Dear Susan. I am so frustrated. Why do parents put students in piano lessons but do not support me as a teacher? They don’t practice, miss lessons, and even come to lessons without their books.
To answer that question, you have to realize the various reasons parents put their children in piano lessons.
- They want their child to learn a little bit about music. If they also learn to play a pretty piece, that’s a happy bonus.
- They inherit or buy a piano, and need to justify the space it takes in the room.
- They have read it will help their child get better grades in school.
- They think it will help them get a head start on another instrument the child wants to play.
- They were not able to take piano as a child, so they want to give their child that opportunity.
- They want their child to show off flashy pieces for family or friends.
- They took piano and enjoyed it, so they want their child to do the same.
- They value a music education.
Do you see the pattern here? Parents often have different desires and expectations for their children than we as piano teachers have. So when our expectations as teachers conflict with the expectations of parents, conflict arises and teachers become frustrated and disillusioned. They blame parents for not being serious about music; for not being supportive.
Once you realize that parents often do not have the time, desire, ability, or even the relationship with the child to require daily, quality piano practice, your entire attitude changes and you are a happier teacher.
Here are a few situations where changing your way of reacting makes a big difference.
They don’t bring their books.
Fine, let’s work on Pattern Play by Forrest Kenney. Let’s work on ear training, improvise, or sight read. Don’t fuss, nag, or complain. For sight reading, I love the old duet book by Dennis Alexander, Alfred’s Basic Piano Library Duet Book 1B. It has easy positions that doesn’t scare the students.
They never practice.
Ok, let’s practice at the lesson. Choose a piece with patterns that can be taught by rote, and sounds harder than it is such as Sun Chaser by Timothy Brown, Thumper by Robert Vandall, Spirit of the Stallion by Elizabeth Gutierrez, or Gypsy Earrings by Glover. (There are many more.) Soon your student will be playing that one piece they love everywhere there is a piano, and it will be a great recital piece.
They miss lessons and always want a makeup.
At the parent interview and in your policy sheet, stress that you can’t make up lessons the children miss unless they are able to swap with another student. When a student doesn’t show up, play a Chopin Nocturne to relax, or clean up your studio. Don’t fret about it.
They don’t even come to the recital.
That’s fine, we will miss you. Parents (and I went to a lot of my children’s recitals) don’t like long recitals, and if someone doesn’t show up, the recital is shorter, which is a good thing, actually. Don’t take it personally. It has nothing to do with you.
They always choose sports over music.
If they choose sports over music, it’s because children like team sports more than they like piano lessons. That is human nature. The majority of children love running around on a field more than they love sitting at a piano bench. Think of a puppy. Life is not fair and we can’t change childhood development. All we can do is make the most of what we have. It has nothing to do with sports being more important than music, because what athlete doesn’t have a music playlist a mile long? It has to do with the nature of piano lessons themselves. Give some reasons for them to like piano, but don’t be disappointed if they don’t like it as much as their team sport. I don’t mind music being second, third, or fourth place in a student’s life. One student told me he liked 8 things and piano was the 8th on the list. I think that is one of the funnest things a child has ever said to me. (He even listed the other 7 things.) Some years later his Mom told me that he was first chair in band and loved it.
The great music pedagogy teacher Elissa Milne posted these wise words on her blog, speaking as a parent:The piano teacher wants your child to have practiced this week? It’s a feat of extraordinary proportions that the child got fed, for goodness sake, that they’ve turned up to their lesson in clean clothes. But you know that your child loves this 30 or 45 minutes each week, or at least you’re pretty sure they do, and you know that your child is getting quality one-on-one attention from a teacher who is invested in building a long-term learning relationship. AND you know that music is super-fantastic for the brain. Whatever is happening in the lesson is absolutely worth it, because it’s more than you can provide on your own. http://elissamilne.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/has-parenthood-changed-my-teaching/
As you start to teach this year, have high expectations, but be realistic. Teach the way you would want to be taught, but don’t expect students to love piano the way you love it. Have high standards, but be flexible! I hope you have a great year!