I had almost forgotten.

It’s been a little while since I’ve been hit with a dose of negativity. Things have been going pretty well lately. I got a job at a studio I love and I’ve picked up quite a few students in my home studio too. All of them were happy. Parents, students, everyone’s been really great! Full of compliments and tidings of goodwill. Still trying to please everyone? stop it you can’t.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday…I got the worst email I have ever received from a parent, ever! (and for me ever is over 30 years).

Here’s what happened.

I had a trial lesson with an eight-year-old transfer student last week. I thought this would be a slam dunk as I was highly recommended by a student I currently teach. Nevertheless, I prepared well for the lesson and gave it my very best effort. Mom and child came into my home studio to meet me, the student was very active. He refused to play anything for the first fifteen minutes. I did my best to make him feel comfortable. I whipped out my “Ice Breaker Flash Cards” and had him answer a few of the questions. I asked him if he liked piano lessons and he said “no”.

Why not?” I asked. “Because my teacher makes me play mostly boring exercises.” He answered.

This student was a beginner still playing a primer-level method book. I explained that I do not begin scales and technical exercises until my students reach Book 2. I want them to have a firm music-reading foundation before we start those things. We worked a little in his book and then the lesson was over. Mother and son left saying they were very happy and would let me know about the lessons.

Then a few days later I got this. 

Ms. Hall,

In considering whether or not to have my son study with you I have decided against it. I feel that you are not a suitable teacher for my son. Your lessons are not structured enough and I am not sure of your pedagogical goals.”

This is the worst part.

You might be a good teacher for beginners but I am not sure you will be ready when my son reaches an intermediate level. We have decided to continue our search for a piano teacher until we find someone better.”

Thank You,

Mrs. X”

Well, that was mildly annoying. Lol

Surely a simple “We don’t think you are a good fit” would have sufficed. Besides, how do you know all of this after a thirty-minute meeting?

I spoke with a colleague about this I discovered that the student’s former teacher (who was retiring) was a very strict teacher who believed in a strict regimen of scales and technical exercises from the very start.


Looking For Truth

Someone once told me to look for the kernel of truth in every criticism. I hate doing this, but I have made it a practice both personally and professionally. It is uncomfortable but it helps me grow as a teacher and as a person. So I decided to take inventory of this situation.

Looking back, I am pretty sure what probably rubbed Mom the wrong was the fact that I don’t teach scales and exercises from the beginning. I am also a pretty “laid-back” type of teacher. I took my cues from the child and did not insist that he get on the bench right away. I also mentioned that I encourage students to learn some popular music in addition to classical studies.

Is there anything I could have done differently? Should I focus more on technical exercises? Be more regimented? Maybe. I will definitely consider these things.

Moving Forward

Every cloud has a silver lining, right? This experience made me think of all of the teachers I have studied with and all of the teachers I know. That’s a lot of teachers!! (Seriously, thousands, I’m on Facebook). I know I’m not the only teacher who has received disparaging remarks from a parent or student. I also know that we have a tough job, and negative comments hurt. A snide remark, nasty email, or a student quitting can make us question our teaching and ourselves.

Every single one of us is different, piano teaching is not a “cookie-cutter profession”. There is plenty of room for all types of teachers.

Maybe you are a teacher who begins with scales and exercises. I think that’s great. Maybe you teach Popular Music and Jazz. That’s great too. Don’t get me wrong, I think that we all need to be proficient musicians. We need to be able to play well ourselves in order to teach others effectively. But style and focus of teaching vary from teacher to teacher and that’s a good thing.

The Point Is

The point is that you need to know yourself. You need to know your strengths and what you enjoy teaching. Stay true to your mission statement. After that, the students who need you as a teacher will find you. You don’t need to remake yourself. Tweak a few things, probably. Learn and grow, certainly, these things go without saying.

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Find Your Own Lane

Figure out what is important to you as a teacher. Follow your calling. Be the best you can be and don’t worry about trying to make everyone happy. You are fantastic just the way you are!

And there are plenty of students who need a teacher just like you.

Do you want to feel really, really great about the work you do?

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