Building positive relationship in slow-progress situation

Shulamit Kleinerman said: Nov 4, 2015
Shulamit Kleinerman
Suzuki Association Member
Seattle, WA
9 posts

Hi teachers,

I would love to hear if you have any ways of working inside yourself to maintain a genuine and positive connection with a student who who may be struggling in his/her life and whose progress in music is very, very, very slow.

Given that the parent structure is always a missing piece in these situations, ordinarily I would ask a family who is not willing or able to follow through on daily home commitments to leave, or they would leave on their own. But here are some additional factors I’m considering:

—The student is still hobbled with some of the bad technique from five years with tragically underqualified teachers before entering my studio. In three years we’ve made significant progress in establishing healthy habits in some areas, and not in others. The student was in a rut long before meeting me and I haven’t totally been able to transform that dynamic.

—The student seems to find some meaning in playing, even without being able to practice well or consistently, and has asked to continue attending lessons and playing in orchestra, where some of the other students don’t have private teachers, so it’s possible to keep up with them. There’s a motivating and dynamic conductor and a positive peer group.

—This is a quiet and withdrawn kid who probably falls through the cracks in many educational settings. Are music lessons an important chance for this kid to be seen, one on one, during these crucial preteen years?

It’s hard for me to imagine a successful long-term option for this child with the violin itself, and it’s hard to feel anything other than sorrow at a young person’s largely fruitless struggle (in the studio, all the peers go sailing past this kid in the repertoire, for example). On the other hand, I can readily imagine that music could be a small but valuable lifeline to get through the teen years, particularly in school.

If you would be willing to entertain this situation in your own studio, and setting aside the questions of the actual teaching mechanics (how to give small enough steps that this student can be successful with them), how do you manage to anticipate each lesson as a new beginning rather than sinking into (the student’s?) discouragement and frustration?

Barbara Stafford said: Nov 4, 2015
Barbara Stafford
Suzuki Association Member
Plano, TX
59 posts

I realize some Suzuki teachers strictly define the conditions under which they will offer lessons creating an environment and studio that shows excellence in violin playing, and I think there is strong belief that achieving excellence is a part of what builds character. I think that is fine, especially when teachers are very forward—informing parents about the conditions they require in their studio. But things are not always so ideal for everyone, and when I am a teacher in that situation I try to decide that my part is up to me. I decide my part is to make the lesson a good experience for the student I am teaching and to give them my patience,a reasonable assignment and expectation for their best work in that moment at the lesson—whether or not it gets extended in the student’s own practice through the week. I ask for a practice commitment at each lesson to try and encourage practice, but if they don’t live up to it, we try and set a more reasonable goal if the student truly is too busy. I remember on the teachers who I felt were able to respect others unconditionally, and only one or two come to mind. To have experience with a teacher who is capable of giving a student a safe environment to learn in at the lesson—when they feel respected, this gives a student an example of how they like to be treated, and the student is more likely to be able to grow up giving the same to themselves and others with that example. It makes the world a better and healthier place whether or not that student became the best violin player they possibly could from the lessons. So those are my thoughts on this.

Tina MW Lujan said: Nov 4, 2015
Tina MW Lujan
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Port Orchard, WA
2 posts

I agree 100%. The teachers who raved about me I hated. The teachers who criticized me I forgot. The teachers who motivated me even in the tiniest ways changed me for the better. Teaching music isn’t just training the brain and body. We’re enlisted to train hearts and souls—patience, creativity, communication, diligence, hope!! Maybe you could get a tiny journal and keep it to set near him at his lessons. At the end of the time, write something simple that he showed improvement on. Then set it down. Curiosity will get the best of him. Make it a secret until one day it’s a gift. You’ll know when

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