Again, from the Twitter files: why would I “fire” a student?

First, you should know that “firing” is a term I use with humor. Very rarely do I have to genuinely dismiss a student with unpleasant connotations. Normally, it’s a talk that starts with me asking if there’s anything I should know, and one that ends with a toast at the local pub saying something like, “To realizing one’s dreams.” *clink*

Second, what many people do not realize is that teacher/student is more of a relationship than a vendor/customer transaction. I was talking with the lovely Owldaughter about this issue just this morning through the miracle of iChat. Her eyes widened when I told her I have had numerous students ask me to “leave through the servants entrance” and “fetch me a music stand before next lesson” etc. If it wasn’t so outlandish, I might be hurt by the implication, but I see this behavior as genuinely informative.

That is not to stay I stick around for much of it either.

Maybe it’s best to say I fire myself! In any case, here are a few of the reasons I might let a student go.

Emily’s top 5 reasons to fire herself:

5. Hollywood-style jackassery.

I say “style” because any major metropolis has power players who think they are above the rules of civility: I look forward with a kind of bizarre anticipation to the DC iteration of this behavior. Remember Pruny Mom? She’s the perfect example. People who say and do outlandish things, like one big-name production company who claimed I had “ruined everything” with this blog and insinuated my rapport with the lead actor was the result of ahem, a transaction of another sort entirely.

4. Flaking.

Whether it’s at the last minute or a few days before, repeated flaking is a symptom of something bad for the cello. I don’t take it personally, but it usually means time management issues of some sort for the student, which makes for frustration if it’s not nipped in the bud. I have a policy of not taking a student if they flake on their first lesson, and a new one that requires prepayment of the first session before we meet. That should give you an idea of how common canceling or bailing entirely on a first lesson is.

3. Lying.

I had one person lie about everything. She alleged she had worked on a film score. She is tone deaf. She is the only person I have met who can sing a descending scale with ascending note names. † She claimed to speak French yet did not understand when I spoke only moderately bockety French to her. She cancelled lessons only an hour before they were supposed to commence, citing some big Hollywood job had come up. No details, no nothing. Sure she paid me, but lying is a supreme sign of disrespect. And that’s not even getting into what it means about her self-worth.

2. Never practicing.

I give most people 6 weeks to get a sense of the arc of things. Life happens: most of my students are adults with busy lives and families to look after. If someone gets off to a rollicking start and then has a few consecutive weeks of faltering practice, I give them a lot of latitude. God knows I wasn’t a perfect practicer, and the continued expectation of a lesson was the only thing that kept me limping along during rough patches. I just have to trust my gut on a case-by-case basis. As all of you know, even when you’re on fire for the instrument and are totally into the process, you still have to carve the time out of your schedule. Teaching someone who just refuses to make a commitment is like pouring water into a glass with a hole in the bottom.

1. They don’t really like the cello.

Sometimes it’s just not about the cello. People sign up looking for something, and for the most part, I’m on board with that. I work through most of my personal infirmities on the cello: the process is just that powerful. But there are groups of people whom I refuse to suffer:

-parents forcing a child to continue long after trial period, child cries every lesson
-vanity projects, people who like the idea of being a cellist not a student of the cello
-people who come into lessons and act out
-people who call me late at night to tell me I’m an awful person (that’s how I know I’m right)
-dudes who sign up for lessons to stalk me. charming.

Most students last a few months and then bail. The rest tend to stick around for a year. The real hard cases continue for as long as I’ll have them. For some, this means indefinite lessons, where I gradually have less input about “this is where your hand goes” and more about “put your focus here” and “what kind of phrase are you trying to make?” For others, like very advanced kids I’ve started from scratch, I have the painful task of handing them off to a teacher affiliated with a university to prepare them for the demands of the road ahead. What’s interesting is that the student requires newness, not a teacher with a different skill set. It’s good to change teachers now and again, just to evaluate where you are and what you need as a student. This is true of my own students, too. When I go on tours, I try to set them up with a different instructor to experience some of that invigoration. This upcoming move is a little different, and like a protective parent, I want these wonderful people whom I invest much energy and devotion to continue on their paths to cello-y glory.

Sigh. July is coming up fast.

† Try it. Sing the letters “A B C D E F G” but sing a descending scale. Makes me want to brain myself on the stand just trying. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to play an hour of scales the right way to cleanse my palate.

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4 Responses

  1. I've quit two teachers. One I left at the end of the six week lesson time frame that I had paid for. He spent more time taking my violin and playing it than actually letting me play it. Lessons were a half hour and it just didn't work for me.

    The other teacher was my cello teacher. I assumed I would be with her until I was ready to move on to a more advanced teacher, somebody with more performance experience. Not that I have any plans to join an orchestra, but you never know where one day will lead you and I like to be prepared. I left her because it just wasn't working.

    You are right about teacher/student being more of a relationship than a vendor/customer relation. If you don't mix well with the teacher, or the teacher with the student, I think it has the tendency to drag down a lesson, which eventually leads to the student quitting, or canceling quite often.

  2. I call it "breaking up" with a teacher, which I have done more than a few times. Most of the time it was a combination of lack of commitment on my part with a side of limited funds thrown in. There were only a handful of teachers that I had to break up with for other reasons. One piano teacher started yawning profusely and/or falling asleep during our lessons a few months in! What the ????? And then there were performers who had perpetually changing schedules which led to erratic and intermittent lessons, which led to limited progress.

    I don't even want to think about your imminent departure. It's really hard to find an awesome teacher. It's only slightly easier than finding an awesome bf.

  3. That's right..I haven't even thought of that. Your students must be really upset that you're leaving! It is so hard to find a good teacher.

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