Help!- a dilemma & deadline

Lea said: Jan 8, 2016
Lea Detlefs
Suzuki Association Member
Austin, TX
4 posts


I’m a suzuki violin teacher of 27 students. I have had a very good opportunity come up, however I’ve made some mistakes that make it difficult for me to take advantage of it and in spite of trying to consider the best course of action, I’m still conflicted.

I have a student who has struggled with motivation/resistance while simultaneously saying he wants to be a professional violinist (yeah, he’s 7), and I have given his mother much extra time in trying to brainstorm and support them (longish conversations after lessons, long emails, and even phone calls).

When they started with me in the summer they seemed serious, but then vacillated over whether they would stay with me or find another teacher.

Since then, we’ve developed a good relationship, they are kind, I like the student. I didn’t mind giving the extra time.

However, I have the opportunity to work with an excellent professor one on one for this semester, in an area that I would like to expand my music career into, but since his schedule is tight, I would have to move their lesson by 30 minutes (later). I asked the mother about this, and she said that her son becomes more resistant going to the lesson the later it is, that weekends are family time, and that another day at the same (early time) won’t consistently work for them.

I’ve gotten myself in a pickle, and I have so little time to resolve it (Tomorrow by noon is registration deadline). I feel crummy going back and saying that I intend to take the course and can’t continue the current lesson time—I fear the damage this will cause to them/our relationship, it doesn’t seem professional.

On the other hand, I feel that my time has been taken advantage of, and resentful of that, but of course it is ME that allowed the current dynamic (more practice discussion/support than any other student I’ve had, all of it outside of assigned lesson time).

So is my response that I should respect our current lesson time, and learn to set better boundaries in the future? (And not know when I’ll be in a position to work 1-1 with this professor again?)

Or, do I very apologetically tell them that I simply can’t pass this up … (and reiterate the 4 other times I have offered them? )

Any thoughts, insight, or the right words to help me make peace with one of these decisions? Thank you,

Catherine said: Jan 8, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
2 posts

Hi Lea!

I think I understand your conflict, and hope my response helps at least a little bit.

You had already given the parent options, so I think you should politely remind her that this change will only last the semester. Feel free to apologize for any inconvenience, but firmly let her know you will be in class at that time starting on whatever the date is.

If she is not willing to cooperate with your new schedule options, try explaining that as a teacher you have to continue learning and this is a rare opportunity for you to spend time with a master violinist. If that doesn’t soften her stance, I suggest you send her to another violin teacher. Don’t worry if it will affect your relationship or not, it sounds like you’re an amazing teacher and if they appreciate you they should be able to readjust…with a few grumbles of course. :)

I do not think you are being un-professional, sometimes unlooked for (or unwanted) opportunities, emergencies, and mistakes happen and you have to act on them accordingly. (Possibly at the cost of losing or letting go of a student you enjoy teaching.)

I hope she will understand and support your decision to expand and grow in your music profession. Just don’t let feeling bad get in your way, mistakes happen!
I have had a similar situation when signing up for a music class, and getting the date/time wrong. Thankfully, the parent was very supportive despite my embarrassment and several schedule inconveniences for them.

Best regards,

Mengwei said: Jan 8, 2016
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
120 posts

I had a similar case recently where I had to ask students to change in the middle of the semester, with about 2 months’ notice, then about 2 weeks before the new schedule, I had to ask them to change again. I didn’t set out, and you didn’t set out, to change plans and complicate things, but sometimes despite our best intentions, things change. As a teacher, I want all my students to have opportunity and success and I don’t like to see anyone lose out, yet through the difficult situations, I’ve come to realize that in addition to considering the educational aspect, I need to make decisions that make sense for me personally and for my studio as a business.

This family has helped you out by showing you two cards: that they may be on their way to another teacher already* and that they prioritize the specific lesson time over the overall relationship with you as the guide on their educational journey. If you change your life for one student (slightly exaggerating here but the course seems like a big deal—you are choosing that professor to guide you), and if they are not appreciative or tell you in a month they are leaving anyway, you’ll feel worse. I’m not saying they specifically would do that, but having learned what I’ve learned, it does happen, and I wouldn’t want to knowingly to set myself up for that.

*I don’t mind if my students are out researching other teachers. Of course, I would hope to be consulted in the decision, but if the goals and needs of their family don’t align with my goals and needs, it’s really better for everyone that they move on. For a family to say that none of these 4, 5, 6, 7 options works for us could be a way to get you to “dismiss” them, so that they don’t have to say it.

I’m still learning on setting boundaries and am drafting a mission statement of sorts to help remind myself and my families that I’m responsible for making decisions in support of the mission. If something goes against it, it shouldn’t be done. I can choose to give someone extra support, as a gift to them, because teaching is about relationships and is not a simple business transaction, but I do have to remember to take care of myself so that I’m fit to take care of others.

Diane said: Jan 8, 2016
 Violin, Viola
14 posts

I encourage you to take the class.

Elizabeth Erb Sherk said: Jan 8, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Recorder, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Guitar
25 posts

I also encourage you to take the class with the professor for your own professional development’s sake. No need to apologize. I love the insight and and advice Mengwei has given in his letter.

Enjoy your next season of inspiration with that good violinist with whom you have the opportunity to study.

Elizabeth Sherk.>

Lea said: Jan 8, 2016
Lea Detlefs
Suzuki Association Member
Austin, TX
4 posts

Thank you so much, Elizabeth, Diane, Mengwei, Catherine. What you have all said sounds eminently reasonable, I feel relieved and also better about handling this in the future. I am going to think about about the idea of a mission statement, I think it could help students and myself remember what our common goals and interests are. Perhaps you’ll share yours when it’s finished many say? Thank you also Catherine on your suggestions on how to phrase my communication with her. .

Gwen McKeithen said: Jan 9, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
Sonoma, CA
11 posts

You have gone above and beyond in your support of that family, something many of us do because sometimes it’s necessary to get over a hump. If they cannot be flexible enough to support you for one semester, you don’t need them in your studio. Enjoy your class.

Gwen McKeithen

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