Territory & Teaching Experience
Shanta H., Minnesota
I had an interesting conversation with a student today and I wonder if anyone has any thoughts. It started because I had a comment on an evaluation form that Simply Music lessons are overpriced. I realized that the student hadn’t attended an FIS and thus hadn’t been exposed to a conversation about how I set my fees that I’ve crafted very carefully and that I’ve found effective. So I decided to have that conversation in the lesson today. He had actually been under the impression that fees were set by the head office, and I think was he surprised to hear how much thought I had put into setting my fees. I said that I’d rather have the conversation and have it out in the open than have any sort of weird undercurrent about it.
He then made the comment that I was less qualified to teach piano lessons than most piano teachers. I started teaching SM in January 2010, and did not consider myself an accomplished pianist before then, neither have I taught piano lessons before. Aside from that, his comment was incredible to me since he has been taking for about three months and has gone from never having touched a piano to finishing foundation 1 in 3 months, plus a few arrangements and a lot of comp and improv.
Anyway, I was a little taken aback and said, “well, that’s a fair point that I don’t have prior experience teaching piano lessons. However, I do know that this is a program that completely redefines not only who is capable of learning piano, but who is capable of teaching piano. I went through an extensive training program before I could be licensed to teach, and I know that Neil would not have granted my license if he didn’t feel I was qualified.” I also said that if he felt like it wasn’t worth it, I would be more than happy to help him find a traditional piano teacher – They’re a dime a dozen! (Thanks whoever said that!) His daughter (in her late 20s) is his lesson partner and she was looking a little horrified that he was challenging me so – she really loves her lessons and is totally committed and thinks the fees are reasonable for what she’s getting.
A bit later in the lesson I was also able to work in something Neil had said to me when I was getting licensed – even though Neil is a much more experienced and better teacher that me, if we started two students on the same day, they would make about the same amount of progress in about the same amount of time.
Then, when I was checking the clock to see if I had time to continue into the next section, he said something like, “well, you were working on your agenda today, not ours”. He has been one of those students who is always pushing for more material, and has made comments about Arrangements not being new songs and such (I’m realizing I didn’t address that misconception at the time, which was a mistake). Today, we had spent a few minutes on the fees/experience conversation and then we also spent some time recording the Foundation 1 Pieces – both for my accreditation process and to start really monitoring the playlist carefully. I replied, “Well, I would say that making sure your playlist is up to par is pretty important. And while you’re adults and you’re responsible for your own playlists, I as your teacher am also responsible for making sure that your playlists are up to snuff. To do that, I need to hear you play!” It occurred to me later that I really should have said something like – “If these lessons were on your agenda, then you’d be the teacher!” I am the queen of thinking of snappy comebacks an hour later.
I am not sure what is going on with him. I don’t know if he’s threatened by the fact that I am young (I’m 30) and/or strong willed. Maybe it was threatening to have someone who confronts uncomfortable issues directly. There was some territory challenging early on with him, which I thought I had resolved—at least he’s been following the program quite diligently. We’re also starting accompaniment in this class. He’s really excited about it, but I know he is uncomfortable with the requirement to actually accompany somebody and then bring that somebody to your lessons every so often. I am wondering if some of this is coming from the fear of being outside his comfort zone (he only practices when there’s nobody else in the house).
Anyway, thoughts and advice on how to manage this situation better in the future would be appreciated.
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
A crash course in claiming territory. It sounds like he either enjoys an argument or is trying to get a reaction out of you, rather than having honest concerns. Kudos to you for being straightforward with him.
If he continues in this vein, my advice would be to not engage him in an argumentative conversation. Example -“well, you were working on your agenda today, not ours” (hysterical! – isn’t that the whole point?) – a simple response such as “Yes, and that’s why you pay me to be your coach.” Then move along.
Another idea if he continues to challenge you – ask him “Are you happy with what you’ve accomplished so far?”. If he says “yes”, then say “Great! Now to continue making progress, I require that you follow my instructions whether or not you understand the reasons right away, and that you trust me as a trained and licensed teacher. Are you willing to do that?” If not, let him go!
If he says “No” (not realizing what he’s accomplished), then ask him to make a decision on continuing or discontinuing. If he opts to continue, say “In order for me to retain you as a student [making it YOUR choice], I will require that you . . .” (same as before). Don’t let him dictate how lessons go.
I once had an adult student challenge me regarding no note-taking on arrangements. I talked about the purpose of the Arrangements program and the reasons for no note-taking. She said “I appreciate your opinion, but that doesn’t work for me.” We had a conversation right there in front of the class – the gist being about how I follow the program as I was trained, because I have seen the results, and that I am not willing to teach it any other way. That includes not allowing note-taking other than what I write on the white board at the end of class. I asked her if she was willing to try. She said yes, then quit 6 weeks later (no surprise). The rest of the class was clear on where I stood.
I think these students provide an excellent opportunity for us as teachers to get clear about where we stand, plus we get to practice claiming our own territory. Good meaty stuff!