How to make your child's music teacher happy - 10 easy ways RSS
Music Parent Guide: Part 15
When I started teaching from home, I thought that children would behave well and parents would be considerate. In general, this has been true but there are, as they say, exceptions to every rule! Parents can be a wonderful support for their child's learning but a few can also take advantage of a teacher's goodwill. Lately, I see more and more social media posts from beginning teachers who ask for advice on how to explain that they need to receive payment for the lesson Hannah missed when she went to a party without so much as a cancellation phone call. They wonder how to express politely that they don’t really want mum to change Freddy’s screaming baby sister’s nappy in the music room during the lesson. In fact, both these things really happened to me and I now send written guidelines to parents before their child begins lessons, as well as asking them to read my Music Parent blog.
If you are a music parent, here are THE ten MOST USEFUL things you need to know:
1/ Agree on fundamental principles
Read the contract that you sign before your child begins taking lessons and do observe it - teachers are nice people who are sometimes reticent about enforcing the clauses in a contract. Some teachers do not have a formal contract but they still have reasonable expectations about the teacher/child/parent relationship in terms of behaviour and payments.
2/ Pay the invoice promptly
Everyone appreciates being paid on time. A teacher is a professional person running a business. Professional music teaching is on a par with school teaching, requiring experience and qualifications in both music and education. You wouldn't expect your own salary to be delayed or your local authority to be late paying teachers. Similarly, if children are absent from school you would not expect the teacher's pay to be docked. I ask for a term’s payment in advance for children but I operate a pay-as-you-go system for adults. My ‘music parents’ have largely been lovely, decent people and if there are genuine, temporary financial difficulties I deal with this on an individual basis. In fact, the only parents who have ever defaulted on a payment to me happened to be multi-millionaires.
3/ Be on time for the lesson - and park thoughtfully!
It is important to arrive in just enough time for the lesson to begin on time as the teacher probably teaches lessons 'back to back' to take advantage of the premium after-school times that suit most children. Although some teachers leave a little time between lessons, arriving more than five minutes early can cause parking problems and being late puts the teacher in a difficult position of giving your child - or someone else's child - a shorter lesson. If you park in a private drive, do try to position your car in such a way that allows entry and exit for other cars.
4/ Don't cancel or re-arrange lessons unless you really need to
Rearranging lessons is more complicated than you might expect because it may involve changing someone else's lesson too. If you know that your child cannot make it to the lesson on a certain week, some teachers will deduct that lesson from the invoice but this is a generous concession rather than a right. If you cancel a lesson at very short notice, or if your child just does not attend, it is perfectly reasonable for the teacher to expect you to pay for that lesson in the same way that you would have to pay your dentist for a cancellation without notice.
5/ Keep your child's instrument in good repair
It is much more satisfying and motivating to play a good instrument, or at least a 'good enough' instrument that is well maintained. All musical instruments need maintenance - brass instruments need the valves cleaning and greasing, string instruments need new strings, bows need rosin otherwise they don’t produce the sound, and some woodwind instruments have reeds that need to be replaced. Pianos should be tuned twice a year, or maybe more frequently if several people play regularly. An electronic instrument does not need to be tuned but it does need to be kept in good working order.
6/ Help your child practise between lessons
Probably the single most important thing you can do to bring joy to your child's music teacher is to make sure your child practises virtually every day for long enough to learn, remember and improve. The music lesson is often a template for practice over the coming week so it’s useful if you ask your child as soon as possible what she did in the lesson if you were not there too. A child who practises is very rewarding to teach.
7/ Be supportive of the teacher’s work
Ensure that your child brings the correct books to each lesson, including any completed theory exercises. The teacher wants your child to make the best progress possible and to provide continuity and progression in lessons so it is most important to take the correct books. Make this your child's responsibility, not yours - but check surreptitiously! Having said this, don’t make a big thing out of forgotten books and don’t rush home to fetch them because there are many things inspiring things a creative professional can teach in a lesson that do not involve books.
Should your child's teacher have time to talk to you after the lesson this is of great value but many teachers use a notebook to write down for you what, and how, your child needs to practise over the coming week. The teacher might say, for example, that your child needs to practise scales much more regularly, or needs to work on sight reading every day so do encourage your child to act on the teacher's advice. If you have any questions about practice, or if your child has not understood something, you could write a note for the teacher to read. Unsupportive parents make life difficult - I’ll never forget Stacia, who faithfully relayed to me her mother’s latest comments on her playing, which generally contradicted much of what I had said in the previous lesson, all on the basis of mum having passed grade 4 as a child. I finally suggested that Stacia might change to a different teacher.
8/ Observe the teacher's lesson rules
Some teachers - and students - like parents to be there in the lesson and some don’t. 'Should parents sit in at practice time and in music lessons?' is a question to be asked when you first meet the teacher. If you have to bring little brothers or sisters to the lesson, do give them something quiet and clean to do and make sure that they behave well. If young children are unable to remain sufficiently still, they will be a great distraction for pupil and teacher. Eating is not allowed in my lessons - it may seem obvious that teachers do not want sticky fingers on the piano but I have had a child throw a massive sulk and refuse to speak to me for the rest of the lesson when I asked her not to eat sweets. Children should not bring drinks into the lesson, except for perhaps a bottle of water on a hot day, and no - please don’t put it on the piano!
9/ Follow the teacher’s house rules
You probably take your child to the teacher's house for lessons so you need to observe any house rules. A minimum of wiping feet and washing hands is essential and the teacher might additionally have a 'shoes off' rule. Insist that your children genuinely respect the teacher's home and possessions. Sometimes house rules just don’t cover what common sense and consideration should dictate - I taught a girl whose mother brought her little brother along and, at the end of one lesson, I found that he had let my dog into the lounge and had been throwing sticks from the (full) log basket for him to fetch. There were around 50 chewed sticks covering the carpet! Once I had recovered sufficiently to clear up the sticks, I found that the growing tips had been picked off all the tomato seedlings that I had left on the windowsill.
10/ Show your appreciation
A few words of thanks are always uplifting for a teacher and can make all the difference to the day. If your child enjoys his lessons, even if he is not practising much and is making laborious progress, you can still say to the teacher - with your child listening - how much you appreciate the way she brings her enthusiasm and kindness to each lesson. Teachers really do appreciate it when children simply say, 'Thank you for my lesson,' and mean it.
Private music teachers rely mainly on word of mouth recommendations for new pupils so spreading the word will be greatly appreciated. It is particularly important for a teacher to have a steady flow of new students because, of course, pupils eventually go off to university and, sadly, many pupils give up playing after the first few years. Most people look for a teacher on the internet, so check if the teacher has her business listed on Google+ and write a glowing recommendation.
When the time comes for your child to discontinue lessons, talk this through with the teacher and give at least a half-term’s notice. One to one teacher/pupil relationships are very special and it’s fitting to make something of the final goodbye, even if it’s just a Thank You card. If a long and happy music teaching arrangement finally comes to an end when your baby goes away to university, do keep in touch with news from time to time!
Photograph by Heidi Yanulis