Here we are starting week 4 of the school year in North Carolina. No matter who you are, how much experience you have, or the number of degrees you have aquired, we all at times need to deal with an unhappy and/or unrealistic parent. This past week was rocky for me at best. I have a large group of Asian families in my studio. One family in particular was very anxious about their young daughter’s progress(age 7, 2nd grade.) I got this little girl a year ago. She had completed one year and had done Elementary C in the National Guild Auditions. When I mentioned we would be doing Elementary D this past year, the parents were quick to tell me that her former teacher had said she could do elementary E. I explained that the child had done the level of EC, but only the minimum musicianship required for each piece. The musicianship phases associated with that level were behind. If they were serious about her doing a guild diploma years from now, I needed to get all of EC phases learned and get ED done this past year. They agreed to that and my little student did a wonderful job of the scales and cadences along with 8 pieces. They seemed happy and satisfied.
Along came the pandemic and with it the cancellation of most outdoor activities. They wanted to “push” the child to do 2 levels this year of techqniue and showed me a scan of the pieces their family member’s child had played in China. It was an early sonatina but with the letter names written above the notes. I told the family I was against making that a habit. We would certainly get to that genre this year, but I was also preparing her for other events. Meanwhile, the technique required would involve moving to 2 octave scales hands alone AND all five black key majors. OK, we can do this I thought. The father was adamant they skip a level this year which would then include black key minors–that’s now 10 new scales this year and the 2 octave requirement if I was to stay on the track I felt was important for long term success. I agreed, figuring even if I had to include something else in the phases I would do that in an effort to get the parents to back off.
Last Tuesday the mother came to the lesson for the first time since the pandemic. She was uptight and very direct. No “so good to see yous.” She told me that the child had been accessed online from someone in China and everything from her finger strength, to motion, to notes, etc. etc were “wrong.” She was “extremely limited” by contrast to her Chinese peers. She wanted answers and she wanted them now. The entire lesson was a pressure cooker. Here sat this adorable little girl, playing pieces from Essential Keyboard Repertoire 1 and Festival Collection 2, her mother either hovering over the piano so I had to walk around her to get to the child, or pacing up and down behind me. She made it clear my opinion didn’t hold the same sway as the Chinese assessment and she was clearly questioning my abilities.
My husband peered around the corner of the kitchen and came out when she left asking what in the world was going on. I said, “I’m getting rid of them. I cannot do this.” At this point, clearly they would look for another teacher. I had suddenly lost all credability. On Wednesday morning I wrote them an email stating that many of their complaints smacks of teacher incompetency and clearly they needed to find a new teacher if this is how they felt. I offered them a 30 day notice if they would like to have that so they could find someone else. They immediately wrote back asking if they left now what refund would I give. I told them of course September that remained and the registration fee as well as music fee. Later they made it clear there are 5 Tuesdays in September and they did the math to pro-rate the month based on 4 missed lessons. I cheerfully said, “no problem.” They wanted their money right away. I gladly told them I wanted them to be happy. They were going low and I was determined to go high. I told them how much I enjoyed working with their daughter and how I hoped she would continue her music study.
Sounds pretty good, right? Except I was a hot mess. I HATE confrontation, I HATE intensity and I HATED the inferences the mother made about my teaching. Boy, I thought, are they in for a shock. It seemed to me that what’s often missing in situations like these is the child in the middle. I will never even get to say goodbye. The parents will throw me under the bus and tell her I’m not teaching anymore or whatever they need to say to help her accept that suddenly I’m no longer in her life. I will miss her. Ten years ago I would have exhausted myself trying to make my arguements and pointing out the flaws in their thought process. Now, I just realize that nothing I can say will change their minds or opinions. After all, if I can fill my one free spots with another family that pays the same money without all the drama I’m coming out ahead. My husband wholehearedly supported my decision to bail out and not try to hobble along waiting for them to make the next move. Actually, I believe I shocked them by pulling out. I’m not sure they expected that.
We all go through it. I have reminded myself we are still working with the general public. One friend told me, “remember, it’s not about you. It’s keeping up with the Joneses as we say in America.” Hopefully your fall begins more smoothly than mine did. Just remember often “it’s not about you either.” We cannot make everyone happy 100% of the time.