Thursday, August 18, 2016 by Libby Wiebel | for parents
(Originally published at www.libbywiebel.com)
Well, folks, we've made it. The recital is over. There are only a few more weeks of school left. The end of the year is upon us. It's the time of year when, as activities are winding down, parents start to think about which of those activities their kids will commit to for the upcoming school year. It's one of the times of year when I'm likely, as a private music teacher, to see turnover in my studio.
I've thought about writing this for a long time. Through online teacher communities and attendance at conferences, I've come to know piano colleagues all over the world. I've heard other teachers say the same things that I've been thinking. Over the years when I've had a student leave the studio, I've sometimes found myself wishing that that student had left differently. How's that? Follow me.
A lot of times it's not a surprise when a student is going to quit. As much as we'd like it to be, piano isn't a great fit for every student. Not every teacher is a great fit, either. Sometimes a student is over-committed and music just isn't the activity of priority. Perhaps your child hasn't been practicing for the last 8 months. Perhaps you've canceled more lessons recently than you've attended. The signs are often there, and we aren't blind to them. So if we know... and if you know... and if the student knows... then why can't we talk about it? I may suspect that you're going to quit, but I likely won't be the first to bring it up because I might also be wrong. I don't want you to think that I want you to leave!
Sometimes You Don't Have To Quit
It's true. What are your reasons for wanting to stop lessons? There may be a solution that would make everyone happy that doesn't involve you leaving lessons entirely. If time is the problem, perhaps there is a modified schedule that the teacher is willing to try. If the teacher's program is too rigorous, you may be able to continue with lessons but bow out of festivals or performances. If your reasons are financial, there may be a barter arrangement or a reduced fee schedule that the teacher is willing to work out. Sometimes a switch in instrument is what's called for. Talk to your teacher. There are times when we're willing and able to make changes that will make a big difference.
And sometimes not. Sometimes it really is time to stop with a particular teacher. So when it is, please call it what it is. I've been teaching for 22 years, and I've got lots of students who are currently "taking a break." I'm still waiting for that break to be over. I've seen some of them graduate, go off to college and start their adult lives while still "taking a break." You don't need to let us down easy. Unless you truly, truly think that you will someday be back, let us know that you're stopping lessons. We'll all part in a more settled manner if you just call it what it is.
Here's How We Want You To Do It
1) Let Us Know Ahead Of Time
The truth is, every single student that we teach is going to stop lessons eventually. Some will stop after 6 months or a year. Some will stop after 8 or 12 years. Some adults will keep going for longer than that. But no one will continue forever. In our time together, though, we develop a relationship unlike many others. It was once pointed out to me that the private music teacher is often then only non-parent adult who a child spends one-on-one time with during the week. It's not the same as the relationship you have with a dentist or a hair stylist. Yes, we are technically service professionals. But we get to know things about your child that the dentist never will -- how s/he thinks and learns, how s/he will best accept corrections, what kind of literature is best suited for him/her. Your child tells us knock-knock jokes before the lesson starts and draws us pictures for our fridges. We pick out stickers that we think your child will like the best and give hugs to relieve stage fright or for a job well done. Have you ever hugged your dentist?
So in light of this special relationship, there is nothing more disheartening than finding out a half hour before the lesson is to start that you won't be there. Ever. We've likely planned for that upcoming lesson and have a trajectory for the next three or four out. We're looking at the long term. So if quitting is in the short term, we want to know. We understand that things may change -- just keep us updated. But don't let it be a surprise.
2) Give Us A Chance To Close Our Time Together
A last lesson with a student can make a huge difference in how both teacher and child remember the entire history of lessons. A last lesson won't look like the lessons that came before. It's a time for both the student and teacher to safely put this journey to rest. I like to go back to some of the student's favorite pieces and play through those. Perhaps we'll make a list of pieces that they may wish to play through at some point in the future. It's sometimes nice to do something collaborative like play a duet or an improvisation or even a game. More than anything, a last lesson is a time where the student can be reassured that the teacher does not "hate" them for quitting and where both teacher and student get a chance to say goodbye. A last lesson together can prevent awkward encounters in the grocery store in the future. And it can leave the door easily open for things like letters of recommendation or even a return to lessons in the future.
3) Respect Your Teacher's Policies For Terminating
Teachers have studio policies to protect themselves. Remember that this is our livelihood. We may have something in our policy about how much notice we need or about how to settle final payments. I ask that families provide me with either one month's notice or one month's tuition. This is to allow me some time to fill your student's spot. Even with a waiting list in place, I can't always have someone in that spot in seven days. I can guarantee, though, that I'll need to eat, buy gas, and pay bills during those seven days. So asking for that last tuition payment isn't meant to be mean or a way for me to squeeze a little more blood out of a withering relationship. It's asking for respect for our profession and the way that we put food on our own family's table. Please ask your teacher what his/her policies for termination are. We may feel awkward about telling you after you've announced that you're taking your leave. And if we present our policies to you, please respect them. There is a good reason that we ask for this.
I do hope that if any of my former students are reading this they don't feel this is directed at them. It's not. This comes from 22 years worth of students starting and stopping and 22 years worth of gathered stories and experience. This comes from my desire to have children grow up with fond memories of piano lessons and not with a habit of ducking and covering if they see their teacher in the parking lot. This comes from little heartaches I've had over the years as I wrestle with knowing that at the end of the day, I run a business, but also knowing that that business touches something emotional for both me and my students. We've been on a journey together. Whether it's been smooth or bumpy, that journey deserves a proper ending. This is just a guide.