They take time and work.
They're worth it.
I'm in the middle of doing my (at least once-a-year and sometimes twice-a-year if I can manage it) progress reports for my young students.
I know you're thinking, is she kidding? Add something to my already ridiculous "To Do" list? What is wrong with her? Doesn't she know how busy I am? How completely overwhelmed?
Actually, I do know. I feel the same way. Each year, before I allow myself to send out invoices for the second semester of lessons, I take the time to send personal progress reports for each and every student. I don't try to do them all at once. I spread them out over a few days or even a week. That way I give the time and attention to each child that they deserve.
As a parent, I know how much I appreciate meaningful communication about my child. Grades aren't communication. They are quantification, and not very useful quantification at that. If I see a bunch of grades, I have learned little about my child. I have learned something about where she fits in the system, but that's it.
As teachers who work one-on-one with students, we are in a unique position to give feedback. I like to take advantage of this for numerous reasons.
First and foremost, it's good business. Parents pay me to give individual attention to their child and this is a way to reassure them.
Let's use my student Annie as an example.
Writing a progress report forces me to stop and assess Annie's current strengths. It allows me to evaluate my teaching of Annie and make sure that I have a plan for the coming months. It reminds me to do short-term and long-term planning. It reminds me that everyone is paying the same tuition and that playing favorites - even in the planning department - is unwise.
An added benefit is that these emailed progress reports usually receive a response. Sometimes it opens a dialogue for talking about the child. Sometimes it's just a lot of love going in both directions. Even if you only have good things to say, parents love to hear them. If you are approaching their challenging child with thoughtfulness and compassion, they really want to hear about it.
Here are a few sample passages from the reports I've written so far this week:
I love teaching David. He is so curious, such a good sport (in general...) and so talented. The talented part is in some ways the least interesting to me, though it makes everything go quickly and more easily for him than if he didn't have all that innate ability. But more important, he works hard. He concentrates brilliantly and is able to correct things just by willing them to change.
It's quite remarkable.
I'm so pleased that we've discovered the works of Elissa Milne, because they are meeting a very real need in his musical life. He and I both love the interesting, moody, magical sounds, and they are tricky and challenging in the right proportions.
I'm continuing to work with Jane every week to understand that she needs to do what I tell her. She sometimes kind of fudges the truth (ok, she lies) about what she has and hasn't done. I'm trying to help her understand that it's just her and me - we have to work together, not having anything dishonest going on between us.
I think she's starting to trust that I will not suddenly start screaming if she says she doesn't like something. At the same time, I think she needs to be a little braver about trying things before making judgments about them.
This semester we will continue working on all the things we always have, but will throw in some reward pieces that sound a lot harder than they are. I want her to be able to revel in the joy of her accomplishments a little, without having to always push the boulder up the hill.
But don't worry, we'll keep pushing hard as well. Sarah inspires me to be a better teacher. And I hope I can continue to inspire her to be the best pianist she can. (Which is ever-so-much-better than I would have ever initially imagined!)
This week I gave Maddie a Moskowski Etude which is extremely challenging and she was completely excited about it. I think she's turned a corner on her ability to focus and now seems more interested in working hard. Her innate talent is so wonderful, any work that she does gets her farther than a more typical student. (In other words, if she works a little she sounds like she worked a lot.)
I want to be sure that she keeps working on things which are both challenging and appealing to her. I think this will be a little easier from here on out. Her motivation and abilities have kind of coalesced into a powerful unit. I'm excited to be working with her. Especially glad that she has an earlier lesson time when neither of us is as tired as we were with that late time.
Thanks for trusting me with her. She's a joy to work with!
The reports don't have to be long, they just have to be specific. Here are some prompts to get you started. Answer these questions and you'll be on your way:
- Why do I enjoy working with John?
- Why is John special?
- Does John have any musical gifts I'd like to take time to appreciate?
- What specific goals do I have for him this semester?
- What long-term goals do I have?
- What do I wish John's parents knew about the way he works with me?
- Does John need a longer/shorter lesson?
- Is the instrument John has adequate? Do I need to suggest an improvement in their instrument?
- Do I want to continue teaching John in the future? If not, perhaps I should use this opportunity to bring this up.
Here are some areas to discuss:
- Technical giftedness
- Hard work
- Ability to focus
- Handwriting and fine motor issues
- Sight reading
- Getting along with other students in studio classes (social skills)
- Performance ability
- Ability to receive criticism/suggestions
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it may give you ideas for things to discuss in a progress report. Children are moving targets. They change not only weekly, but sometimes minute-by-minute. Not only do their abilities change, their interests and desires change. Staying in touch with them is my responsibility as their teacher. Is there a new piece they want to play? I find it and help them learn it. Whatever it is.
It's not my job to don't judge their choices.
It's my job to help them accomplish their dreams.