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#3159736 09/26/21 09:16 PM
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Some of you may recall that my studio has expanded quite a bit, when I took on a home school co-op. Mostly older students, trying to assess where they are. Of ten students, I have already run into three issues with three different students. None of this has ever happened at my home studio or my other school.

[color:#FF6666]1. "My daughter only wants to play what she feels!"

For each transfer teen student, I give a written theory assessment, have them play for me from their music, and give them various pieces to sight read. I look over what was written on the music (fingerings, vocab, dates to see how long it was worked on, etc...)

I determined that Lee was about level three in Alfred/Faber. (not a beginner, but lots to learn still). I always give enrichment music. She was wanting to polish off some old music so I not given new stuff yet, but I did give her improv 12 bar blues, nothing she had seen before.

Here is what the mom responded-

Lee was very disappointed to hear that you wanted her to go back to books. Lee deeply feels music, and often the pieces in the books are so simplified that they don't move her.

Her former teachers have had assigned classical pieces and allowed her to choose pieces she was interested in, using the piece to teach from. Let me know if this is a possibility.

Also, Lee had a super long day on lesson day, and I realized that we may need to adjust her schedule. Do you have any other openings?
[/color]

2. "we are on vacay, please give us a make-up lesson." (I do) "Now we are covid quarantine, we demand a make-up!" And I offer a make-up same time but mom is not happy.

Mom had said they were going on vacay and asked for make-up times. Since it was the first of the year, I was nice and offered an open time slot. Child took the make-up lesson. Next week, child has been exposed to covid and co-op policy is she stays home. Mom emailed and I offered the same time for a make-up lesson. This is what mom wrote-

"I understand. But, since this COVID exposure/quarantine thing may become an issue and force the absence of healthy kids, if makeups can’t be given does that mean you’ll credit the missed class for next month? The thought of spending $xx/lesson and not getting them because she is forced to stay home is a hard one for me to swallow. Unfortunately, finances aren’t so lavishly flowing for us to not think about this. I hope u can understand where, we as mom and dad, are coming from? Thanks so much for your time-"


3. "Please explain your teaching methods."

Mom signed up brother. Decided to have daughter take, instead. Had to send three emails asking for her co-op registration number. Met the daughter, and gave my usual theory assessment and sight reading. Child got left and right confused, did not know finger numbers, could not tell a half note from a treble clef sign. Rank beginner. Mom bought a primer level books. Three weeks later I get this-

" Whilst I agree that all of this information is important I am not understanding why her entire lessons are based primarily on theory and hand position. Elliot has come from 2 years of piano and enjoyed playing. She would play all the time. She now seems so confused on what she is supposed to do and doesn’t even have a piano song to practice.

I respect that all teachers are different in their style of teaching. I am just wondering if maybe this isn’t a good match. My biggest goal is for her to love playing piano and to want to grow and learn in it. She is not expressing that anymore. You seem amazing and I know you would want this too for your students. I am just trying to figure out if there is some sort of disconnect here.
"

I have a hard copy worksheet where Elliot was to fill in the seven letters of the music alphabet in a wrap around pattern. She got it wrong. She wrote on one line, A B C B E F A. another, she wrote, G A C G A B C

And, she does have songs in the books and in the enrichments that I give. I do not understand that one.

If Elliot has had two years of lessons and still cannot recite the music alphabet in reverse, let alone write it A-G, nor tell left from right, she needs more help than I can offer.


Forum, any help?

Maybe I am not a fit for this home school co-op. I have a special snowflake storm, perhaps? Suggestions?

TIA!


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I won’t attempt to address the full issues but here are two points which I hope help:

There are obviously communication issues here. You can’t rely on young students to accurately deal with these or to provide reliable reporting of the situation. Maybe (a big maybe) sending a statement of your teaching methodology to the parents could help.

A frequent contributor to this forum (though not lately) used to refer to what he termed “transfer wrecks: students with years of lessons who had learnt very little but whose parents thought they had progressed. The parents then blame the next teacher for the situation. His solution was generally to get rid of such students. You will have to find your own.

Try but don’t get stressed by trying too hard.

Good luck.

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I have never taught a single soul, but here is something that could work: have the student play the most advanced piece that's representative of the current skill, record it if necessary. And then present a video of you playing a piece that you think the student can play after 1 year under your tuition, i.e. "If you take lessons from me, in 1 year you can play this" - this serves more as pledge to the parent, of course, and it's tailored to each individual student.

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I am not a teacher, but about point 2, could you have a few basic rules in writing that you give to the parents before taking on a new student. So it says clearly what they are entitled to in case of a holiday, illness, etc.


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I'm guessing from long distance, but could it be that traditional students and parents have a set of shared expectations about the learning process, while homeschooling students and parents have an entirely different set of shared expectations?

There's clearly a communication gap here, and I'm thinking it is more systematic than just the occasional individual.

If you're going to target the home school customer, which seems like it might be a good business model, you probably want to give that some thought.


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Reading between the lines:
The child's former teacher had a lovely holiday for two years letting her play whatever she wanted in whatever fashion, and sparing him/herself of the tedium of actually teaching anything. Parent and child have gotten the wrong idea, have no idea about missing skills, and you've inherited the mess.

I am coming out of being an adult "transfer wreck", with the difference that I know the importance of missing skills, the tedium of getting them retroactively while undoing what became habit. If you're not aware of it, you're not going to be very happy with doing remediation work or see the necessity of it.

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Yikes!
I agree with Animisha that it would be a good idea to provide parents with written information about policies for scheduling and make up lessons that they must agree to before beginning. I don't expect that they'll read it, but you can refer to it when they complain.

I would absolutely want to hear samples of the kid playing something she "feels deeply" and the kid who "enjoyed playing" and "would play all the time." These samples could be very revealing and would probably give you an entry into a conversation to provide feedback about why it is important to engage in instruction. Following that discussion, if parents are not interested in their kids development as pianists, you and they can decide to continue to meet for some "feel good time" or end the relationship.

Your studio is probably like an assortment box of chocolates: mostly sweet with a few nuts.


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I've had all 3 types in my private studio and would guess that a stronger common factor is that they are all transfers who may have had the same teacher (or at least, teachers with similar ways, which are very different from yours). My approach would start with figuring out if they genuinely want to learn about my vision and get on board or if their endgame is to get me to conform to their needs. If they are interested in growing, I'll do my best to bridge the gap between their understanding and mine, and I may offer a bit of "middle ground". If it's the latter, I'd hold firm (always professional and polite) but be prepared to lose the student.

1a. "Go back to books" could be viewed as a punishment or demotion (negative). If they are willing to hear it, I would explain what is important or useful about the seemingly simple skills in books and how those prepare a student for more advanced material (positive). Having previously worked in books doesn't automatically mean remembering everything and being able to apply it all, and a refresher helps because [insert your reasons]. I always explain up front that it may take some time before we get to new material (but if they have something reasonable that they're in the middle of, I might still work on it with them as a secondary thing).

1b. Schedule problem is an "easy" way to leave a teacher or drop a student. However, it's not uncommon for me that a plan seems to work on paper and has some issues once we are actually living it out. How much effort I'd put into finding them a new spot would depend on how much effort they are making on the above.

2. ASAP please please please think through thoroughly, put in writing, and discuss policies and procedures with all families! Rescheduling, illness, emergency, credits, refunds (and while you're at it, notice period for quitting) - these *will* come up again and if you don't have a consistent way to handle, you'll be draining energy later fielding special requests as they pop up.

3. This is almost like #1 but with insufficient information. Mom implies that her previous lessons were not "on theory and hand position" - so what were the previous lessons on? I'd have parent and child both come and bring or show what they were doing before.

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Originally Posted by keystring
Reading between the lines:
The child's former teacher had a lovely holiday for two years letting her play whatever she wanted in whatever fashion, and sparing him/herself of the tedium of actually teaching anything. Parent and child have gotten the wrong idea, have no idea about missing skills, and you've inherited the mess.

Maybe so. But given that these are home schoolers, they may be far less inclined to defer to a teacher's expertise and/or authority, and place much more importance on the student's preferences. So I think you have to factor that in as well. I don't want to generalize too much, homeschoolers are not all alike, but the ones I've known were not all that concerned with matching a standard curriculum, and that might be seen to apply to piano.


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First student: I wouldn't go to the primer books. Select pieces that teach particular things from various books. You will need to expand your musical offerings. Walter Carroll, Leslie Fly, I have many. Unfortunately, this may mean some photocopies. She needs to have at least one piece that isn't such an exercise piece. Do not bother with the 12 bar blues. It leads nowhere and it leads there fast. If the time doesn't work for them, you will always lose the student. Come up with a time that works. Try Harmony of the Angels by Burgmuller.

Second student: Always give a time that works. Every dollar should be earned by you, unfortunately, unless they rudely cancel with very short notice. But otherwise, always give the make up lesson. Think of it as a blessing to see more children in your life. If God forbid, the child became truly ill with Covid or died, you would always regret not having given the makeup lesson. Children are precious. Just do scales if it bothers you that they keep wanting makeup lessons. They'll learn not to abuse the privilege.

Third student: I see you basically need to work on skills. But you still always need one piece to work on. If the child's friend asks, "What piece are you learning?" they will never want to answer, "I'm updating the skills my first teacher neglected." There must be a title to say. Try Star Spangled Banner. Try Eleanor Rigby to teach timing and coordination. Try the first page of Fur Elise in big notes. Try a simplified version of Symphony No. 5.

Basically in real estate, it's location, location, location. In piano teaching, it's repertoire, repertoire, repertoire.

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I've done Zoom lessons once in a while for kids who have been exposed to Covid. It's annoying but better than no lesson. *shrug*


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UPDATE-

Thanks for the responses. This was a good week!

For the "feelings" student, I do have other music to give her. She has a good bit of work to do though. She was tense for octaves and playing on the edge of the keys. Let alone, she could not recall basic music vocabulary, so played how she felt. And, she can't count!

Why I use a method book- I have found that it helps me keep track. I can assume that of course they know this cuz they can play it! But then find they have no idea the vocab or technique or how to make it minor from major or was just blindly memorizing...and missing whole chunks of knowledge. If they know it, I check it off and move on quickly.

I have a technique and artistry book that matches the concepts in the curriculum, and that is also helping.

We have found a good place now. She works the curriculum and I give her "fun" music to enjoy.

While I like the idea of, "Stick with me and you'll get this far in 12 months!" reality is I cannot take them where they will not walk. Some students fly, and some crawl. I gave up dragging a couple of years ago.

TRANSFER WRECKS-
I try hard not to say these words in real life. But, it is TRUE!

That is one reason I use an assignment notebook and write on the music pages- a new teacher could see that I tried. I assigned. I dated. I taught. I worked.

My policy, and the homeschool co-op policy on make-ups is FIRM. I was “Nice” and did a make-up for their vacation. My mistake. Now that they had a covid scare, they had lots of classes to make-up and did not like the time I had offered. Funny thing- I was going to offer to Zoom with her during lesson time, but with her rude email, I had to wait a beat to chill and to talk to my director. Lesson this week was completely normal and student is not an issue at all.

(The school has me teaching during first and second periods, in segments, beginning at 9am. I can teach 3-4 students per period. So, if you have class first period, but not second period, you have study hall or free time for second period. Or you can sign up for a private lesson. So my make-up time is first thing in the morning- 9am. I checked the schedule and none of my students would be missing another class. (other classes can begin at 9am, or 9:45, or 10, or 10:30, and still be called first period. The mom does not like the early part!) (she has also fussed at other teachers.)

I spoke with the campus director, and she agreed that high school homeschoolers are a special breed. Every student is “top of their class, can do everything super well, and really should be in college already!” Teachers have to tread lightly. However, the registration and supply fees are non-refundable, and parents sign a contract for the full school year. They know the rules, but may not like them, and try to poke.

Ha ha, and agreed on the “lovely two year holiday!” comment regarding the past teacher. The child is only eight, so there is hope! My husband says the mom may be mad at her recognition of two years of tuition lost.

Spent most of the lesson working on the music alphabet. Playing down the keys, child almost cried, “this is HARD!”
(G F E D C B A)

I have 5 and 6 year olds that have surpassed her already! (learning disability? Nope, checked her info page. Mom had not helped her and she had practiced ZERO.)
I gave her some fun music to play (non-staff, key names only since she still can’t get note values yet) and hopefully all will come together well.

So, we are finding a middle ground at the homeschool co-op, it seems. My policies are firm, as are the schools. But, special snowflakes abound!

I felt rushed because I cannot meet a student, do an overall music assessment, and determine what to give them in only one lesson. So it took a bit of time. I call it “filling in the gaps” and sent home books from my own library for them to work on at home. I wanted to better determine where they were.

“Oh, those songs were so short/simple/boring that I did not do them.”

“Ok, play it now, I will check it off, and we will never do it again!” And I get, plink, plank, plunk, can’t play, can’t count.

“My other teacher never had me count.”
“I just copied what they did.”
“I picked a song I know so I can just sound it out.”


Argh!

Yes, home school parents are a bit...special. This is a nice part of town, and students have learned to “behave” so that manners and perception wins.

I have a crate of lending library music books hidden under a cabinet. (we are supposed to take everything away each day, but I cannot haul my binders, music books, teacher supplies, etc…) so I keep a small stash hidden on campus. It has a variety of music, and most is not photocopied.

One student, not written about here, said, “I like how you give me several pieces to work on. It’s like a brain break each time! My old teacher only gave me one piece for weeks to work on.”

And, another parent that has only signed child recently, observed a lesson this week since he had the time off and said as we walked out together, “you know, I learned stuff today! Child had been in a music class at a music school, but it was all game based and stressed having fun. My child wanted to learn and I can tell that you are teaching him. Thank you!”

So, there is hope!


Thanks for all your responses. Hopefully I answered your comments.

It’s nice to belong here!


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BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!!

Ran into a stringed instrument teacher also new to this Home School co-op, and we chatted a bit. She has had a parent interrupt the lessons to the point the teacher is getting upset, and the child is almost crying from not knowing who to listen to.

And, another parent came in with excuse after excuse why their child could not practice. One excuse was, "It is too hard for my child to count and play at the same time. He plays what he feels."

So, it's not just me, it the co-op. Just a few kids, but enough that the other teacher and I were a bit stunned.

Time to sort Christmas music!


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On a broader note, if you think you’re having trouble with parents read this:

https://freebeacon.com/culture/the-wealthy-class/

There’s a link in there also to a much longer article in The Atlantic which is interesting.


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