Some Advice for a New Teacher

Brittany Proffitt said: Aug 15, 2013
Brittany ProffittViolin
6 posts

Hello All!
I am just starting to teach violin (have first lesson scheduled for two weeks from now). I am 18 and have been playing violin for 13 years.

My question is…
I have a mom who is interested in having her 10 year old daughter start lessons. The student has already had 2-3 years experience with another teacher and is currently in Suzuki Violin book One.
Is it wise for a new teacher to take on a student who has already had some experience?

Any thoughts are greatly appreciated!
Thanks you!
Brittany

Lori Bolt said: Aug 16, 2013
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

I would arrange to meet with the mom and 10 yr old (if you haven’t already) to hear her play and get to know each other. Ask her to play a few pieces for you. You can assess her ability and decide whether you feel comfortable teaching her. I would also be curious to know why they’re looking for a new teacher and whether they have any specific goals.

If you have taken Bk. 1 teacher training, you should have little trouble teaching this girl. You’ll learn what works through “on the job” training, as all teachers do ;)
Best of luck!!

Lori Bolt

Brittany Proffitt said: Aug 16, 2013
Brittany ProffittViolin
6 posts

Thank you! I emailed the mom and asked to get together with her and her daughter. I have not completed the Suzuki teacher training, but I have worked with my little sister a lot on her violin and have watched A LOT of youtube teaching videos. If I feel like I cannot help her where I am at, I will refer her to my teacher.

Amy said: Aug 16, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
50 posts

When I first started teaching, I thought I could do a really good job of helping students who already knew a little bit refine their technique and develop better musicianship. But, I was terrified of the thought of starting a student from scratch. I would be the only one to blame for the bad habits they developed! Thus starting on the path of Suzuki Teacher training. It definitely helped me get over my fears of starting a student from scratch. (although I still feel that my greater strength is working with students who already have a bit of a clue.)

All that is to say, that you shouldn’t turn down a student simply because the student already has some experience. However, I agree with Lori that you want to know why she is looking for a new teacher before starting to teach her.

Community Youth Orchestra said: Aug 16, 2013
Community Youth OrchestraViolin, Viola
70 posts

Besides doing it yourself and earning the experience “on the job,” I would strongly recommend observing lessons with great teachers whenever possible.

A lot of my teaching background came from writing letters to teachers I admired and asking to observe their lessons weekly or at summer festivals. Quite a few wrote back and were happy to have me hide in a corner to observe (as to not disrupt the teacher/student interaction), and even spend some time talking about the challenges and different approaches for each individual student.

I served as a teaching assistant for over a ten year period to one of my main mentors, and the growth in both my playing and teaching has always amazed me and for this I am exceedingly grateful. I learned far more from this long-term relationship than any degree program or summer festival that I attended.

Lori Bolt said: Aug 17, 2013
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

I agree with Gene’s comment about observing veteran teachers.
Brittany ~ I highly recommend that you do that, as well as planning to begin your Suzuki teacher training as soon as you’re able. It is a big commitment both in time and finances, but you won’t regret taking the courses. If there is a local Suzuki organization of some kind, join it so that you can network with other teacher members.

Lori Bolt

Brittany Proffitt said: Aug 19, 2013
Brittany ProffittViolin
6 posts

Thank you all so much for your help! I was planning to go to the Suzuki Teacher training in Colombus, Ohio last year, but it turned out to be too expensive for me and my family. Maybe next year. :)

I have an assessment scheduled with the mom and student for Wednesday the 21st. Have another mom down the road all ready for me to start teaching her daughter from scratch.

From what I have helped with my little sister, I find that when I get emmersed in teaching her, I kind of get into this “teaching mode” and it all just kind of comes naturally. (as long as she cooperates that is. :P)

Thanks again for your help!

Imari said: Sep 23, 2013
 Violin
7 posts

If you don’t mind updating, Brittany, I’d be interested in hearing how everything has gone. I also have experience in teaching my younger sister, and in helping students at my college learn, but have not yet begun formal lessons. I work full-time right now, which makes it difficult to go to the Suzuki teacher training (which, unfortunately, is not local to me at all). I do plan on going, and actually had a conversation with my husband about it today, but in the meantime I am considering picking up a student or two. I don’t think there’s a high chance of me picking a student who has prior education, because I would be one of the only (if not THE only) teachers in the county, but I’m not sure whether that’s preferable or not!

Now that you’ve been teaching for several weeks, how has that gone? And have you preferred working with a student from scratch or the one with experience? Thanks!

Imari

Brittany Proffitt said: Sep 24, 2013
Brittany ProffittViolin
6 posts

Things have gone pretty smoothly. I have actually enjoyed taking students from scratch more. The student that I took that already had some experience is doing wonderfully!

I did have a run in with one of the students I have. Her grandpa brings her to lessons on Fridays. I had explained the whole nine yards to the mom via email about how the parents (or the person working with her throughout the week) needs to sit in on the lesson. I asked for the mom to explain all of this to her dad and she assured me that she would. On my second lesson with this student, the grandpa said he was going to wait out in the car while I gave the lesson. I respectfully asked him to please sit in on the lesson and he gave a very rude and disrespectful reply. I went ahead and took the student (Riley who is five) downstairs and began the lesson. The week before, she had brought in a full size purple violin, so we now had the correct violin size so we could begin to work on posture. When the grandpa came downstairs, I started talking to him about if he had been working with Riley throughout the week (he had not due to his work), and that I wasn’t sure if lessons would work due to conflicting schedules. He was (again) very rude and said ,”I don’t think we need to discuss this with Riley here.”
I said, “Excuse me? Sir, I realize this puts you in an awkward situation, but it needs to be discussed. The Suzuki violin method requires for parents to be present at the lesson and to work with them throughout the week. I don’t know why your daughter didn’t explain that to you.” He sort of blew me off again probably because, being 18, I still looked like a little kid to him who didn’t have enough experience in the first place. After taking lessons for 14 years, I hope I am at least qualified to teach beginners. O_o

Anyway….it has been very stressful. What would you all do in this situation?

Barbara Stafford said: Sep 24, 2013
Barbara Stafford
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Plano, TX
59 posts

I feel learning to communicate with parents/grandparents has been just as tough as learning to teach the violin. Also, I feel I have had to make decisions about how far I can stray from the ideal model which includes parent involvement as a practice partner. ( It is easy for me to stray from that model because it is not the model I started with. But currently, I am deciding I won’t teach kids under 6 years unless parents are willing to learn the instrument and become practice partners.) If I can run lessons in a way in which the student is learning something at the lesson and exercising their brain and ability during the lesson, I feel pretty happy with that, even if the practice routine at home is lacking regularity or parent participation. Once I figure out that I am working with parents who are not tending to live up to the ideal, I try to talk with them about their time and ability to practice with their child. If they cannot or will not, I let them know to expect that the progress will be slower and might be less obvious. I think I could also start explaining that we won’t be able to do a pure Suzuki method because it is designed with parent participation in mind. But also express that I am patient with an alternative approach, because I am. I enjoy seeing little steps of progress. I believe it is much better than nothing at all.

Mengwei said: Sep 24, 2013
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
120 posts

First you have to decide—are you willing to teach this student if the family doesn’t meet your terms? Which terms are flexible or non-negotiable?

In my experience, people don’t always “get it” in an email—sometimes it takes interacting with them in person (or at the very least, on the phone, so you can have a dialogue). Call up the mom, perhaps say you don’t expect 5 year olds to remember everything, they benefit from parents/grandparents/caregivers helping with that, is someone able to fill the role? That person needs to be identified—and brought on board by you, the professional.

Now if they say no one is willing and able to take lesson notes, be the home teacher, etc., this is the time to either say you’re sorry but without that partnership you feel that you will not be able to provide the best experience for the child OR you lower everyone’s expectations (including yours). Personally, without knowing other details, I would keep the student assuming s/he’s coming to the lesson without a fuss and having fun. If the lesson is basically functioning as a weekly practice time, that’s valuable for me to know. (In my opinion, they’re wasting their money, but from a business perspective, because I don’t have a wait list of potential new students, I won’t feel that my time has been wasted.)

Also, I recommend that when you assign things, be sure to name/describe the exact action, point out what to pay attention to (e.g., a particular finger, position, sound), and how many times to do it.

Imari said: Sep 24, 2013
 Violin
7 posts

Thanks, Brittany. And I agree with Mengwei… decide if you are willing to continue without the adults’ full cooperation, because if the student is genuinely learning and enjoying the process, it seems a shame to punish her for her parents’/grandparents’ mistakes. You’ll also still be making money, which is a plus.

Imari

Mengwei said: Sep 24, 2013
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
120 posts

This thread has some other thoughts regarding parent in the lesson:
https://suzukiassociation.org/discuss/5338/

Robin Johnson said: Sep 25, 2013
Robin JohnsonViolin
La Crescenta, CA
14 posts

I always have the first 3—4 lessons with the parent alone, teaching her/him the first fundamentals that I will teach the child—how to hold the violin, bow hold, first rhythm, etc. Of course, these are things that will take the child several weeks to learn, but this way the parent experiences the correct way to do the initial things I will be trying to teach the child. This makes it very clear that the parent will be involved! Good for you for standing your ground….

Brittany Proffitt said: Sep 25, 2013
Brittany ProffittViolin
6 posts

Thank you all so much for your input! It worked out to where the mom could adjust her schedule and attend lessons as well. By going through all this, I have learned the importance of standing up for myself as a teacher even though you may look unqualified to the parents. :P

Thanks again!!

Anita Knight said: Sep 26, 2013
Anita Knight
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Kent, WA
19 posts

Well done Brittany! Through the challenge you’ve had a tremendous experience that boosts your confidence, and your success as a teacher. Show through your manner that, regardless of age, you are very qualified indeed!!

Thankfully, I’ve been able to avoid some of these tensions. I let my parents know that for young children, the parent/caregiver begins lessons. When they are able to play Twinkle, the child is then able to begin their lessons!

I was very resistance to this initially, and thoroughly interviewed several moms who’d been through this process. They nearly begged me to try it! As soon as I did, I realized all the pitfalls that are easily avoided! Oh, let me list them…. (I’d actually be happy to if that’s helpful for someone!).

When the student starts, they naturally start with a short lesson, which increases in length, and the parents lesson time tapers off, unless they decide to continue (which most have because they enjoy it so much!!!).

Blessings to you, and continue on in your strength and confidence!
Anita

Anita Knight
“Joyful Sound Violin Studio”

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