teaching a child in his home

Jody said: Sep 2, 2009
Suzuki Association Member
Cello, Suzuki in the Schools
Coral Springs, FL
6 posts

Hi. I taught a student at his home last year and he did not progress much. In the summer I asked him to come to my house for lessons and progress was made. His mother agreed but now that school started again, she wants to try lessons in his home. I agreed to try it again but I really do not think it will work out. What is the best way to approach this?

Jennifer Visick said: Sep 3, 2009
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

IMHO, lessons at a child’s home have two things against them:

  1. you have to go to the student’s home when you could be using that time to teach or practice—and you are losing gas money and wear and tear on your car

  2. the child feels at home—and you are the guest. The host/guest roles are not compatible with the student/teacher roles, respectively. If the child has is both student and guest, there is slightly more social pressure for them to “do well” for the teacher/host. The parent also may not pay as much attention to the lesson at home as they would if they came to you—so they cannot help the child to practice as well during the week.

These two things can be overcome and are overcome by a large number of teachers. But after teaching one student at their home one year, I immediately changed my studio policies the next year to state that I do not come to student’s homes to give lessons. If I were you, this is what I would do, and then inform the parent that in your professional opinion, you don’t think it’s in the best interest of the child (musically speaking) to teach in their home. Also, if it’s true, mention that you would like to free up that time to teach more students: not because of finances (if you say this the family may offer to pay you more), but because you want to be able to reach as many children as possible.

Lynn said: Sep 4, 2009
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

Absolutely second RainJen’s comments.
In addition to the inefficiency of traveling to student’s homes, once you are there, there are no environmental cues to the student that you are in charge, and you set the tone and the expectations. You don’t say how old the child is, but given that one of the essential tasks of early lessons is to establish expectations and standards, you need to also be able to control the environment.

Secondly, children do not always transition easily from one activity into another. A car ride to your studio is a transition activity, and kids are mentally prepared for a lesson when they arrive. When you go to the student’s home, there is not a similar transition period that makes a break from their previous activity, so they don’t necessarily begin the lesson fully present and ready.

You don’t say why mom wants you to come to her, but clearly if she brought her son to you over the summer, that is an option. Is it incorrect to assume that for mom it’s a matter of convenience? Going back to ‘whose in charge’, if you are accommodating the mom against your better judgement, you are not really running the show. Accepting and working with your terms as the teacher is not only for the student! Of course talk again with her about how much better he progressed in your studio, and talk about the above-mentioned factors that likely contributed, and perhaps she’ll be persuaded that she’ll get better value for her lesson dollar if she participates in a lesson set up that maximized progress. If your sense is that that won’t be a compelling argument, and you decided that you really don’t want to travel to their home, you are allowed to change your mind and simply say that you’re sorry, but it’s not going to work out after all for you to come to them. Other than reiterating that it will also work out better for her son, you do not need to offer a reason she will accept—or any reason at all. If this is to be a successful long-term collaboration, you want to know that she will respect your judgement and your boundaries.

Sara said: Sep 4, 2009
191 posts

Well said on above posts. I had a family where I went to their home and yes it was difficult to get the students engaged in the lesson and yes, the progress was minimal and slow. After that experience I won’t even consider going to the students home to teach no matter what.

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

Ruth Brons said: Sep 5, 2009
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Livingston, NJ
148 posts

The only times I have enjoyed teaching students in their home have been in the rare family situation where three or more children from the same family are studying AND the family paid for my extra time. This way the kids not not involved in the lesson don’t have to be underfoot while waiting their turn, and the mom can get some things done around the house rather than being a captive in the violin studio or car for hours on end..

Best Wishes,

Ruth Brons
Inventor of Bow Hold Buddies[tm] Instant Bow Hold bow accessory for violin/viola, and
CelloPhant[tm] bow accessory for cello

Cynthia Faisst said: Nov 20, 2009
Cynthia Faisst
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Irvine, CA
127 posts

I always ask these parents if they have room for all of my assistants. In other words do you have a place at your house where I can teach all the other children and parents in the program on the day of your lesson?
They are reminded that I am not just an instructor but also a facilitator of a musical environment.

I always ask how will you create the opportunity to observe the other students who come before and after your child? I require that such a student comes to full studio group lessons. They are not getting what they are paying for if they do not have that experience.

I usually teach pre twinklers in small groups of 2 to 4 students with parents included. If someone wants us to bring that experience to their house it requires consistent reliability of attendance by the host family. I also need to teach students coming before and after that class. Only one of my home school families offered to do this for a time, on a schedule that did not interfere with my after school students. But they did find it a big commitment.

The only other time I did a home lesson was when one of my Suzuki parents was pregnant with a baby that was later born with a heart condition. She was unable to leave her home for the last months of her pregnancy. The Suzuki child was still brought to group lessons on Saturdays. They resumed coming to the studio after the pregnancy.

I have students from the other side of the freeway from a more urban, economically challenged backgrounds who take as many as 3 buses to get to a lesson with their parent and siblings (no child care) so they can study with their classmates at the Arts Center. If someone in my suburban Suzuki program wants lessons in their home for the convenience I now expect them to make a significant donation to my favorite non profit arts center.

I also remind them that in addition to paying the rent at my unused studio I also have car expenses. The cost of gas in CA has been quite inflated.

Ms. Cynthia
Talent Education Center: Suzuki Violin
Director of Santa Ana Suzuki Strings located at the
Orange County Children’s Therapeutic Arts Center
Volunteer, bring music to under-served communities around the world. Create Sound Investments and Futures.

Sarah Coley said: Nov 20, 2009
Sarah Coley
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
34 posts

Over the years I have taught a few students in their homes. It was not my favorite thing to do, nor would I say the most ideal teaching experience/environment. In echoing with many of the same comments others have listed, the students just did not seem to excel as much as they did when they came to my studio. Additionally, I would have to say that in years past it was easier to make this accommodation for several reasons (1) my studio was not as large as it is currently and (2) my schedule was more accommodating in allowing me to travel to students’ homes. Also, as a younger teacher (which I was at the time), I really was the type (bad me!) who felt that she needed to accommodate these requests in order to keep students and make parents happy. (I tend to be a people-pleaser! ;-) )

Most recently, I had a family with four children who transferred into my studio over the summer. The mother has three other children as well, and does not live too far from my home, so when she asked if we could do lessons at their house, I was tentative, but went ahead and agreed. I let her know from the beginning, however, that it was pretty unlikely that I would be able to honor the same request in the fall. When I began registration for the fall semester and I was setting up lesson times with the mother, I reminded her once again that I already had a very full studio; and as such, it would really work best if her children could come to my studio. I let her know that my teaching schedule was already very chaotic—most nights I do not get done until 7:30 or 8:30pm—and in order to keep my sanity and lessen my stress, it would work best for me if they could come to my studio.

On the other hand, I also have a student that I continue to teach at his home, and have done so for the past 3-4 years. He lives in a neighboring city to mine, and his parents are both doctors with busy practices—not to mention that they adopted three babies at the same time about two years ago. The parents have one day that they are both home at the same time, and the other days of the week, they trade off so that one of them is home with the children. They also home school to boot! Taking all of this into consideration, I cannot imagine any other sort of teaching situation working—at least until the toddlers are little older. (Personally, I am not sure how I could handle keeping three toddlers quiet and occupied, and still pay attention to my son’s lesson and take notes.) I will mention that when I was contacted to teach her child, I let her know that due to the fact that I would be traveling to come teach his lesson, I would need to charge more than I would if they were coming to my studio.

My suggestion would be to perhaps reexamine this situation and weigh all the pros and cons. Would accommodating this parent hamper your own schedule? Cause potential scheduling conflicts? Is it as cost-effective to you as it should be? Will it benefit the student? What specifically makes you feel like you have to fulfill this request? Is this a special needs situation (i.e., is there something specifically that keeps them from coming to your studio, or is it simply that this parent wants you to accommodate her)? Remember, you are the teacher—and a teacher to more than one student. I think it wise to weigh each student’s situation individually, but imagine if you had to fulfill this same request for all the students in your studio!

Whatever you decide to do, I would be honest with her and let her know that as a teacher, it has been your experience that this is not the most beneficial situation to musical study. Cite exactly what you stated about the student progressing more when they came to your studio than when you came to their home. If you have specific examples that might lend support to your cause as well. (i.e., “Sally only learned three songs in the time when I came to your house. When you started coming to my studio, she learned ten songs within three months!” or “We had to work continually on making sure that fingers were on the tapes when I came to your home. Since coming to my studio, I no longer have to remind Ben to correct his intonation as much as before.”)

I think that most parents are aware, in some way or another, that in order to get the full experience of something, their child actually has to be immersed in that situation in its typical non-home environment. (But sometimes, they need to be reminded.) And we all know that when children are not in their comfort-zone, they are more on their toes and tend to be more respectful, listen with a more attentive ear, and do their very best to play better than they would at home!

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