There are few topics that make music teachers more uncomfortable than the topics of losing students, inheriting students or getting rid of students. Most of us are fairly nice people who run into each other on a somewhat frequent basis. There are few things worse than bragging on a talented student only to find out you are talking to that student’s previous teacher. So how do parents and students deal with these subjects?
If you have a student who just isn’t clicking with your teaching style or studio policy, it is ok to send them someplace else. There are many teachers who have many different styles. You won’t be the right fit for everyone. It’s not a failing; it’s more like a fact of life. So how do you graciously send a student on their way? If possible, schedule an in-person meeting with the student or parents. Have your thoughts prepared and a copy of your studio policy handy if the situation calls for it. If a student needs to move on for a specific musical reason try to guide them in the right direction. Does the student have a fondness for jazz? Be a friend and recommend a teacher or two who teaches in that style. If it is a policy issue, calmly explain that you must abide by your studio policy in order to be fair to all of your students. Students can leave with a positive experience even if the circumstances are less than ideal.
Today’s society is very mobile. Most teacher have inherited students from other teachers at one point or another. The previous teacher moved, downsized their studio, or decided to go in a new direction. How do you make this a smooth transition? Your studio policy sheet is your friend. Have the student, the parent and the teacher read and sign it. Point out any unusual or new topics that it might cover. If there is a particularly pertinent part, provide a blank for the responsible party to initial. Then provide a copy to the parent or student and keep the signed copy on file. For example, if you do not offer make up lessons, make sure the client acknowledges that they understand this point.
Another good idea would to have a trial lesson. Sometimes you or the family can tell from the outset that it is not a good match up. It is a good idea to get an idea of the student’s abilities beforehand if possible. This saves valuable lesson time. There are many good reasons that you might inherit a student. Try to keep the previous teacher in a good light. Parents and teachers both talk, and we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings unnecessarily.
How about that awkward situation where you think your teacher is crazy, disorganized, incompetent, or just the devil? Or on a lighter note, that you have outgrown what a teacher can offer you musically, you moved and the lessons are to far, you found a closer teacher of comparable skill or you just need a change? Talk about sticky situations.
This is where full disclosure isn’t the best policy. From a teacher’s perspective, we just want you to abide by the policy sheet for withdrawing from the studio. We probably already know what any problems might be and saw this situation on the horizon. A note to the teacher’s that read this blog. A teacher should refrain from badgering a family as to what their exact reasoning is. Families sometimes have very personal reasons that might range from financial to religious. Don’t put the family on the spot. By forcing them to come up with an excuse that might not be true you are hurting your chances of making that family feel welcome to come back at anytime. Circumstances change and that family that you help to leave on good terms might very well be back in a few years. A note to families who are changing teachers. Please don’t ever tell your current teacher who you are transferring to and don’t tell your new teacher what studio you transferred from. This just creates awkward situations for everyone. Just politely tell the teacher that you wish to abide by their policy for withdrawing and leave it at that. You never know when you might want to come back to that studio and you need to try and leave on good terms.
In a perfect world, we would be thrilled with all of our students and they would love us forever and ever. However, we all know that is not how things always work. Diplomacy and tact from everyone ensures a smooth transition and a continuing musical education for the student.