What A Mess!

Lindsay said: Jun 26, 2009
Lindsay LogsdonViolin
55 posts

I have recently taken on two sisters who already have another teacher—which I was unaware of when they registered. They wanted more than one lesson per week, but their other teacher didn’t have time in his schedule. So they came to me, and mentioned only after they had registered and paid that they were still with another teacher. I should have handed back their cheque immediately!

The girls’ other teacher is traditional. When they started at my studio, they were not doing Suzuki material. I spoke to the parents about my program, my expectations, the way I structure things, etc. They seemed happy with it all, and on board.

However, they asked the traditional teacher to switch over to the Suzuki material once we got started with it, and now the other teacher has moved them through Books One and Two in the course of six weeks! They went through several pieces in one single lesson, and every essential teaching point has been missed. The family is irritated and upset that I insist on going back to the Book One pieces to correct mistakes and teach the pieces properly. The parents tell me it is a waste of time and money to play “old” pieces that the girls already know, and that obviously my method is flawed if I must go so slowly through the material.

I have explained several times why I do things the way I do, and they were aware of my methods when they registered. I invited them to leave the studio, but because I cannot give a refund for pre-paid lessons (leaving gaping holes in my schedule would be a big financial loss to me—each girl takes an hour— and my policies clearly state that refunds are not given), they are insisting on continuing.

Come September when the family’s next payment is due, I will make it quite clear that there is not room in my studio for this kind of thing and that we will not be continuing. In the meantime, how can I handle lessons to best serve the girls? I feel badly for them, being stuck in this most uncomfortable situation that they clearly never wanted.

Lindsay—Violin teacher, homeschooling mama of four, small-time publisher

Lynn said: Jun 26, 2009
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

I’m short on time, so apologies in advance if I’m too blunt….

By accepting their money, you indicated acceptance of the arrangement, and implied that it would work. Since you know that it is neither acceptable nor workable, the ethical course is to dismiss them and negotiate a pro-rated refund of their tuition.

Laura said: Jun 26, 2009
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

You’re right, that is messy!

As impractical as it would be for you, I agree with Lucy. It is necessary to break an unworkable contract, for the sake of all involved. Come to think of it, they were the ones in breach of the contract—since they originally agreed to your approach and are now dismissing it! This situation warrants an “annulment” of sorts. Particularly since there was no disclosure of their other teacher until after you took on the students. That put you into an unfair position entering into the agreement.

But since you were planning on dismissing them in September, does this mean that you would be losing only 2 months’ income from them? If that’s the case—is is possible to simply put up with the situation for another 2 months, and try to impart the most positive experience for the students as possible during that time? Two months can fly by.

You could be so blunt as to say that you are using review material to enforce new points, pure and simple, so they are still, in essence, learning something new. (I’m assuming from your description that they haven’t gone through the Book 1 and 2 pieces very well!) If Mom still doesn’t get it, you could point out the Suzuki parallels to language learning: her girls didn’t stop saying “Mama” or “Mommy” the day after they said it the first time, and they likely didn’t refuse to learn how to write it, first in all caps, later with capital M plus lower case everything else, and later still in cursive handwriting instead of printing, simply because it was an “old word”!! This is the Suzuki way, and it is highly valid and effective.

Unless you’ve used those angles before. If they still don’t appreciate what you are doing after all that explanation, that is awkward indeed.

Here’s a random thought: why don’t you have the girls prepare a Book 1 and/or 2 recital, to be given at the end of the summer? It’s a workable goal that will “prove” that they have indeed learned the pieces well, and will allow you the opportunity to help them improve any areas where it’s needed—and there will likely be lots of those! In other words, you could teach them in the name of polishing. It might be more acceptable that way. And then you’ll be leaving each other on a more positive note.

Lindsay said: Jun 26, 2009
Lindsay LogsdonViolin
55 posts

Lucy—when I accepted their money, I was unaware of the other teacher. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks in that I knew just what was going on, when there were all sorts of markings in the girls’ books.

purple_tulips—yes, I plan to put up with the situation for another two months. In that two months, I want to give the girls as good and happy of an experience as I can. I do like your idea about preparing a Book One/Two concert for the end of the summer, I just might try that. I hope they’ll go for it—they missed our year-end concert and showed little interest in performing. These kids are way over-stretched: violin lessons with two teachers, piano lessons, competitive sports, and school of course. It makes my head spin! They are wonderful kids, and I have explained the method and philosophy as best I can, many times, to the parents in hopes that they will “get it”. It doesn’t seem to be sinking in.

Lindsay—Violin teacher, homeschooling mama of four, small-time publisher

Karra said: Jun 27, 2009
51 posts

I’ll add another vote for breaking the contract. What they did is very manipulative, and I would not work with them under such circumstances. I would give them a pro-rated refund, as has already been suggested. In my opinion, keeping such students is not worth the stress it causes.

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

Jennifer Visick said: Jun 27, 2009
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

As hard as it seems, you should stop teaching this family now. Write them a refund check, and make a note for the future to explicitly ask about any potential student’s current teacher.

It sounds like the students are overworked and would best benefit from dropping something out of their schedule. It sounds like they are not going to leave their other teacher, so you need to draw the line. Gently kick them out.

You will have less money, but you will also have less stress.

On the other hand, if you are going to starve or get kicked out of your home, have your utilities shut off or have to go without other basic services because of the financial loss from two students, then it may be worth the stress to continue for the next couple of months.

sorry to be so pessimistic (realistic?), but so long as they continue lessons with the other teacher, you are fighting a losing battle. You have to decide whether its worth fighting a losing battle in order to keep their money.

One thing you might do would be to help the student identify a certain technique in the newest piece the other teacher has introduced. Then take the entire lesson and trace that particular technique through the Suzuki repertoire starting at Twinkle. Emphasize that the easiest way to learn a new technique is to find ways to use it in old or ‘easy’ pieces.

Lynn said: Jun 27, 2009
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

Apologies for mis-reading the chronology…

But think….if it’s making your head spin, imagine what it’s like for the girls! Two lessons, two sets of assignments, two teachers to please… and kids are very sensitive to undercurrents. In both your posts you talk about what you want to do—what do they want from you? Yes, they asked for lessons, but based on what you’ve said, they are not interested in the kinds of lessons you teach. If their intentions all along were to supplement their teacher’s lessons, then those were the kinds of lessons they had in mind! This is not about you personally, or about the quality of your studio. It’s about they already have a program they like.

Ethics again: The SAA code of ethics states:

As members, we demonstrate responsibility toward our colleagues by:
Maintaining a professional attitude and acting with integrity in regard to colleagues.
Respecting the rights of colleagues when speaking of their work and/or students and
respecting difference in teaching styles.
Respecting the instruction of a student’s regular teacher when serving as an interim

Clearly the other teacher is their primary teacher. She may not be Suzuki, but she is a teacher, and IMO that qualifies her as a colleague. Rather than continuing in your efforts to convert an unwilling family, find out directly from the other teacher whether this situation is even acceptable to her (perhaps she too is stuck—she doesn’t like it, but feels she has no choice but to tolerate it?). If she seems okay, it might work find out what you can do to support her, and then focus your efforts there. If she’s not okay with it, ethically, I’d say you have to bow out.

Lindsay, I know about needing money, and I know about holes in the schedule, and I, too, have explicitly written policies about refunds. I am not unsympathetic to the financial ramifications of this situation! However, it would be a clear signal to me that my business is in trouble if I’m making decisions about students based on money, and not on what’s appropriate for the student, the family, or me.

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