Not Ever


It's taken me a week to calm down after reading a post on an internet piano teaching group. It was a simple enough question;  a teacher asked for suggestions on how to handle a child who kept fiddling with the piano keys during a lesson: a common problem. But the tone of the suggested intervention from another teacher was chilling to me.

"Explain that it is RESPECTFUL for students to place their hands in their lap and listen to the teacher, and that it is DISRESPECTFUL for students to fiddle on the keys. Do NOT put up with this kind of behaviour."

With all the information we know about different kinds of learners, ways in which each of our brains and bodies differ from each other, do we really need to be talking about the respectfulness of sitting with one's hands in one's lap? With all the information available about sensory processing issues, should we be calling children names instead of trying to understand what their body language is telling us?

 The part of the post that distressed me the most were these few lines:

Filing fingernails
" look at the little rotter and say "Let me know when you are finished being disrespectful so that I can continue the lesson. I will not teach you will if you are fiddling while I am talking." Then TURN YOUR BACK TO HIM, pull out your nail file and file your nails. If he doesn't shape up, then walk to his mother and say "As soon as Junior chooses to be respectful and NOT fiddle on the keys, I will continue the lesson." Then walk back to your chair and wait."

I currently have a student who simply cannot maintain eye contact. With me. With anyone. It is physically and psychologically painful for her to look at anything or anyone for more than a few seconds. Her mother is trying to sort it out and figure out what kind of processing problem is going on. Would it make sense for me to tell the child that looking away when talking to me is DISRESPECTFUL? Because I don't think it is. She isn't choosing to be disrespectful. She just has something else going on that has nothing to do with me.

"It's hard to imagine how a child could be actively "yanking your chain" or know "just the right buttons to push" when he's not thinking rationally in the midst of frustration. It's harder still to imagine why a child would intentionally behave in a way that makes other people respond in a manner that makes him miserable."  - Ross W. Greene. author of The Explosive Child.

That's my problem with this kind of thinking. Kids do well when they can, not when they want to. I concentrate my efforts on making things possible. I look at everything the child does as communication. When I sent the post to a friend of mine who has a child with autism, she wrote back, "If I were that kid I would just keep on fiddling to avoid interacting with that teacher." 

Sometimes I'll hear a teacher talking about a student disrespectfully and wonder, "Why in the world do you teach children?"  "Do you even like children? Do you know how hard they are trying to please you? Do you know how mortified they would be to hear your words?"

And then I realize, of course, that the child has already heard their words. In every sigh, in every less-than-imaginative assignment, in every frustrated glare and judgmental frown. They've gotten the message loud and clear. 

 Tangle Fidget Toy, a student favorite.

Tangle Fidget Toy, a student favorite.

Where is the kindness in that? Where is the love or understanding? I know kids are frustrating. I'm the mother of two teenagers right now. But if for one minute I thought that I could be less than kind to a student, I would suggest that student should immediately move on to another teacher.

I'm not going to be pulling out my nail file. Finding a quiet fidget toy for them to play with? Yes. Having them jump up and down the stairs 20 times before the lesson starts? Yes. Because in my world the kids are all doing the best they can. They're not Little Rotters. Not even behind their backs. Not even when I'm talking to another teacher.


For more information about sensory processing, please see this post.  

I have found The Explosive Child to be the best general parenting book I've ever read. I've bought many copies over the years, and given each one away to a parent who needed to read it.

Update Your Studio Policy TODAY

I'm updating my studio policy and calendar for next year and you should be too. If you don't jump on the end-of-the-year opportunity to make real changes, your new year will be exactly like your last and you'll be wishing you'd taken the time to make it better. 

Here's what my To Do List looks like. I've tried to get some of these done early enough to be able to share them with you.

1. Update Your Studio Policy for 2018/2019

Are there things you didn't like about the way your studio ran this year? How are your payments going? Would you like to change something about it? Here's my studio policy updated for the coming year. Feel free to copy and use any of the wording. Or if you don't feel comfortable with it, figure out what you would want in your ideal world. This is the best chance you have to make your studio better fit your life. Your life is changing every year. Your kids are growing up, or maybe you've just had one. Something has changed and you should make your policy reflect those changes. I take Mondays "off" because that's the day I go to visit my elderly mother. What do you need to do for yourself or your family?

2. Make a Teaching Calendar for 2019/2019

Some things can be planned. Every year I plan when I will teach and which weeks I'll take off. I don't teach whenever my daughter has a school vacation and whenever I'm out of town speaking. I also schedule one flex week - a week I can take off if I'm sick or stuck with jury duty.

Here's a link to the google doc for my studio calendar. I've made a copy, so feel free to edit it and use it as yours. Just make a copy of the document before you edit it.

3. Create a Swap List

Here's a google doc sample swap list from my studio. You can edit it online and use it to make your own swap list. You can share it directly from Google. I usually attach it as a document to an email so my students' parents won't lose it.

I color-coded mine by length of lesson time. Sometimes someone with a longer time will switch with a shorter lesson because it's better to have 45 minutes than none if they have a conflict. (The families in turquoise have chosen not to swap which is always an option.) This format has been successful and is a great way to have families deal directly with each other. It also builds community within the studio as families help each other out with scheduling conflicts.

Here's a picture of my swap list from this spring.


4. Raise Your Rates

The only time you can raise your rates comfortably is in between billing periods. It's also good to give people notice, so now is the time. Your rates should go up every year, even if it's only a small percentage.

For a more thorough description of the business of piano teaching, including the importance of having a website and how to do it, read Studio Business Basics.

Every Child Needs Music

"A tearful thank you from a mother who thought there would never be a day when she could go to a musical performance with her autistic son touches me more deeply and enduringly than any ovation I may have received in Europe or the States.  For during an Azure performance, for a short period of time, this mother feels like she is not alone but part of a community.  Her child, feeling like any child the need for love, acceptance and success, witnesses on Mom’s face happiness and contentment, rather than pain and disappointment.  And hopefully the power of music, perhaps through the slow movement of Debussy’s Quartet or by way of a Beethoven Moonlight, can allow both to be transported together to a place of peace and beauty, free from fear and worry." - Stephen Prutsman
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Tips for a Combative Teen

When a student is "combative," she's trying to communicate with you.

Though everyone is under many different pressures in their lives, teenage students are under a complex and changing set of influences, which make their experience unique. Actions, body language, and other behaviors are simply alternate forms of communication that we all use throughout our lives when we are somehow unable to communicate through language. 

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Ten Tips for Interviewing a Prospective Student

1. Be yourself.

Fill your studio with students who like you and what you have to offer. Trust your intuition. 

2. Pay close attention to the relationship between parent and child.

You will become a part of this family system. Does this relationship seem healthy?  Is this a family you feel comfortable with? Do you like the parents? Do the parents let their child speak for herself? Do they interrupt or speak on their behalf? 

Here are some of the things I like to do at interviews. Obviously, there isn't time for every one at every first meeting. These are all things I've done and found useful.

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