Parent uncomfortable with waiting in studio for lesson

said: Oct 23, 2006
 55 posts

I have taught at a music academy for the last five years and this fall made the move to teach at home. This has been a wonderful change so far, with minor bumps and adjustments. At the academy, there was a separate waiting room, and although I had an “open door” policy and encouraged observation, it rarely happened because the studio was too small to comfortably accomodate more than three people. The only time I had observers was when potential new families wanted to see what it was about, and then I always let the family whose lesson would be observed know in advance. At home, there is no waiting room except a few chairs at one end of the studio. I felt this was a good way to encourage more observation and help students be ready for their lessons more quickly as well.

I have a parent of a six-year-old girl who is in her second year of lessons with me and will soon be ready to play fingers (I hope). Last year, they attended private lesson weekly and a monthly group class and the mom did not learn to play. This year they attend weekly private and group and I have asked the mom to learn to play, which she is doing. I recently received an e-mail from the mom and I am really not sure how to react to one of the things she said. Part of her e-mail read:

“I find myself feeling rushed and at times uncomfortable when the person waiting for the next lesson walks in 5 to 10 or more minutes before the end of our lesson. These are changes from last year when a private lesson really was private unless it was agreed otherwise and then the observer was there the whole time and I feel that was less disruptive. I know you’ve outlined that this is the accepted and expected practice in your newsletter but it is a change from last year and I personally feel it detracts from the seriousness and sanctity of the lesson.”

Any ideas how to handle this? So far this parent is the only one who has complained.

Laura said: Oct 23, 2006
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

Having children learn from one another is actually one of the benefits of Suzuki instruction. Children gain so much from observing other children’s lessons, no matter where they are in relation to one another:

  1. More advanced children derive secret pleasure from watching other kids struggle through what they already know (or SHOULD already know!). More importantly though, it supports the review process by reinforcing the familiar.
  2. Less advanced children are motivated to imitate a more advanced student. They can’t wait to get to what they see so-and-so doing. This is a case of positive peer pressure! (Parents with more than one child, with the older one in Suzuki lessons, should be able to attest to this)
  3. It fosters respect for one another, by learning how to be a good audience and appreciating someone else’s journey, not just one’s own. Parents can talk to their children about the other student’s lesson, in an encouraging way. For example, “See how much better her Allegro is sounding? She must be working really hard—good for her!”
  4. It trains students in performance, being at ease when others observe their playing.

Perhaps the parent who e-mailed you doesn’t know all of this, or should be reminded of it. To learn in a complete vacuum is not Suzuki at all.

I always tell parents of new students, even before they start, that they are encouraged to come early and stay late, so that they can observe other students. Since this is the expected behavour, no one complains, and they actually support one another (e.g. the parents open the door for the next student/parent while I’m still teaching the current student).

What is required in your situation, I think, is for everyone to know about appropriate behaviour, and to have the parents on board to help this become the norm for the children. For example, when you’re early, sneak in, sit down and watch quietly. When it’s time to leave, leave quietly. Some children may need to bring something to do quietly so as not to be disruptive. If everone behaves as expected, no one will be distracting to the student’s lesson, and the student will learn to focus even with a few other people walking in and out of the room.

Perhaps with the change of venue, you simply need to outline the expected procedure for the new environment, and give any supporting reasons as required. In due time, everyone will settle in to the routine. Good luck!

said: Oct 23, 2006
 103 posts

I totally agree with every thing purple_tulips said. I am wondering though, whether this mother is feeling rushed etc. during her lessons or her childs lesson?

In my own lessons I have often felt self consious when other students show up early. I don’t play as well when observed, and I have a tendancy to feel that they might be judging me as not a very good player. I have felt “interupted” when this happened. This is quite silly, and may not have to do with what your mother was voicing, but if it is her personal lesson that she is feeling this way about, this may be a part of it.

That said, I do feel that is important to get over these feelings and realize the benifits of observing part of another students lesson as Purple tulips so eliquently stated!

said: Oct 24, 2006
 18 posts

I think your best bet is a phone call to the parent to discuss the situation. Start with asking what her concerns are about the situation and try to address those.

Carl said: Oct 25, 2006
 11 posts

Toven, I agree with 2bears. Emails are convenient but easily cause misunderstandings since you can’t hear a voice, see a face, or read body language. Do call the mom, or meet with her in person. She may actually have a different issue which your change in venue simply brought out.

Our own daughter is in her 6th year of Suzuki and has always had private lessons at her first teacher’s house. She now takes from the teacher’s daughter who holds lessons upstairs in the same house. So it’s quite normal for us to hear another lesson, as well as people coming and going, both during and at the end of a lesson.

I’m sure that sounds a little wild to some, but we are all very respectful of each other’s time and keep noise to a minimum. It works because always present is an atmosphere of mutual respect, which more than compensates for any flaws in the teaching environment itself.

Best wishes, and I hope all works out for everyone.

Karra said: Oct 30, 2006
Stockholm 113 43, Sweden
51 posts

Toven, a few things came to mind when I read your post. First, have you ever had problems with this parent before? When reading the section you quoted from her e mail, I got the sense that she might have other issues (perhaps she doesn’t feel she should have to learn how to play, or doesn’t want to have to drive so far, etc… the excuses could be numerous) and was looking for a reason to complain. Then again, some people don’t adjust to changes easily, and it sounds like this mother may be one of those people. She did, after all, mention twice that the policy was a change from last year. Do you feel you’ve been clear with all the parents on what your open door policy means? Have you seen whether or not the little girl’s concentration suffers when observers come in to her lesson? Also, have the observers been quiet and respectful when watching her lesson?
For what it’s worth, the times I’ve heard the phrase “I feel rushed” coming from a parent I felt it translated roughly to “I want to make sure my child is getting every minute of that lesson I’m paying for”. (FYI, there’s a wonderful article on this very subject by Judy Bossuat in the new Journal)

I totally agree with 2bears, I think your best bet is to call the parent to discuss the situation.

“It may very well be music that will one day save the world”— Pablo Casals

said: Nov 7, 2006
 55 posts

Thank-you for all of your suggestions and feedback. I actually sat down and had coffee with this mom over the weekend and we had a really good chat about some things. There were a few things that needed to be addressed. I think there were a couple of main reasons for her “discomfort” with the next student arriving. One, she was usually having her lesson by then and felt very self-concious, and two, a personality conflict with the other parent. For other reasons, we have agreed that she will no longer take part of her daughter’s lesson time and that if the lesson is short that is okay. I do think she does partly think that she paid for 30 minutes so that’s how long her daughter should be in the lesson, but she is only a wiggly grade one girl and the mom is finally beginning to understand that shorter is actually more effective.

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