I’ve devoted numerous posts to jackassery. Students, musicians, massage threrapists, clamshell packaging, my own personal flailings. (flailing does not necessarily equal failing, but it sure looks dorky) I’ve even laid into other teacher archetypes from time to time. It was so much fun, I thought I’d do it again.
Ok, it’s not fun, but sometimes needs to be done, especially since writing this blog serves as a reminder of the things I expect of myself.
The student/teacher relationship is a complicated one. There are layers of respect, deference, trust, nurturing, expectation, discipline. Learning suffers when either party proceeds without enthusiastically maintaining their share of the load, and it is the teacher who sets the tone for the entire exchange. Establishing a routine schedule is nearly as important as the content of the lessons themselves. When this is neglected, it taxes the spirit of the deal. This is a long term affair. The difference between long term and sporadic is charted on a graph. The idea is to put a whole bunch of dots on the page, and force them, through inspiration, will, and practice, in an upward direction. Those dots could be the result of the equation:
progress=(what the student brings)+(what the teacher brings)x(time)
I was taught by two hugely productive cellists. One was head of strings at the local college, sat as cellist-in-residence at a number of music festivals overseas, played in chamber orchestras (modern and period instruments, thank you very much) around the entire state, and had a family. The other was principal cellist of the LA Phil, a studio player, professor at USC, coach at Colburn, soloist, recording artist, also a family man.
I don’t remember more than 5 lessons cancelled in my entire tuition with them. Heck, as a kid, I would have loved the last minute reprieve. Alas, it never came. Each week wheeled out a new guillotine, complete with drumroll, anxiety, decimation, and most astonishingly, survival of another lesson. You see the point I’m trying to make. It is possible and indeed the responsibility of the instructor to be available consistently. Anything less than that is ridiculous, and an insult. If you can’t establish a routine, you’re essentially a thief. You know that students, especially beginners, require attentiveness and hands-on steering. Even one missed lesson every month causes deterioration. (This is why I only begrudgingly give bi-weekly lessons. It just is not enough, and people get into some weird habits in the extra days)
Let’s say your teacher doesn’t really cancel, but moves your lesson at the last minute. Now, I’ll admit that I sometimes do this, but not more than once or twice a year, and under the following circumstances:
Last minute cancellation. I’ll call and ask the next student if they want to come early. If not, fine.
Illness. Who wants to get people sick?
Emergencies like flat tires, sick grey cats, flooding apartments.
My long-term students can expect me to be flexible with them, too. If they ask, I’ll happily scoot them around from time to time because we have built up such a routine that it is not damaged by a nudge here or there. But when someone develops a pathology of shuffling lessons like a pack of cards, I find it nothing short of passive-aggressive. They’re deferring to something else, probably a whole variety of things, over you. It is a statement of “Well, you see, I’d rather be doing x, but I’d like the money from teaching you.”
This is why I am now putting new students on a waiting list. Unless they have available the single time slot I have open right now, I can’t accommodate them. They can take with my assistant, call another teacher, or they can wait. Although it sounds tough, it’s actually better for everybody. I don’t have to deal with the frustration of a beginner left to their own devices, and they don’t have to wait for eons before their efforts are critiqued and corrected.
Time management is one of the most important things in life. Master it, and you are productive and respectful. If you don’t, it sends a single, very clear message to the people you come in contact with: “You are not important enough for me to make time for.” There may be emotional arguments to the contrary, but I only believe what I can see.
You know, they say that half of life is just showing up. They should add “on time” to that.
Photo, fittingly from Time Management Central.
I believe that the equation should be *time rather than /time. Progress is directly, not inversely, proportional to time.
Otherwise, right on.
I'm going to change that right now! Thanks, G!
This was thought provoking. I wrote a whole post on my blog in response. Regular lesson schedules are great, given the nightmare of rescheduling, and I agree with most of what you said. Except for advanced, technique-set, young artists who can do well with occasional lessons from a touring artist. Then of course there's always the master-teacher-plus-assistant system, and that has worked well in some cases, including teams like Leonard Rose and Channing Robbins. Once I was out of high school, I almost never had a set lesson time, at least with my "main" teacher. In retrospect, I would spend longer with a good technique-oriented teacher. Now I'm starting to rewrite my post, so I'll stop.
Meanwhile, how do your occasional tours, such as the current one, fit into your model of teacher availability? A scheduled week off for everyone? (Breaks are helpful, and spring break is always welcome.)
I give my students an option of taking from my assistant or just missing the week. I schedule the tour so everyone only misses one lesson, and some don't even miss at all if you count the preemptive make up lesson some of them do right before I go. I also make sure that the first or last days of the tour are my natural days off. In the summer, I can go crazy with moving things around because the herd thins to about 8 or 9 students, most of whom
1. Are long term, advanced students
2. Go on vacation anyway.
Was it too much to have a list with only two items on it? Hmmm. I'm off to finish my lecture notes. Hope to hear from you soon, EE!
I'll take back my other comment. I couldn't have you as a teacher. Bi-weekly lessons were the best thing for me and I couldn't imagine doing it any other way given the time it left for me to practice and absorb material before my next class. Of course my instructor usually gave enough "homework" to keep me busy for the week without instruction.