Seeking Advice on Ending a Relationship with Student & Family

Barbara Stafford said: Sep 14, 2014
Barbara Stafford
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Plano, TX
59 posts

Hi Heather, It sounds like the family is just not into it. If they are fulfilling a contract term with you, I would just make the remaining lessons positive and point out some of the values the child has learned through violin practice so far and how those values can be carried into other things that may capture their interest in the future. Practice develops ability,concentration powers, Lessons give the opportunity to cooperate, etc…Show that you value the time you have spent together even though it is coming to an end if the parent acknowledges that they are planning to end the lesson. But first, send a short email to the parent telling them you are sensing that they are not enjoying violin and asking if there is anything you can do to inspire greater practice and participation. I believe they will tell you at that point if they are planning to quit, and you can establish a goal for the final lessons. I think this kind of action shows you are sensitive and willing to do everything you can do, but the ball is in their court to communicate with you and help solve the problem if they want to, or be upfront about the fact they are intending to quit. If the family decides music lessons are not for them, it is not your fault at all. You offered them an opportunity, and if they can’t value what you offer at this time, just don’t feel bad at all. And try not to blame them either. I believe music and violin is one doorway for students to gain a developmental experience, but there are other doorways also. So, try not to condemn them if they do decide they aren’t going to stick with violin. And, let them go with kindness. Don’t struggle to hold on. Loosing a student used to hurt me a lot-lot-lot because I was taking it personally. Don’t take it personally even if they come up with any constructive criticism. I actually doubt they will based on what you are describing. The less you blame them, the less they will blame you. Those are just some thoughts, hopefully some of them will be helpful as you are working through this.

Sera Jane Smolen said: Sep 15, 2014
Sera Jane Smolen
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
Ithaca, NY
24 posts

Lovely, elegant, wise advice here. thank you

When we learn to truly hear the music of children,
we learn to hear the music of the future.
—Michael Deeson Barrow

Heather Figi said: Sep 15, 2014
Heather FigiViolin
Eugene, OR
97 posts

Thank you so much!
You hit the nail on the head. I feel this will be better for everyone but at the same time is tender.

I am very grateful for some guidance on this.

Thanks,
H

Laura Nerenberg said: Sep 16, 2014
Laura NerenbergViolin
Ottawa, ON
50 posts

I echo Sera’s comment—wise words indeed.

Good luck, Heather! I can relate to your frustration and concern.

I’ll be leading a break-out discussion at the upcoming Suzuki Association of Ontario (SAO) conference on “difficult situations” such as the one described above, and how to deal with them in a respectful manner.

Barbara and Heather, may I quote portions of your posts (with credit given) during my talk? My own experiences are also rich with these types of situations, but, it’s good to have a few options.

Cheers,
Laura

Henry Flurry said: Sep 16, 2014
Henry FlurryInstitute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Prescott, AZ
22 posts

I think that Barbara’s words are spot on. Thanks, Barbara.

I want to reiterate the comment about the goal for the final lesson.

My policies talk frankly about the possibility of either party deciding it is best to move on, and I encourage the parents to plan ahead with me so that (a) if there is a teacher transition, I can facilitate the search and transition; and (b) we can plan a final goal for the student.

In my experience, if a child knows that a termination is coming up, they will not be motivated to practice UNLESS there is a final goal offered. My final goals usually involve a performance of multiple pieces. Options might include: a ‘graduation’ recital, a service recital at a retirement community, or simply a recital for parents (the least motivational of these three…). I paint the final goal as a celebration of accomplishments, and encourage the family to do such, too. I also paint the final celebration as something that should be “fun,” and I am always comfortable letting the student scale it back as far as they want in order to keep it fun. I.e., if a piece isn’t adequately prepared, we can drop it if the student wants.

I never force the final recital, and I have had students who feel that they don’t want to do such. In such situations, the quarterly recital I hold tends to be the final goal.

One final thought: Students who leave a studio are apt to feel embarrassed around the teacher in later encounters. I think that they internalize some feeling of having disappointed (or, worse, failed) the teacher. This is not how I want students to feel.

I have found that if the conversation can be open about leaving the studio (not about why, but more about the transition and the new opportunities this opens for the student), if there can be a focus on the accomplishments, and if there is a common goal that keeps the student as engaged as possible to the end, the future awkwardness is avoided.

Good luck!

Cheers,
Henry

Heather Figi said: Sep 16, 2014
Heather FigiViolin
Eugene, OR
97 posts

Great thoughts everyone, thanks!

I have sent an email but the phone call will happen soon this week and these ideas are very supportive.

Laura: YES, please feel free to quote anything from me. Best wishes with your breakout session. I think this will be helpful.

Henry: I will implement your idea in future policies. It had never occurred for me to do this but this is clearly an area I can grow in. Thanks for sharing this with me.

With great appreciation and wishing all of you an amazing teaching year!
Sincerely,
HF

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