Question re
New Student—initial interview?

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Connie Sunday said: May 10, 2009
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

This email is addressed to anyone who has ever either started private lessons on an instrument, or given them. I am curious about how other teachers screen new, prospective students, if they do, and what procedures or processes they use to determine if they’d like to work with a new student.

As a teacher, I would like to avoid at least some of the following difficulties:

  1. Students who think they’re going to learn the instrument in a very brief period of time;
  2. Students who are rude to me, talk back to me at lessons;
  3. Students who bring other, way too advanced, materials and/or CD’s to lessons, expecting me to teach them that;
  4. Students who don’t follow directions, don’t practice what I indicate, don’t get the materials I request;
  5. Students who are always late, or don’t show up, or call an hour before the lesson;
  6. Students who change their lesson time every week;
  7. Parents who push their children beyond where the children need to be;
  8. Parents who forget to pay the fees on time.

I do have a lesson policy which I send via email initially, and also provide in hard copy with a signature line, at the first lesson. [See: http://beststudentviolins.com/Studio.html ] Most of my students are absolutely wonderful, but I do get some strange ones.

TIA,
Connie

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

Jennifer Visick said: May 11, 2009
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

hm, I just wrote a long response and it seems to have disappeared. The gist of it was:

Most of these things are not issues with most students. If they are, I see them as teaching opportunities. If the students or parents refuse to learn after being given ample “lessons” on the subject, they usually end up quitting or finding another teacher on their own. I am pretty easy going, but I’m sure if I had a larger studio, I would need to become more strict about your numbers 5 and 6, for example. (I have about 10 students right now).

Lynn said: May 11, 2009
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

@ Jenny -
Off topic, but I’ve discovered that if I take too long to write a post and have to log back in, the post has “disappeared” once I re-log in, but if I use the back button to rewind back through the login pages, I’ll get back to the post I was writing.

Lucy

Connie Sunday said: May 13, 2009
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

Jennifer, I’m sorry I didn’t get to read your original post.

Is there anywhere in the formal Suzuki training where they talk about managing a studio?

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

Grace said: May 13, 2009
 Violin
110 posts

Have you heard of Jeanne Luedke? She is a Suzuki piano teacher and a parent-training guru! Here is one of her articles on parent education. At the bottom, there are links to her other pages of workbooks, CDs, newsletters, etc.
http://www.parent-child-education.com/essential_education.htm

She gave a workshop in the city I used to live in, but I didn’t attend. Some people I talked to thought she was too extreme (she requires a 6-month parent-training before the 1st lesson!) but I heard she has good materials. I’m sorry I don’t have any personal experience with her, but your post just triggered her name in my mind. Maybe it will help…

said: Aug 6, 2009
 63 posts

I have a gradual “weeding-out” process…

My advertising states up-front that parents get to have an active part in their child’s musical education and that they will be trained to participate in at-home practice.

Phone calls or emails usually reveal a bit about why the parents want to start piano, and my key question is “What do you know about the Suzuki method?….”. Up-front issue is parent involvement, so this is stated clearly that the parent is VERY active and is expected to help with ALL practice and come to ALL lessons. I also ask if they have an acoustic piano (a requirement for starting in my studio—that eliminates more families but it eliminates a lot of future problems).

The entire family comes to watch a lesson in progress and is introduced to the family, encouraged to ask questions, and we spend 10-15 minutes chatting afterwards. They receive a handout of the Suzuki Twinkler and background about Suzuki, plus a handout on finding a piano if they need one.

If they don’t come immediately to another lesson to observe, I do a follow-up phone call to figure out if they’d like to come back. If they can’t come back immediately, or haven’t decided, I let them know it’s up to them to contact me again if they’re interested.

After that, they come to lessons for a minimum of two months for free observation, with the goals:
PARENT begins parent education, reading about Suzuki, receiving handouts about getting organized for practice, sets up home, learns to take notes
STUDENT learns to come in quietly, receives “mini-lessons” until they are ready
TEACHER (me!) finds out if the family is willing to learn, can come to lessons on time, and develops relationship

I now have a small studio of 14 students after starting at home 2 1/2 years ago (I’ve taught Suzuki since 1998 at a school that is now closed). My studio is growing gradually (never as many students as I’d like!) but the retention rate is getting very high and the relationships I have with families are very good. Ideally in the future I’m hoping to also get parents to the ECC! course but haven’t co-ordinated that yet.

I do have the luxury of having a small performance income, which is why I don’t feel pressured to get as many students as I can.

Hope that helps!

Barb said: Oct 13, 2009
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

So, I’m at the point of having a waiting list. I only teach 10 students because that’s all I have time for with family and volunteer work right now. I may add more next year.

I agree, Connie, we can do without students/parents like those. So how do you determine what they will be like when you first meet them?

It is a good idea to present policies up front, so they know what the expectations are, that’s one step.

Getting to know them over the course of a month or two might work well for some of you, but I have about 1/2 adult students who follow less of a Suzuki method, more individualized. They all learn at very different rates and have their own issues. And probably most would rather not have an observer come in for their lessons.

I do do the first two lessons free, giving the adults about an hour each time. They can do this before they have a cello, using mine for the lessons. Then they must have a cello before the regular lessons begin. So, in a way these work like an interview on both sides, but I’m looking for some specific questions I might ask which would help me to find the best match for my teaching, and weed out the flaky ones.

Thanks for your suggestions.

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Sara said: Oct 14, 2009
 Violin
191 posts

I do a parent interview (at no cost) prior to registering for lessons. I explain the Suzuki method and clarify any questions they may have etc. But ultimately I think we have to remember we are dealing with imperfect humans that simply don’t behave the way we would like them to behave 100% of the time. Student and parents are going to have different ideas about things at different times. I figure that is just part of being a teacher. No matter what occupation you choose, there is going to be unpleasantries with it. Take these behaviors as teaching opportunities. Sometimes common courtesy has to be taught just as much as any musical technique. But where else would they learn it if not in lessons if they haven’t already done so?
If there are consequences to things that REALLY bug you such as a late payment, charge a late fee. Or charge by the semester, or have them pay every two weeks so they are always ahead by four lessons in their payments. Try to find out why they are paying late. I know with some of my students try as they might there have been times that they have not received a pay check and that is why they are late paying me. Or you could use the monthly collector system. http://www.monthlycollector.com/

“What is man’s ultimate direction in life? It is to look for love, truth, virtue, and beauty.” Dr. Shinichi Suzuki

Connie Sunday said: Oct 14, 2009
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

silverstar

If there are consequences to things that REALLY bug you such as a late payment, charge a late fee. Or charge by the semester, or have them pay every two weeks so they are always ahead by four lessons in their payments. Try to find out why they are paying late. I know with some of my students try as they might there have been times that they have not received a pay check and that is why they are late paying me. Or you could use the monthly collector system. http://www.monthlycollector.com/

Thank you for your response. Was this addressed to me (the OP)? I guess you didn’t look at my lesson policy:

http://beststudentviolins.com/Studio.html

I think everything you’re suggesting, I’m doing.

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

Sara said: Oct 15, 2009
 Violin
191 posts

Just curious. If you are doing everything I suggested, how is it that monthly collector is not working for you as far as not receiving payment on time? I don’t use it myself yet. I am just wondering if it is not all that reliable after all…?

“What is man’s ultimate direction in life? It is to look for love, truth, virtue, and beauty.” Dr. Shinichi Suzuki

Connie Sunday said: Oct 15, 2009
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

At the lesson page there is a pdf file which I print out for each new student, and which they sign. They agree in writing, in other words, that they understand that the fees are due “on or before the sixth of every month,” and that there is a $5.00 late fee if the payment is paid after that date.

But some people (one or two out of maybe 40 or so students), persist in paying late. I have to send them an email reminder that the fees are due, and they “forget” to add the late fee. This is one of the grounds of dismissing the student if there are sufficient other difficulties.

There were eight points to my original post; the fee issue is the one that you’re most concerned about? For me, it’s not the most significant; maybe that’s why I thought of it last.

Since I’m about five blocks from a large state university and so many of my students are adult students or college students, I’m wondering about the appropriateness of my post in this forum; looks like the first seven points really refer to issues I have with my adult and more particularly, my college students.

I think I remember that there are other teachers on here who serve the non-traditional student (with respect to age) but Jennifer’s right; most of these things are not issues with most students. I just get _so_ many strange students among the mostly good ones in this part of west Texas/eastern New Mexico. They won’t do parent education (which is why so many come to me; the Suzuki program at Tech—a huge, successful program—requires it); they won’t do shoes off near the door—I struggled with that for years and gave up.

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

Sara said: Oct 15, 2009
 Violin
191 posts

No, that wasn’t the point I was most concerned about. That was one that I thought of a solution of so that is what I wrote about.
If it wasn’t that much of a concern to you to not have a suggestion to a solution, perhaps it shouldn’t have been listed.

“What is man’s ultimate direction in life? It is to look for love, truth, virtue, and beauty.” Dr. Shinichi Suzuki

Barb said: Oct 15, 2009
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Connie,
Almost half my students are adults, and more than half of those on my waiting list. So I can relate to your issues. And I think numbers 2-6 can also apply to children or their parents.

Maybe someone is having a bad day here—or a few of you? :( … I felt that you posted that last issue even though it’s not a huge one for you because it could be an issue for some. No big. And silverstar’s comments might be helpful to others even if you already cover those things with your policy.

As to THAT issue of late payments, I charge by trimester, so students pay for several lessons in advance. Way less for me to worry about. Music Teacher’s Helper helps keep my calendar and records straight, easily creates invoices, etc. (see link in my signature) Paying in advance also probably helps with those last minute cancellations, etc. My policies for make-up lessons is pretty clear. But still, it’s easier to ask for payment in advance presuming they will be there, that to ask after they have forgotten to come.

Silverstar, yes, it’s an imperfect world with lots of imperfect people—good point. Still, it WOULD be nice to have all ideal students. :) But as one of my students or parents pointed out (I’ve forgotten who now)—music lessons teach so much more than just music. In some cases, like you said, common courtesy!

One more thing about policies—make sure you actually back them up or they won’t mean a thing. I had to stop a student at the door to ask him to either finish his drink before he came in or leave it outside. And the policy was signed only about a week prior. :roll:

Hope you all are feeling better soon.

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Sara said: Oct 16, 2009
 Violin
191 posts

Thanks for your cheery post, Barb! Thanks for the link as well. Good to know of more options!

“What is man’s ultimate direction in life? It is to look for love, truth, virtue, and beauty.” Dr. Shinichi Suzuki

Barb said: Oct 16, 2009
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Somewhat related, I just came across this article on the Art of the Interview by Philip Johnston: http://www.insidemusicteaching.com/articles/art_artofinterview1.html

It’s less about flaky and more about finding students you’ll enjoy teaching. Interesting ideas! I especially like the first question. Some of the others I might even use with my current students to see better what’s in their head, how they are learning.

And then there is the Deadwood Students article—when is it time to let a student go: http://www.insidemusicteaching.com/articles/art_deadwood1.html

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Michelle said: Oct 17, 2009
 
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
25 posts

Thank you for sharing those articles. They were hugely helpful (I’m not the op, but have been following this thread with interest from the beginning). I know I should do interviews, especially since I have a full studio with a wait list, but I never know what to say. There’s such a delicate balance between every child can, and which children will get the most benefit from me. I mean, I should be able to teach anyone who walks though the door, because they all can. But there are just some personalities that don’t mesh with the way I teach as well as others.

I often feel guilty when I struggle with a student, because “every child can”, therefore it must be my shortcomings as a teacher. It’s good to keep perspective on how much a teacher can be expected to put into a student who is just a sinkhole of energy. It’s also good to know how to identify and avoid them in the first place.

Now available in blog form.

Lynn said: Oct 18, 2009
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

@violajack:
I know exactly what you mean—whenever it’s not “working”, I also struggle with determining whether the problem lies with me.

However:

  1. “Every Child Can” does not mean ‘every child will.
  2. In order for the process to be effective, the student MUST participate in it, and for the younger students, a parent must actively support and promote that participation. If I’ve started putting far more effort into generating or maintaining progress than the student and family, it’s time to re-evaluate.
  3. Successfully navigating all the interpersonal sandtraps and tarpits to “connect” with every student and every parent and cultivate a productive working relationship is pure fantasy land! Of course take whatever teacher lessons there are to be learned from “failed” encounters, but part of professional competence is being able to recognize
    sooner rather than later that the student might be better off with another teacher.

To tie back into what was posted earlier on the thread about lesson policies, I haven’t looked at it any way other than anecdotally, but things like being on time for lessons, notifying the teacher about absences, paying on time, leaving shoes at the door if requested…those are easy easy to do. If the easy things are always missing or always an issue between you, it’s fair to think that they are symptomatic, and that basically you are not regarded as someone for whom the family needs to demonstrate consideration and effort. What does that mean for the kids who will need to exercise effort, self-discipline and trust in the teacher to push into new levels of competence? The anecdotal observation is that students from such families won’t thrive, no matter what we try and do. Thoughts?

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