset I worked out a solution. Since this student is my first of the day, it was easy for me to agree to arrive five minutes earlier, and actually it makes the rest of my afternoon easier since things are not so compressed. I do not feel that I was obligated to make that choice but I was happy to do it.

I’m just wondering if anyone has faced similar issues and how you handled it?

Nicole said: Mar 24, 2013
Nicole Ballinger
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Vero Beach, FL
9 posts

My husband and I have been teaching about 10 years- and for a time he used to have 1 or 2 students he would travel to. They actually paid extra for the travel and time expense involved. However, even with this ‘perk’ we didn’t find it productive to teach students in this situation as 1) They didn’t show the same discipline with their committment to lessons as they would coming to our studio and 2) Parents also think they ‘own’ you and treat you as such. We would advise that you make a studio policy on what you expect of all your students and perhaps a specific one for students you travel to—and what you and the parent will agree on as far as the extra time and travel you’re investing as a teacher. Yes its important that you treat everyone fairly but its also important that we dont give the perception were a ‘doormat’ either. Establishing guidelines so as to build the trust and respect needed between a teacher and the parents is really important. I can only remember one occasion when we may have been accused of shaving time. We too were really surprised by this. However, another parent since then noticed that we would also give more time than allotted and they gave us a beautiful wood/glass ‘hourglass’ which all the students love turning now when they start their lesson :) We make sure to keep it out of the students line of vision so they’re focusing more on playing :) If you build a reputation for going above and beyond for your students and establish respect and trust with the parents by communicating at the outset what your expectations and objectives are- usually by way of a specific studio policy- this will begin a healthy parent-teacher relationship which will hopefully last for a long time.

G said: Mar 25, 2013
G Ordun
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Vienna, VA
21 posts

Seriously? You come to them and they’re timing you to the minute?

No one is paid by the minute.

Music teachers are paid by the lesson. The official “lesson time” is a guideline. Sometimes a student is “done” way before their time is up (see the “Million Dollar Lesson” thread). Other times, we go beyond the official “lesson time” in order to finish a particular teaching point.

Would it occur to this parent to pay extra when you stay for 33 minutes?

If you won’t consider dropping them, think about setting a timer: where everyone can see it. Mine is always set to 2 minutes less than the “lesson time”. It’s a tangible reminder that starting and stopping takes time.

FWIW,
g

P.S. The only time students are distracted by the timer is when they are bored … a clear signal that I need to make a change!

MaryLou Roberts said: Mar 25, 2013
MaryLou RobertsTeacher Trainer
Institute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Guitar
Ann Arbor, MI
244 posts

I try to describe the lesson in the beginning, that connection with the student and parent is part of the lesson, as it helps to teach that person in an individual way.

Teaching under conditions like this can be stressful, so be sure to describe your purpose. It is more important for you to work under good circumstances.

Teresa said: Mar 25, 2013
Teresa Skinner
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
69 posts

Living on Maui, providing instruments has always been an issue as there are NO violin stores on the island. There are shops on Oahu, which requires getting on a plane, renting a car, etc. It is less than convenient! Of the half dozen shops over there, only 2 (to my knowledge) rent instruments to the neighbor islands. Over the years i have acquired my own supply of violins which I loan out to students at no charge. When the student returns the instrument to me, the parents are required to pay for a set of strings, rehair or replace the bow, and pay for any repair to the instrument if needed. About once a year, I go to the mainland U.S. and select instruments for students who are interested in purchasing or need an upgrade to their current instruments.

…if you listen to the music, it tells you what to do…

Barb said: Mar 25, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Hi suzukimaui,
I think this reply was meant for the “rent to students” thread, but I found it! Thank you! How nice that you can loan to your students. Having to FLY to get an instrument—that is an inconvenience!

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Christiane said: Mar 29, 2013
Christiane Pors-Sadoff
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
New York, NY
47 posts

I have one tip: you fire them!

Christiane Pors
Violinist
Mikomi Violin Studio
Kaufman Music Center
NYU Steinhardt

Heather Reichgott said: Mar 29, 2013
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
95 posts

Thank you for the comments.
A timer visible to everyone is a good idea. I have a clock in my home studio. I will think about how best to use a timer at the student’s house.
I do have an “about my studio” booklet that I give out to families when they begin, and every couple of years after that. It’s a great idea to add something detailed about lesson time to the booklet!
No, I’m not going to fire them. (Thanks for being in my corner though.) The student is lovely to work with and I wouldn’t want her to be penalized for a disagreement between teacher and parent.

Sue Hunt said: Mar 30, 2013
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

Being held to ransom in this way by parents, is not acceptable. The best reply to an accusation of cutting lesson times came from my son’s cello teacher.

“My fees are for giving your child a lesson. I teach each child for as long as the child is able to benefit from the lesson. Sometimes it is less than half an hour.”

I would say that when a child has had as much as he can take, prolonging a lesson to make it up to the set time is counterproductive. After this point, all you will be teaching the child is how to to avoid engaging.

Carol Gwen said: Apr 1, 2013
Carol Gwen Kiefer
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Washington Crossing, PA
75 posts

Hi Heather,
That is hurtful. Especially with all you do for your families. Sounds like you are happy with your solution. :) Here are some thoughts.

It’s important to remain objective, and not take this type of remark personally. Parents (and students) will throw curve balls. Confrontation is an inevitable part of the Suzuki triangle (as it is in any human relationship).

I still have parents (25 years of teaching) who bring up that I spend less than the full lesson time teaching their child. First time a parent complains I check myself. I have been known to run over time! After that I watch the clocks (I have 3 in my studio). If the same parent brings up time again, I can say with all honesty I know when I ended the last lesson and they are getting their full time.

My studio policy states a lesson is a process, (a ritual) and their lesson begins when the previous lesson ends. I ask everyone to help smooth the transition between lesson. So far it works for me (people hop to it).

One small suggestion I’d make in your case is to gradually start charging more for travel lessons? So many piano colleagues do. I hear you about wanting music education affordable to everyone. A lesson I learned early on is to respect my time and insist others do so as well.

Thanks for reading this. Enjoy the Spring!

Barb said: Apr 1, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

I have seen a studio policy (cannot recall who’s) which stated lesson time is approximate. Some lessons will be longer and some will be shorter. Sometimes they may start a few minutes late or early, and run a little late or early. That teacher probably also had parents complain.

My biggest problem is going overtime. I schedule a short break between most lessons so usually I can still start the next on time.

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Heather Reichgott said: Apr 6, 2013
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
95 posts

Thanks for the help!
I already do charge more for lessons in a location other than my home, since traveling is basically an extra service on top of the service of teaching.
Carol, I appreciate the balance between checking oneself after the first comment, watching the clock and then in case of further comments saying with confidence that the student got the full benefit of lesson time. That is helpful.
Barb—break time between lessons! A fantastic idea. I had not thought of that.
cheers, Heather

Kelly said: Aug 16, 2013
Kelly LehrViolin, Viola
Eagan, MN
6 posts

Argh, I’ve had parents do the same with me. One in particular really watched the clock and would complain when we finished the lesson early but never said a word whenever we went over the allotted lesson time. This happened very early on in my teaching career and I learned a valuable lesson in time management. :-) I’ve also adopted a studio policy similar to Barb’s re: lesson length.

Like Barb, my biggest problem is going overtime. I use a timer that goes off 5 minutes before the end of the scheduled lesson time. I tell my students—and parents—that this is my “5-minute warning” to wrap up what we’re doing so I don’t run over and start the next lesson late.

I also encourage my students to come early and stay late. If they arrive early, they know to take their instrument out of the case, get it ready for the lesson and then quietly enter the room. This gives them an opportunity to observe the end of the previous lesson and it also gives the children (& parents) a chance to become familiar and friendly with each other. Once the lesson is over, it is a relatively quick transition to the next student.

Not all of my students do this, but for those that do, this approach really helps me stay on time AND fill as much of the lesson as possible with instruction instead of spending precious time at the beginning of the lesson waiting for the child to get their instrument out of the case and all that other stuff.

Elizabeth Friedman said: Mar 18, 2014
Elizabeth Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
49 posts

I know I'm late to the party, but wanted to chime in after just having had this happen to me with a family that's been particularly problematic in various ways, often relating to boundary issues. I found this thread so incredibly helpful in dealing with my own situation, so thank you all.

In this instance, the problem stems from the fact that this family started with me right after I'd moved to Oxford for my husband's job (so I was just building a studio again from scratch), and the student was very young and still not in full-time school. That means he came to me in the mornings, when I was bored stiff and could give them all the time in the world. And, I did. If they were late or he had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the lesson, I ran over. I always chatted with the mom after lessons, and in truth, his 30-minute lessons usually took 60 minutes of my time—but it didn't matter as I really didn't have anything else going on.

Last year, when he moved to afternoons, the mom asked if there was a "better time" to have his lessons, as I seemed so rushed. By then, I had a full studio, with students back-to-back for 3 to 4 hours each evening—so no, there was no other time. This was the point at which the first complaint came—that I wasn't giving him enough time. I assured the mom that I was indeed giving him his full time, and often more. I checked myself, and made sure I was particularly cognizant of the time I was giving him… and thought that she would be on the same page (after all, we were looking at the same clock), and that that was it. Indeed, this family is very chaotic (2 siblings who tag along, one who is now 18 months and into everything)—and I frequently run an extra 5-10 minutes late after this child's lesson, sometimes despite my best efforts to end in enough time to allow transition to the next student.

Then, this email arrived last week: "Following L's lesson today, could I just go over a few points with you, please?
I was left disappointed with your assessment of the situation to do with his lesson time being cut short. As you know, this is not the first time this matter has been brought up. I feel he is due, as any of your students, a full half hour lesson (albeit this includes setting up and packing away time). He hasn’t been getting this far too often. You still tend to let us into the room at least 5 minutes late and start the following lesson on time. I appreciated your efforts last year to try to tighten up the timing of lesson over-runs/cut-offs. I feel it is time to review the situation anew.
I would say that I am 100% pleased with your teaching of L: your attention to his technique, the way you relate to him, the way you communicate with him in an encouraging way. I also appreciate the fact that you are a very talented musician and that you are active on the violin “scene”, performing regularly and endeavouring to continuously improve your teaching skills.
Because I was unable to discuss the above issue satisfactorily after L’s lesson today, can I propose a short meeting with you one evening as soon as you are free, please?"

Punch to the gut. In 18 years of teaching, this is the first person who has complained to me about supposedly short-changing their child. I've had complaints before, but usually about people at the end of the night needing to be somewhere else, and could I please find a way to run more on time, etc. I always give my students their full time, and more, and am routinely running 10-15 minutes late by the end of a 3-hour teaching stint. It's not good time management, I'll allow, and perhaps means a change is needed (especially now that I have a 5-month-old baby)—but I certainly don't short-change my students.

In my response, I replied that they entered the room at 4:35 and exited at 5:05. My sitter had been late that day, so my whole schedule was off by 5 minutes—so although the lesson did indeed start 5 minutes late, I did not understand the nature of her concern. I suggested a timer (thank you, G), to which she agreed. I also explained that a lesson includes not only teaching time, but greeting the student, checking in with the parent, wrap up, and transition time—and that if this was not agreeable, now would be a good time to begin the search for a new teacher. I also said that if she felt a meeting was necessary, she should come alone to the next lesson time.

Heather (and anyone else who's found this thread): there's no pleasing some people. It is not always best for the student that we have rigid schedules with regards to lessons—sometimes a child is ill or having a bad day and we really should end early. Sometimes there's time to run over (like if the next student is late or absent), and we should persevere when a student is having trouble grasping a teaching point. Perhaps the timer will prove to be extremely helpful. But it's also good to be able to know when to let a particularly difficult family find a new situation.

Barbara Stafford said: Mar 18, 2014
Barbara Stafford
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Plano, TX
59 posts

I find all these comments very helpful also, and I am glad you posted this situation. (I really like the timer idea and I need to start using one.) Something I don't think has been said is this— pointing out when you've run late with a student. I do this especially when I get the sense I am working with an older student who might be time-conscious— students who have phone clocks that they seem to check before the lesson. With those kind of students I try to remember to observe aloud—"Oh we ran 5 minutes overtime today." And sometimes I get a lot more dramatic "OH my GOSH we went late!" Or, sometimes I say," I see we are closing off 5 minutes early but we HAVE been running 5' overtime in many of the previous lessons, so I'm not worried about it." So vocalizing time issues as a pre-emptive cover your tail maneuver can be useful. This only works, I suppose, if you are a teacher who does routinely accidentally give a little extra time.

Community Youth Orchestra said: Mar 20, 2014
Community Youth OrchestraViolin, Viola
70 posts

Anyone who goes to take private lessons and equates the precise number of minutes of instruction with the quality thereof needs to have their head examined.

I'll settle for the concepts taught and learned, thank you very much!

G said: Mar 20, 2014
G Ordun
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Vienna, VA
21 posts

Barbara,

Not to be rude (or pompous?); but "GOSH …" and "we HAVE been running late" sound like apologies to me.

Do not apologize for running your studio in a professional manner. Come up with a few direct statements about why you manage your time as you do; and leave it at that. Even something as simple as: "I don't charge by the minute" can end these discussions.

That will leave you free to focus on WHAT you are doing with and for each student, which IMNSHO is much more important.

If a student truly reaches saturation WAY before my timer goes off, I simply comment that they are "full / tired / finished" (whatever) and re-focus: on the parent. Ask them questions I have about their child—learning style, practice habits. Answer any questions they may have about the lesson. Explain a bit more about what I have assigned and why.

Finishing early is a perfect opportunity for some one-on-one parent education!

FWIW,
g

Cathy Hargrave said: Mar 21, 2014
Cathy HargraveTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Rowlett, TX
50 posts

In reading of this parent situation, I remembered something Dr. Suzuki told me when I was studying in Matsumoto. I still remember some of the exact conversation. He told me not to teach by the clock. "You must teach American mamas they are not buying your time. They are paying you to educate their children." (This was in 1983)

Therefore, I don't charge according to the length of a lesson. Parents seem to understand easily when I explain that if a student cannot concentrate for a certain amount of time some weeks, I am not going to force them to fill up a set amount of time. Conversely, if a student is concentrating extremely well and we need more time, I will extend the lesson until we reach a good stopping point. Something extremely important may take only a few minutes to teach and it is counterproductive to belabor the point just to fill up time. (Of course, lessons include technique, review, reading, and all parts of a lesson. So a lesson is never just a few minutes.) I tell them lessons are approximately X number of minutes plus they will observe the previous or following student's lesson weekly. For Volume 1, lessons are about 30 minutes more or less plus observation time, Volume 2 and 3 are about 45 minutes plus observation time and Volume 4 and above is about one hour. I always stress the word "about" when saying this and tell them to plan on being in the studio about an hour or so every week. And they do it.

In over 30 years of teaching this way, I have only lost 2 students over it. It sounds like this mom might be one you cannot convince. I wouldn't worry about it and let her go wherever she wants. Your own peace of mind is more valuable than caving in to a bullying parent.

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