Attack of the tiger mom!

Hadley Johnson Gibbons said: Jul 22, 2013
Hadley Johnson Gibbons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Seattle, WA
24 posts

Does anyone have advice for dealing with tiger parents?

I just had the experience of a mother pulling her kindergartener out of my studio because it was time to move on to a non-Suzuki teacher. This particular family moved their daughter on to the next piece before I allowed it, didn’t take notes in lessons, didn’t attend group lessons, and didn’t want to stay for receptions after recitals. The mother DID want to discuss, in detail, any child who moved faster through the pieces than her daughter, played faster than her daughter, etc, in lengthy phone conversations. They had a friend in my studio who moved to a different teacher last year and is, I believe, in between teachers again. I assume that they were, once again, unsatisfied with their progress and felt that a different teacher was the answer.

I have had students move from my studio to other studios, parents call me about moving to me from other studios, all in an attempt to upgrade to the best teacher. At one point a parent was giving me reports of all of the parents and teachers (non-Suzuki, of course) who were putting pressure on her to get out of my studio because I am a Suzuki teacher. No other reason. One of my teacher friends even told me that a parent from what is probably the best studio in Seattle called him about switching! It’s unbelievable!

These kids are emotional basket cases: nervous, clingy, and unfocused. Obviously I don’t own them and can’t force them to stay in one place. Any suggestions? Or just experiences of your own to share?

Community Youth Orchestra said: Jul 22, 2013
Community Youth OrchestraViolin, Viola
70 posts

I’ve been burned a few times, even though one of my mentors warned me. His advice simply is: “Don’t teach these kids.”

No matter how talented, how wonderful, and how amazing these students may be, you will always be at the losing end of a battle with crazy parents who are more concerned with vertical advancement (and how they appear to others) than whether their kids actually learn anything during the process.

I’ve never been able to figure these people out either. They don’t read their lesson assignment sheets, don’t do their homework, don’t practice properly, and then they wonder why other kids do better? And the moment they actually start listening and the kid improves, they’ll dump you because now they need someone more famous to get the kid’s career on track.

Teaching isn’t just a relationship with the student, it’s also with their family. My best students have always been the ones where entire families have been involved in their musical and personal development.

Hadley Johnson Gibbons said: Jul 23, 2013
Hadley Johnson Gibbons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Seattle, WA
24 posts

Thank you! That makes me feel much better. Dealing with these kids makes me appreciate the families who have “ordinary devoted parents,” as Ed Sprunger would say.

Merietta Oviatt said: Jul 23, 2013
Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
104 posts

I have had some nightmare situations, including having to get a restraining order against some parents…long story… It’s very easy when you come across these horrible situations (and we all do) to want to throw-in the towel and stop teaching. However, anytime I get that feeling I just focus on the students and families that make this profession we have chosen the greatest profession in the world. Just think that you will help to mold this student into an adult with the kindest of hearts. Just look at those wonderful families (and we have those, too) and focus on them until this other situation is over. It may hurt financially, but just as was stated earlier—you cannot teach those students. You gotta let ‘em go. Good luck to you, and please keep your chin up! You are an amazing teacher, you are the expert in this situation (regardless of what the parent may think), and if they aren’t smart enough to recognize the gem they have in front of them and working with their children—that is their loss.

Dr. Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Specialist
Viola/Violin Instructor
Aber Suzuki Center, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
www.uwsp.edu/suzuki
www.merietta.com
[javascript protected email address]

Heather Reichgott said: Jul 25, 2013
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
95 posts

Good riddance. Stick with families where you can pour your energy into teaching instead of drama.

Clara Hardie said: Jul 28, 2013
Clara Hardie
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Detroit, MI
21 posts

None of it is personal. If the parents don’t believe in the Suzuki method, that is their loss! I feel bad for the kids. Nurture their beautiful humanity for as long as you have them.

One note, the term “tiger parents” made me feel weird so I google searched it…
“…despite the hype, “Tiger Parents” don’t even exist as a dominant category of Asian-American parenting. So the whole concept is a racist fabrication.”
http://www.hillaryrettig.com/2013/05/09/tiger-moms-dont-just-suck-they-dont-eve-exist-as-a-category/

Meghan Coil said: Jul 29, 2013
Meghan Coil
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Portland, OR
16 posts

In Hadley Johnson’s defense, the terms “tiger mother” or “tiger parenting” have been popularized recently because of a lot of writing on the subject. It’s usually used in a derogatory way, but not always. I just did a quick Amazon search to back that up and found Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which is written by someone who identifies as a Tiger Mother, and then there’s My Tiger Mom & Me, an anthology of reflections of people who consider their parents to have been “Tiger Parents.” Potentially offensive, definitely, but I wouldn’t say it is necessarily a racist term or concept if used in the context of a respectful discussion about cultural differences in parenting.

Heather Reichgott said: Jul 30, 2013
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
95 posts

I’ve read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother actually—it’s a memoir by a self-described “tiger mother,” a Suzuki parent who, if anything, was overly zealous about following the teacher’s instructions! if not always 100% on board with the Suzuki philosophy about being positive and encouraging to the kids…
The author is a Chinese-American woman who does apply the concept of “tiger mother” to other Chinese mothers. However, her memoir is a bit of a critique of that style of parenting too, especially towards the end where she shows us the responses of her daughters as they enter late adolescence. The hype/reviews didn’t really get into the nuances or end of the book much, so the publicity was more one-sided (and prone to racist responses) than it needed to be. (And just because one Chinese-American woman likes to use a term for herself doesn’t mean all Chinese-American women do, etc. etc.)
I thought the book was generally pretty supportive of Suzuki music education. She does a good job of differentiating between Suzuki stuff and stuff that was particular to her parenting style.

Elise Winters said: Jul 30, 2013
Elise Winters
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Austin, TX
37 posts

It seems to me there really are several things being discussed here that are entangled together: (1) tiger parenting, (2) failure to follow-through as a practice parent; and (3) constant dissatisfaction, or “the grass is greener” mentality.

I have a family that fits the description of (1), and possibly (3). This family left my studio after having secretly studied with the new teacher for over a month. I could tell something was “off” and had some intuitions that they would be leaving me … but thought I was crazy. A month later the story came out. These 4 and 6 years olds were not only my best students, but also sweet and beautiful children. They loved me.

I shared privately with the mom how her secrecy made me feel. She and the kids responded warmly and with deep apologies. Their parting gift was a trip to east Asia (!!) for myself and my partner. Our families have come to be close friends.

The mom and I have gone on to have many discussions about tiger parenting. She is Asian, and considers herself a tiger parent. What this means for her is being very organized about their violin home practices, even creating practice charts for them to use when she travels out of town for work; and always finding opportunities for them to achieve excellence both academically and artistically. However, she is also very loving and gentle. Her kids practice two hours a day, and they are a joyful family.

I think that the regimen Dr. Suzuki suggested really is the heart of tiger parenting … albeit done with love, and without the fear component that seems to accompany tiger parenting in some households. I am working on being more of a “tiger teacher,” in terms of setting high expectations and creating a rigorous learning environment. If done with love and collaboration, kids find this inspiring.

As far as changing teachers … I think a “one size fits all” approach leaves out many details. I wish all my parents educated themselves on finding excellent learning opportunities for their kids!! Changing teachers as a replacement for solid home practicing, or as part of a “grass is greener” mentality, is not part of tiger parenting; that’s just bad parenting. But going to a master teacher is not a bad thing per se, and as teachers we should celebrate when our parents have a big vision for their kids’ musical development. My job is to BE that master teacher, to BE the best teacher they can find.

When my beautiful 4 and 6 year old changed to another studio, I began my own quest to find out what qualities the new teacher had that I lacked (whether perceived or real). That journey has proved to be one of the most educational periods I’ve had in my development as a teacher; and while the pain of losing those children was intense, the silver lining has been equally significant.

I read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother a few years back. As a Suzuki teacher, I discovered many more things that I agreed with than otherwise!! The idea of tiger parenting goes very much against the fabric of American culture; but as Suzuki teachers, I think there is much to embrace in this cultural model of parenting.

Hadley Johnson Gibbons said: Jul 30, 2013
Hadley Johnson Gibbons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Seattle, WA
24 posts

Eek! I just read the last four or five posts for the first time right now, and I’m sorry if I gave the wrong impression! I’m not talking about Chinese mothers, just referring to the type of “tiger mom” described in The Battlehymn of the Tiger Mother. Amy Chua herself wrote that the tiger mother can be of any ethnic background. It’s the attitude that the Suzuki method is based on learning a new piece every week (also in the book) that I disagree with. She also wrote that there was some drama related to switching teachers counter to the current teacher’s recommendation. Here in Seattle I have known of several situations in which the parent’s agenda (learning a new piece every week) was more important than consistency. I can’t judge my own teaching, but I know for a fact that this sort of parenting has led to disastrous switches from great studios into mediocre ones.

Certainly I would say that I agreed with 75% of the book.

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