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Music For Kids By Kids
Chapter 1.8: Supporting the teacher


One of the biggest frustrations for the piano teacher is the lack of an adequate support system in the family. Usually this is insurmountable, no matter how good the teacher. After all, the teacher is only with the student an hour or less each week in most cases. This is an extremely small amount of time given the complexity of the goal: creating a skilled musician. (No one expects their child to learn how to read, write or do math in one hour a week. Music is an equally demanding achievement.) If the family just cant get organized and focused around music lessons, it is highly unlikely that things will go well. Often, parents think that their job is simply to arrange and pay for the lessons. They do not realize that the teacher and child cant do it alone. Without continual parental input, attention and support it, both the teacher and child lose energy and focus and things inevitably grind to a halt.

This lack of understanding of the support system necessary for learning a musical instrument leads inevitably to guilt and discouragement on the part of the student, great disappointment on the part of the parents, and frustration on the part of the teacher. Student, teacher and parents need to work together week to week for there to be any significant rewards. Without this mutual support, it is not practical or productive to consider piano lessons. "If the student is the boat, and the music is the sea, then the teacher is the rudder, and the parent is the wind". (Suzuki)

The parent can support the teacher, and thus the child, by:

o Being ready for lessons at the appointed time. Snacks/meals/playtime should be finished. The childs lesson materials should be ready. The child should be clean and comfortably dressed.

o Not exposing the teacher to a sick, overly tired or distressed child.

o Being available for all or part of the lesson, so that you understand the musical issues that the child is working with that week. This is especially important with the very young child.

o Being willing and available to work with the child during the week and asking the teacher for suggestions on how to do this.

o Providing a quiet and undisturbed daily practice time for the student.

o Seeing that the child is properly prepared for the lesson. (Ideally, the child has time to "warm up" on the piano before that days lesson). Some weeks are more hectic than others, so preparation may vary and most teachers understand this. However, if there is little parental/student interest or focus on music-making week after week, the child continually feels poorly prepared and usually begins to dread the lessons. This often results in behavioral and attention problems and is demoralizing for both student and teacher. The teacher has to have the satisfaction that progress is being made, that the skills are developing.

o Encouraging respect and courtesy toward the teacher by your example.

o Teaching the child basic social manners: greeting the teacher, not interrupting when someone else is talking, sitting quietly and attentively when the teacher is playing or explaining something, saying goodbye and thank you at the end of the lesson, etc.

o Maintaining a positive, guilt-free environment around music-making. Your attitude as a parent has a direct effect on the morale and focus of the student (see chapter 1.9 "Supporting the student: a positive learning environment").

o Avoiding the temptation to reprimand or discipline your child in the teachers presence unless absolutely necessary. This embarrasses and disempowers both the teacher and child and interrupts focus. An experienced teacher knows how to handle the occasional behavioral issues. If the teacher simply cannot get the student to cooperate on a given day, however, it is best to stop the lesson and have a parent-teacher conference at another time. Confrontation and conflict of any kind should not be part of a 3-way interaction. This puts far too much stress on the student, makes the teacher uncomfortable, and is usually unproductive. If there are continual problems at the lesson, you are free to decide if another teacher might work out better.

o If the lesson is in your home, the piano (and keys) should be clean and neat. The students current lesson material should be on the piano. A chair should be placed by the piano. Adequate direct and ambient lighting should be on.

o Provide a quiet space for the lesson, free distractions by other family members and pets.

o Showing your appreciation for the teachers efforts.

o Being available for and enthusiastic about performance opportunities for your child, including hosting "piano parties" (see chapter 1.9 "Supporting the student"), and being open to their participation in other performing arts: dance, choruses, childrens theater, etc.

Things that make teachers feel unsupported (and therefore demoralized):

o Students or families consistently forgetting appointments. Families who continuously forget lesson appointments show a lack of respect, focus and support. This is not encouraging for a teacher who would prefer to be teaching students who want to learn and families who consider music lessons a priority. This is a disservice not only to the teacher but to the child, who receives the message that no one seems to take it seriously (so why should s/he?).

o Piano room not ready for lesson: disarray, dirty piano keys, no lighting on, students music books not ready on the piano (or lost).

o Student not mentally focused or prepared for the lesson (i.e. hasnt spent any significant time at the instrument since the last lesson, has received no support or encouragement during the week).

o Student does not act interested in having a lesson (i.e. ignores the teacher when they arrive for a lesson, or whines about having to have a lesson instead of greeting them with a smile).

o Parents not showing any genuine interest or enthusiasm (i.e. never around to consult with teacher, no musical involvement with the child during the week).

The successful parent-child-teacher relationship is a love triangle of mutual respect, musical caring and commitment. If this is not established early on, music lessons can become a constant and pointless struggle.

Guidebook for Parents and Teachers