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Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old (Read 2163 times)

Offline love_that_tune

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Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
« on: March 19, 2016, 06:15:48 PM »
I've been teaching a very long time 50+ years. I just can't shake how upset I am over an incident with a child's behavior and her parents reaction.  I have been teaching this eleven year old for two years.  I also teach her younger sister who is eight.  They both have a half hour of piano and a half hour of voice.  Foolishly, recently I have been teaching them home alone and Mom gets home the last fifteen minutes due to a job change.  Last week the eleven year old, who has been losing interest, was giving me eye-rolls, big sighs and moans throughout her lesson.  When I was finished, I suggested that her Mom discuss with her whether she is really interested in taking lessons anymore due to her behavior and get back to me and let me know what's up.

From there I am in this world of insanity.  So the next week I wait to hear from the Mom.  I email her twice requesting to know what's up.  I finally get an email saying the Dad was supposed to send me an email and she's swamped at work, so let's skip this week.  Great.  So four lessons in the middle of a seven lesson afternoon, I found out two hours before, are being cancelled.

Next day I email again.  "I want an explanation".

Dad goes on and on in an email that he is aware that his daughter is difficult (mind you I asked the mom for an explanation).  Apparently little girl's feelings are hurt because she heard what I said to her mother.  Of course she heard, I wanted her to think about the lessons.  I was not yelling, just stating a fact.

Now the mother will not speak to me, which I only figured out over time.  The Dad said from now on one of them will be there, and I should not speak within earshot of this student.

I insisted he call me on the phone.  I said of course she heard me, I wanted her to.  Well, seems I am expecting too much of an eleven year old.  He just got worse and worse.

So here I am in a quagmire.  Little sister is a delight.  I teach 4 other students in the neighborhood and I can't figure out how I got here. 

Up to now, their lessons have been a delightful part of their lives.  this eleven year old couldn't sing on pitch and i taught her how.  Her interest has been lagging for a while.

I don't know what to do.  I really think she doesn't want lessons any more and parents are forcing her.

Here's my question.  Do i drop the family altogether?  Do I wait for them to decide?  I've spent two hours a week in their home for the last year and had a delightful relationship with the mom.  i am particularly popular with my students.  This stuff all came about because I think this kid is "playing" her parents.

Sigh...






Offline mjames

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #1 on: March 19, 2016, 06:20:51 PM »
What about giving him some motivation? Like Beethoven's moonlight sonata or Chopin's ballades...

imo that should be enough to shake up any dormant love for the piano. "HOLY CRAP THATS SO COOL, YOU CAN ACTUALLY DO THAT WITH THE PIANO?!"

I don't know, maybe it'll help?  :-\

Offline distantfieldrelative

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #2 on: March 19, 2016, 06:22:42 PM »
Or play a bit of Liszt...
Sometimes I can only groan and suffer and pour out my despair at the piano.

Offline dcstudio

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #3 on: March 19, 2016, 11:36:18 PM »

you let people cancel on you a couple of hours before and you don't charge them?  really?  geez that's in the contract--and you go to their house and they did this?   that's not very respectful of your time in fact it's rude to cancel because of being "swamped" at work... what about you and your job?   

first--you have to lay down the law... if they aren't willing to respect your time than let a newbie take them.   Mom's love to make you a "friend" sometimes so they can guilt you into not charging them when the cancel at the last second..

but if you have been teaching for 50 years how can you still be having these problems?  have you not been a traveling piano/voice teacher before?  this happens all the time which is why you have them sign a contract.

if it were me -- I would kindly and gently refer them to someone else.   I don't let kids play their parents against me anymore... that's one of the oldest tricks in the book.  Looks like the 11 year old has the upper hand... and that's not good for you. 

you run a business and you must do what is best for your business... not the 11 year old ;)

Offline love_that_tune

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #4 on: March 20, 2016, 02:15:08 AM »
I've been paid in advance by the month as always.  I knew somebody would get on my case.  Not particularly helpful.  I have a contract.  And no I don't want to refer them to another teacher.  Area teachers are my friends and don't deserve this either.

I don't know how old you are, but experience does not eliminate occasional meltdowns in life.

Of course I know the parents are getting "played".  I just want to get out of this house which is hard because I have a bunch of students in the neighborhood who are friends with these children.

You are right, I just have to do the business like thing.  Mere mortal that I am, this whole thing stinks.

Offline dcstudio

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #5 on: March 20, 2016, 08:12:18 AM »
I've been paid in advance by the month as always.  I knew somebody would get on my case.  Not particularly helpful.  I have a contract.  And no I don't want to refer them to another teacher.  Area teachers are my friends and don't deserve this either.

I don't know how old you are, but experience does not eliminate occasional meltdowns in life.

Of course I know the parents are getting "played".  I just want to get out of this house which is hard because I have a bunch of students in the neighborhood who are friends with these children.

You are right, I just have to do the business like thing.  Mere mortal that I am, this whole thing stinks.

I am 51..  and I am not saying I excel at dealing with that kind of scenario either--I hear you and I am sorry if I sounded presumptuous.   Actually, the reason that they don't walk all over me anymore is because I am way more choosy and I teach out of a cultural arts center which is a non-profit.  They book and collect for me and only take a relatively small percentage it's wonderful.  I don't have to deal with parents who blow off lessons at that last minute and I don't work for a studio owner who takes half the rake either.  Best of all, I give lessons right on stage in the auditorium on a beautiful Kawai baby grand.  No casio privia set up in a closet for me ever again. 

the traveling piano teacher--I have all the respect in the world for you, man that is a tough gig any way you slice it.   I could never pin down exactly how much time I needed between lessons to get from one house to the next. 

As for this 11 year old.. you know you could just wait it out and see what happens.  There could be other issues at work in that house.  That is one of the biggest problems I had with traveling from door to door.  Sometimes when you are in someone's home the tension between the family members is so thick you can cut it with a knife.   That makes for an uncomfortable lesson, and student.   Just hold your head erect and whistle a happy tune like Deborah Kerr  ;D and go in like there's nothing wrong whatsoever.

Offline love_that_tune

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #6 on: March 20, 2016, 08:45:56 AM »
I may be just a tad touchy.  Interesting you mention a studio is better.  Recently I spent a year working out of a studio for a third of my students.  I wanted to have a one stop location.  It was a nice mom and pop store and studio that had been there for 40+ years.  Guitar Center bought them out and they are a horrible company.  So I left.

With all that happened in the economy in New England, the quickest way to get income going is offering to go to the homes.  I have a third of my students coming to my home.  And then multiples in other people's home, siblings.  In general I have lovely relationships with my student's families.  And of course this one family looks like a divorce waiting to happen.  I really think the student is the canary in the mine.  I just got caught in the crossfire.

It doesn't feel quite right to dump these kids.  However, I'm not walking back into that house with a mother who isn't speaking to me.  It seems like there's no winning here.

Anyway thanks for taking the time to discuss.  I was getting a little nuts turning this over in my own mind.  I really like my students and digging their personality is part of my personal joy as they learn the language of music.  I think this one's a goner for me.

Offline quantum

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #7 on: March 20, 2016, 08:59:29 PM »
you run a business and you must do what is best for your business... not the 11 year old ;)

It seems this would be the sensible strategy from the scene playing out.  When you develop a connection with a student it is difficult to part ways, especially with your teacher instincts wanting to push on.  But you really can't let a single student bring down your studio.  In some cases the best solution for all is to gracefully walk away. 

Finding a motivational piece is a great idea, but it seems that there is more than just the student involved - the parents are also now a part of the equation.  Would you be willing to stick it out for a few more weeks in case it is a short lived case of life getting too stressful for the family?  Would you be willing to spend a little more time to find that piece that sparks your students curiosity? 

What about a time-out.  Maybe the family needs a break.  You could offer to reconsider starting up lessons after a few months after things have cooled down a bit. 

Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline dcstudio

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #8 on: March 20, 2016, 09:13:43 PM »
I may be just a tad touchy.

lol... I think we all get that way from time to time.   It seems to be the public perception that our job is easy and we don't do it very well--which is evidenced by the number of non-professionals who write books on how to learn the piano.  I get a little touchy, too.  

My current situation is by far the best I have had in recent memory.  This cultural arts center was made for me, I swear... I get to teach on a stage with a grand... it's like I died and went to heaven.  I am the only piano teacher and the people who run the place have all the faith in the world that I know how to do my job. Like I said, it's a non-profit that aspires to better the community so there is no micro-management.  They also have a full recording studio and video editing set-up...  I have 12 hours of free time in there at my disposal to record a couple of things for them--and a whole bunch for me.  My husband just so happens to be an audio-engineer as well as a guitarist.

well listen to me just ramble on about how great I have it right now... I do apologize

 New England is  full of similar cultural centers I would think, geez if I can find one down in Mississippi then you should be able to find 100 up there.   The one I am at now had no piano teachers when I walked in there.. I created my position and then filled it.  I gave them a couple of freebies...(namely a few hours of live performance for a couple of their charity events) and I was in like Flynn.  Most performance venues sit around empty all afternoon and sometimes there is even a nice piano in the wings collecting dust.  Couldn't hurt to check those out..  :)   I also do a lot of performing and accompanying so I don't have to carry such a large roster of students.  I used to never say no to a prospective student.  That was a really hard habit to break.

keep us posted on this student situation..  if they are headed for the big divorce, a lot of the time they come back once it's all settled.. but you know that I am sure.  

I am sincerely hoping that things get better for you :)

Offline jimroof

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #9 on: March 20, 2016, 09:22:44 PM »
Or play a bit of Liszt...


What? And make them want to learn trombone?
Chopin Ballades
Chopin Scherzos 2 and 3
Mephisto Waltz 1
Beethoven Piano Concerto 3
Schumann Concerto Am
Ginastera Piano Sonata
L'isle Joyeuse
Feux d'Artifice
Prokofiev Sonata Dm

Offline distantfieldrelative

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #10 on: March 20, 2016, 09:26:16 PM »
What? And make them want to learn trombone?

So says the one who can play the first Mephisto Waltz...
Sometimes I can only groan and suffer and pour out my despair at the piano.

Offline love_that_tune

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #11 on: March 20, 2016, 10:14:04 PM »
Thanks Quantum.  The non-profit thing is an okay idea.  New England non-profits are a very special animal.  I was general manager of a symphony a while back.  Managing anything with fifty musicians and their much adored conductor was, well, a lot of work.

Thanks for your support.  I'm waiting a couple of days to see what they decide.  I've made money from music all kinds of ways.  I really have a nice student base.  It's just this one that got to me. 

Bottom line I don't want to hurt these little girls, but I don't want to hurt me either.  This has already taken up way too much real estate in my mind.

I'll let you know what transpires.  It's great to know this forum is here.  Kept me from going completely nuts.


Offline briansaddleback

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #12 on: March 21, 2016, 02:29:26 AM »
The key and concerning word here in the first post is "insanity".

Really? That is insanity? That all comes w the job. Every job has its good and bad points. These are just kids. They will act like kids. Their parents will act like busy disorganized parents. Embrace them. Work something for them. Don't talk behind their backs. They may act entitled w you but you certainly can't act entitled w them. You lay down your policies they don't adhere then you just drop them. Or you work something out. It is fine youre not some institution. You can email them more than once asking for an explanation and who will see who as insane? That is harassment in my book. You provide thecsevice you don't demand. You deal w it and you move forward that's it. Be thankful you can make a living off of teaching music. I have a pianist friend who for the first five years of his life struggled to even get two students. He lived w his wife and child struggling. Whenever I met him he was so happy and talked about the joys of music and his life. He never used the word insanity.
Please get a perspective.
I'm much younger than you too. Do I have to say these things?
Work in progress:

Rondo Alla Turca

Offline love_that_tune

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #13 on: March 21, 2016, 03:54:37 AM »
 :P

Offline dcstudio

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #14 on: March 21, 2016, 07:53:52 PM »
The key and concerning word here in the first post is "insanity".

Really? That is insanity? That all comes w the job. Every job has its good and bad points. These are just kids. They will act like kids. Their parents will act like busy disorganized parents. Embrace them. Work something for them. Don't talk behind their backs. They may act entitled w you but you certainly can't act entitled w them. You lay down your policies they don't adhere then you just drop them. Or you work something out. It is fine youre not some institution. You can email them more than once asking for an explanation and who will see who as insane? That is harassment in my book. You provide thecsevice you don't demand. You deal w it and you move forward that's it. Be thankful you can make a living off of teaching music. I have a pianist friend who for the first five years of his life struggled to even get two students. He lived w his wife and child struggling. Whenever I met him he was so happy and talked about the joys of music and his life. He never used the word insanity.
Please get a perspective.
I'm much younger than you too. Do I have to say these things?

now Brian.. have you ever carried a roster of 40+ students?  driven from house to house and been immersed in the family dynamic each week?  I realize that we sound ungrateful at times but this person has been teaching for 50 years.   Surely you are not questioning the passion she has for what she does.  Think of all the people who play the piano today because she took the time to teach them.

Forgive me, but as a 20+ year veteran private piano teacher I have to say that insanity is not too harsh a word.  Your friend's struggle to have 2 students should tell you the immense difficulties most of us face in just trying to make a living.   The dilemma we struggle with in trying to secure or reputations/business.. and how incredibly difficult some of these parents can be.


let her vent just a bit... she has earned it.   I humbly respect this person as someone far more experienced than I am... and I don't get to say that very often around here.

Offline briansaddleback

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #15 on: March 21, 2016, 08:12:27 PM »
If everything I read in the first post for face value is true, my point still stands. I am not making a point to the OP per se or you. I am stating it more so generally to those who are younger and want to learn character and may be impressionable by posts like these on the web.

That the longer and more experienced you are at a job or relationship, it should Refine you, not worsen or cheapen your ability to treat others (no matter who or how 'unimportant')  by your standard of respect and dignity, just because of tenure or entitlement. It merits this sort of response.
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Offline dcstudio

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #16 on: March 21, 2016, 08:19:16 PM »


That the longer and more experienced you are at a job or relationship, it should Refine you, not worsen or cheapen your ability to treat others by your standard of respect and dignity. It merits this sort of response.


I didn't perceive that from this string...  but if you did, well fair enough.

anyone considering doing this for a living should know all that's involved so I don't see where that's and issue...  but then I am a piano teacher as well... so maybe I am a bit biased. 

the difference between what I thought being a piano teacher entailed (especially when I was a student) and the reality of it once I entered the field was HUGE.  lol.   ;D

if these posts burst a bubble or two... is that such a bad thing, really?

Offline love_that_tune

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #17 on: March 22, 2016, 12:06:49 AM »
Well, I heard from the dad, and they have decided to continue.  Brian, I'm trying really hard,no not really hard, to understand your pompous attitude. 

I came in here, very upset, about being disrespected by an entire family whose children I have loved and taught great joy in music.

Alas, i am returning to this home on Thursday and will give it my best... I always do.

Thanks for your compassion Quantum.




Offline briansaddleback

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #18 on: March 22, 2016, 12:15:59 AM »
Thank you for trying to make things right.
Work in progress:

Rondo Alla Turca

Offline bernadette60614

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #19 on: May 25, 2016, 09:25:59 PM »
Coming in late to this:

My piano teacher, who teaches at an elite school, tells me that she has actually made student's cry. Not because she is a harsh person by any means...she's actually petite and softspoken....but that these kids are so accustomed to be praised and validated that any correction is viewed as being "mean".  She has simply preemptively e-mailed the parents of students who are not practicing and calmly said:  You are wasting your money if your child refuses to practice.  I can provide instruction, I cannot provide motivation.

And, she hasn't lost a student yet.

I know you only from this forum, but my impression is that you care about your students and their progress---otherwise, you would have simply cashed the monthly check and mentally checked out when this child started to eye roll.

Offline love_that_tune

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Re: Parents of Obstreperous eleven year old
«Reply #20 on: May 26, 2016, 01:25:16 AM »
Thanks for your understanding.  The uptake on this story is that this little girl now shows up for lessons having practiced and music ready.  Dad leaves work to be there in support.  No more eye rolls and sighs and pointless lessons.  The whole family practically salutes when I walk in.  That isn't what I was looking for, but it's better now that I put up boundaries.  And you're right, I care a lot.  I have seen many students make music a career, and also just gain confidence from the experience.  I've been giving this family a huge discount, which really makes it hard for my own motivation.  Do I get over-involved, yes, sometimes.  In the end, I realize that mom going back to work full time has been a jolt on the family. But alas, that's life.  Your kind words are lovely today.