Love the family, but the student : (

Posted by: chasingrainbows

Love the family, but the student : ( - 02/01/13 05:45 PM

This student is 8, and has been with me for 2 years (after his first teacher moved away). Despite all of my explanations and demonstrations and pleas, he flattens and dents his fingers, bounces his wrists, plays as loud as he can (basically, banging on the piano), only practice songs he loves (and he is very particular about the songs I bring for him to choose from), and plays the piano while I briefly try to talk. Lately, he stares into space pretending not to hear me when I talk to him. I realize that my desire to create a positive, relaxed teaching environment often is misinterpreted to mean I can be treated with a level of disrespect with some students. Mom is in the next room, and definitely hears what's going on, yet there is no improvement. I've suggested a break in the past, and he wants to continue piano, yet every week I leave exhausted. I may encounter some of these issues with other students occasionally, and in small doses, but almost every lesson includes all of these issues with this boy. I love the family, they treat me very well, but I don't know how to take control. I believe there may be a special needs issue, but since Mom puts him on a pedestal, I am reluctant to ask. He used to also flap his hands after playing each piece.
Posted by: Peter K. Mose

Re: Love the family, but the student : ( - 02/01/13 07:59 PM

If Mom is right next door, maybe she should sit in on a couple of lessons, especially after you first make clear to her that there are some basic issues of lesson control that are going awry with her tyke.

You could also establish some rules with the kid, like zero piano playing while you are talking.

He probably won't mind your tough love. Even if it's an act on your part, you need to get tougher.
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: Love the family, but the student : ( - 02/01/13 08:37 PM

You need to have a talk with the child. You are the adult here, and so you need to set the rules. Tell him what the new rules are, but make them very simple and straight forward, no more than 4 or 5. Make a sign that says the rules and possibly have a picture next to it to remind him. Review the rules before each lesson.

If he breaks a rule, remind him he's breaking a rule and which one. If he continues to break it or breaks it later in the lesson, then have a consequence. You can do a time out, for example, for a set amount of time. If he breaks another rule, then the lesson is over with. Of course, the parents will have to be on board with this and you will want to consult with them on what they think would work with their son. The conversation might go something like this:

"I've been having difficulty getting through my lesson plans with your son, and I feel he needs more of a sense of order in our lessons. I would to have these rules (list them) and would like your input on what you think is most effective if he does break the rules." You'll also want to explain that you will remind him he's breaking a rule before resorting to the consequence.

You will notice within a week or two much more attentiveness and respect.

Now that I think of it, I seem to recall you posting about this student before. I remember the hand flapping thing that we suspected meant he was "stimming" and possibly a special needs student. Having these rules will help, but that's not all. You should also make your lessons with him very routine - go through the scales first, then technic, etc. Try to make the studio as clutter-free as you can so he's not overwhelmed with stimulus.
Posted by: chasingrainbows

Re: Love the family, but the student : ( - 02/01/13 08:53 PM

Morodiene, that's a wonderful suggestion! I am sure the mom will cooperate, but I will ask her first, as you suggested. I almost ended the lesson last night, and with these rules in place, I will leave it up to him whether the lesson happens or not.

Yes, I posted about him awhile ago. He stopped the hand flapping a few months ago, but I'm afraid he has replaced that harmless activity with more, IMO, obnoxious actions.

Peter, thank you. I will consider your suggestion, but since she is in the next room, and there are no doors separating us, she should hear everything.
Posted by: Peter K. Mose

Re: Love the family, but the student : ( - 02/02/13 12:21 AM

Mom hearing everything from next door is not the same as having her in the teaching room with you. Nor is it the same as having little Theodore suddenly aware that his parent has been called in to observe and patrol the lesson. Even if Mom tends to put her kid on a pedestal, she will tend to take your side if you invite her to help out when you explain that Theo is out of control.

Another option is to have a conference that also involves Dad, or to invite Dad to sit in on a lesson, after explaining why you would like him there.

Generally I don't like a parent sitting in on my teaching, but now and again it can be effective when you are feeling pushed around. I've had a few students over the years who did this to me. They were usually rather young (under 11yo). Sometimes the parents helped me to stem such behavior, but more often I just muddled though.

Once I actually dismissed a young girl whom I considered abusive. I think her mother was shocked. Happily I've never run into them since.

Postscript: Morodiene's rules sounds excellent!
Posted by: chasingrainbows

Re: Love the family, but the student : ( - 02/04/13 11:17 AM

Peter, I prefer that parents do not sit in on lessons, as I believe the child acts differently when parents are in the same room (sometimes better and more focused), but I agree that certain situations demand their presence during lesson time.

Thankfully, I have only had one student that I dismissed - she was outright confrontational, disrespectful and never practiced. 6 months later they wanted to return, but I did not accept her back.
Posted by: PianoStudent88

Re: Love the family, but the student : ( - 02/04/13 11:37 AM

I am wondering if, in addition to clarifying the expectations for the child, it would help to clarify them for the mother. She may not know what you consider misbehaving or inappropriate (even if it seems obvious to you). Also, even if she were in the same room, she may not know if you want her to intervene, or leave all the behaviour management up to you.
Posted by: chasingrainbows

Re: Love the family, but the student : ( - 02/04/13 05:26 PM

pianostudent, you are absolutely right. I've wondered as well if she feels she should leave the discipline up to me. I am speaking to her today and will make sure that I am clear about my expectations of her and the student. Thank you for your intuitive response.
Posted by: rlinkt

Re: Love the family, but the student : ( - 02/05/13 01:05 AM

I changed my daughter's piano teacher after two years with her first teacher. She was six at that time. She behaved oddly with her new teacher, who is an amazing teacher, for the first couple of months, which is very unlike her. My best guess is that somehow she felt some sort of resentment against the new teacher.

You may want to ask if he did the same thing with the previous teacher, or this is something new.
Posted by: chasingrainbows

Re: Love the family, but the student : ( - 02/05/13 11:37 AM

rlinkt, thanks. I've been teaching him for almost 2 years, and although he seemed to be hyperactive, he was definitely more respectful and practiced his assigned pieces. He's almost 9 now and changed schools this year.
Posted by: TimR

Re: Love the family, but the student : ( - 02/05/13 12:28 PM

Something you may not have thought of yet:
Posted by: MaggieGirl

Re: Love the family, but the student : ( - 02/05/13 01:15 PM

The child sounds sensory seeking. I don't know if you are interested, but there is a book, The Out of Synch Child that might help you help him during lessons.

The hand flapping, the banking, the hard pressure, are all signs that something isn't processing correctly.

Does he go to piano right after school? If not, I'd suggest that he do something physical before a lesson - maybe suggest it to his mom. Some simple things that mom can so as well - a deep massage on her son before lessons, applying lotion on his arms and legs with a strong touch. During the lesson when he is supposed to be listening have him hold a sensory ball.