Help! Conflict with Suzuki School director.

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said: Sep 8, 2008
 4 posts

I am 32 years old, have been a teacher at a Suzuki school for the past 2+ years. I came to the school with 8 years of private teaching experience, my own studio, pedegogy training, a master’s degree in violin, and teacher training up to book 2, so having enough qualification or experience is not an issue here. The director of the school is a well regarded suzuki teacher in our city. However, the reputation they have for producing excellent students hides their personality. This person is extreamly negative, condisending, demanding, and overall hard to deal with. Four of my students have left the school because of they did not like the director.

The director has never once seen me teach, either group class or privately. I have taught the same group of students for the past 2 years and have followed them up through the levels. This class is composed of 8 children ages 6-10. 5 of the children are trouble-makers that do not listen, disrupt class and talk the entire time…regardless of what consequences they suffer. One of the trouble-makers is even a child of another teacher at the school. I have tried my best throughout the years to make the class run smoothly and follow the lesson plan. However, due to the behavior of the students, I struggle to stay on course each class. Even after speaking to each of the trouble-makers’ parents about their child’s behavior, no progress has been made. I’ve even spoken to the director about each of the students.

At least every other week one of the parents tells the director that my class is disorganized and chaotic. The director then proceeds to tell me and then scolds me for not being tough enough, and letting the kids do whatever they want. She views this situation as my fault, even though I’ve done everything in my power to fix the issue. I started off teaching 3 different classes and have now been reduced to teaching one class….with no explanation as to why from the director. It seems obvious to me that the director sees me as a incompetant teacher. She’s even said that I need to use the time I’m not teaching to observe the other 4 teachers. (who are even less experienced/trained than me, but were students of the director whose children are now students there.)

I absolutely love the students that I teach privately with the school. If it weren’t for them, I would have left after a few months. Should I stick it out at the school and try to redeem myself, or leave? I’m not sure how to even approach the director about this, since they have made their opinion of me pretty clear already. I’m at my wits end and tired of feeling like a failure of a teacher, when I shouldn’t feel this way at all.

Any advice would be helpful!

Lynn said: Sep 8, 2008
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

The Director, whatever her personality, is not the problem here, and those other teachers may have less experience and training on the violin, and still know a helpful thing or two about managing a group of kids. Why not follow your Director’s recommendation and go observe there classes- what do you have to lose?

Laura said: Sep 8, 2008
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

I sympathize—that sounds like a tough situation indeed.

I also have my share of “difficult” students over the years. I used to think that the problem was with the children and/or how they are raised. That has not changed. However, what HAS changed is that I’ve realized that I have to deal with them differently or no one was going to learn anything from me, ever.

I’ve had to learn to be funnier, stricter, sweeter, crazier, quieter, more dramatic, more sarcastic, more organized—whatever it takes to get their attention and respect. In other words, I’ve had to develop my communication skills further, to improve the way I speak and act among my students. It is not easy, particularly since I grew up largely within another culture.

Over the decades in Western society, both the educational (e.g. school) and correctional (e.g. police) systems have had to evolve to better deal with the types of people they work with. This is not to say that it’s a good situation. However, it would be even worse if the people in charge did not adapt.

I’m not suggesting that you are old or of another culture—because I don’t know you. :) I just wanted to illustrate my overall point that it may be worth adjusting your approach, Your talents as a teacher deserve to be appreciated by each and every one of your students. Even if you are doing everything within your power, if it is not effective, it is almost the same as a language barrier. it is always worth trying something different that is perhaps new for you, to overcome that barrier so that you can get through to the students.

I know it’s hard, though—because I tend to think that if I have already come this far in my training, experience, and age, why should I have to be the one who bends over backwards to meet the needs of behaviorly-challenged students? But I justify it by comparing it to any other challenge that requires adaptation: a child who is very young, a child who has physical limitations, a child with a different learning style, etc.

On the other hand, you could just tell yourself that these kids are bratty, there isn’t much you or anyone else can do about it, at least you’re still getting paid, and then go home at the end of the class and enjoy a nice cup of coffee. That approach can sometimes work too. :)

(And yes I’m serious! I find myself constantly experimenting between “how much effort am I willing to put in?” vs. “where do I draw the line?” I’m sure that sometime before I retire, I’ll find my comfort zone.)

said: Sep 12, 2008
 4 posts

Thank you everyone for your help!

The topic is not so much the class that I was teaching, but the behavior of the director. Where do I draw the line? A few months ago the director made one of my students cry because they were so critical and mean! (This student is not at all sensitive.) The student played one measure wrong and the director told her that she’d better find another piece to play for the recital.

Then, the director yelled at another student’s Mother, whose baby’s due date was the day of the recital. The student wasn’t going to play on the recital because most likely the baby was going to be early. The director demanded that they play in the recital anyway. I was totally shocked! (It turned out that the baby arrived right on the due date so they didn’t go!!!!)

About a year ago, one of my younger students had a bad habit going on with his bow hold. The student was working hard to correct it. After the recital, the director called me up and said that I must have learned to teach bowhold incorrectly because my student’s bowhand was wrong! I didn’t let that one slip past, I set the record straight that the student developed the bad habit himself.

I’m just at my wits end. What do I say to the director? I’m not even sure how to approach the situation? This director has even made parents cry?

Grace said: Sep 13, 2008
 Violin
110 posts

If it were me, I would just resign.

There is a book called “The Sociopath Next Door”, which you may want to read. The basic premise is that appox. 4% of the population are “sociopaths”: they lack conscience, empathy, affection. They aren’t as extreme as serial killers or ax murderers, (and are actually usually very high-functioning, successful people) but just “mean people” you might encounter at your job, or a relative, or even a “friend” who is always making you feel crummy. It may give you insight on how to deal with this person if you choose to stay.

http://www.amazon.com/Sociopath-Next-Door-Martha-Stout/dp/076791581X

Laura said: Sep 15, 2008
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

In that case, I would be tempted to resign too.

Whether or not you believe you can handle difficult kids in a group class is a matter of your own professional development. A caring mentor should offer to help in a kind, gracious, respectful, and constructive manner, if he/she feels that help is needed. If you don’t need that kind of help, or if it’s not going to be delivered in a positive manner, I would feel hard-pressed to remain in that rather toxic environment.

This does not sound like a pretty situation and my heart goes out to you…

said: Sep 30, 2008
 36 posts

This is the problem with traditional Suzuki. Every single Traditional Suzuki director is a hardcore fanatic and is crazy and very negatvie. The kids will learn nothing but one rhythm and two strings. Traditional Suzuki is a scam.

said: Oct 1, 2008
 4 posts

Thanks everyone! I have resigned from my position and am much happier now. Two other teachers are also leaving the school, for similar reasons.

Laura said: Oct 2, 2008
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

Dear ddm,

You obviously have some issues with Suzuki and are certainly entitled to your opinions, which seem somewhat understandable based on your own experiences. However, you have chosen to bring your concerns to a Suzuki board, where you will naturally find a lot of people who are highly supportive of Suzuki method, based on their own experiences.

Choosing to post statements regarding students only ever learning one rhythm, two strings, or even nothing—or that all Suzuki teachers are mean and selfish and that the whole thing is a scam—is not only inaccurate, but also inflammatory and disrespectful of a lot of very good Suzuki-ness going on in the world (yes, even the highly traditional type). I’m sorry if your experience with the method has been a negative one, but it is hardly representative.

I appreciate how you bring up a lot of points that need to be responded to, because it allows a lot of good responses to be thrown onto the table and generate some healthy discussion. As you may have noticed, several of us are not arguing with many of the points you have raised—we are even acknowledging them. But we are also bringing up a lot of our own points, which we hope will expand your understanding of what Suzuki is supposed to be all about.

If you are here simply to attack the Suzuki method, rather than exercise genuine curiosity or concern about it (and thereby participate in healthy discussion, which many of us are trying to do here), I don’t believe that readers will find it easy to take any of your future posts very seriously.

said: Oct 2, 2008
 36 posts

I joined this site because I wanted to see if the professionals in the approach could answer at some of the things I have been encountering. Don’t worry I wont post any more on the Xchange. In fact I might delete my account. I will bother you no more.

BUT

I teach 6 days a week for a living mostly on violin, and work at a private school where I took over from a Suzuki teacher. I have a masters degree in music and have played in many many different ensembles.

This teacher at the school I work at was a Suzuki teacher. She was fired because the parents complained. I really don’t want to get into it. I was shocked at what I saw and just wanted to get some answers on how could such a thing happen. Cardboard violins, foot charts, lots and lots of disciple, and no results what so ever. It was very sad.

Connie Sunday said: Oct 6, 2008
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

keroppi

If it were me, I would just resign.

There is a book called “The Sociopath Next Door”, which you may want to read. The basic premise is that appox. 4% of the population are “sociopaths”: they lack conscience, empathy, affection. They aren’t as extreme as serial killers or ax murderers, (and are actually usually very high-functioning, successful people) but just “mean people” you might encounter at your job, or a relative, or even a “friend” who is always making you feel crummy. It may give you insight on how to deal with this person if you choose to stay.

http://www.amazon.com/Sociopath-Next-Door-Martha-Stout/dp/076791581X

Thank you for your referral to this book; my copy arrived yesterday and I was not able to put it down. This is one of the best books I’ve read in some time, and really relevant to teaching.

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:
http://beststudentviolins.com/library.html#handouts

Grace said: Oct 13, 2008
 Violin
110 posts

That’s interesting—I never thought of it in terms of teaching… Do you mean in terms of dealing with colleagues or parents or ?? I’d love to hear your insights.

Connie Sunday said: Oct 14, 2008
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

keroppi

That’s interesting—I never thought of it in terms of teaching… Do you mean in terms of dealing with colleagues or parents or ?? I’d love to hear your insights.

I think it’s relevant to dealing with everyone in your life, but particularly if you have a private teaching studio, it’s nice to understand that there may be a tiny percentage of your students and their parents who have some sort of mental disorder, whether it’s being psychopathic, or narcissistic, or maybe not very emotionally mature. In other words that it’s normal to encounter a certain number of difficult people.

I’ve been teaching a long time and I’ve encountered people who are jealous of their children, are racist towards them (in mixed parentage), and people who have all sorts of disorders. One can try to take this burden on oneself—or—recognize that while you want to serve the student in the very best way you can, it’s not always possible to resolve the difficulties. I think music lessons are important, but they’re not the resolution of all problems, especially if there are serious issues behind the scenes.

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:
http://beststudentviolins.com/library.html#handouts

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