Piano Teaching Q&A: Stopping Lessons

Each week we will be featuring questions asked by our readers, and will do our best to answer them and to give some ideas :)

A few weeks ago, we received an email from a fellow piano teacher which stated the following:

How does everyone else deal w/ students who drop? I just came home yesterday to a voice mail from a mom of 2 of my students. Out of the blue, after 4 years of lessons, they've decided to go with a different teacher. For whatever their reasons, my feelings are hurt that after all this time invested, I just get a message. I've also been dropped by email. I know that no one likes confrontation, but geez!. Thanks!

In response, firstly I'd like to offer my condolences for such insensitive and impersonal behavior! Like you said, I think sometimes we want to avoid confrontation by any means possible, but don't realize that by trying not to "come off as mean" we end up coming off even MORE mean than before!

I haven't been teaching for as long as many of you, and we've moved around so much that I always ended up being the one who left my students, before they even had a chance to leave me! However, I'd like to offer some thoughts and suggestions on the matter. My current studio is comprised entirely of transfer students, and I can share with you some suggestions I gave those parents who were about to leave their current teacher in order to have their children study with me.

Of course it hurts that after 4 (or however many) years of invested time, emotion, and talent, a student chooses to leave our studio. I think the important thing to remember is that there is a wide array of reasons why a family may choose to study with someone else - we don't know everything about their circumstances. It could be that their financial situation has suddenly changed and they can no longer afford piano lessons. It could be that the student has a conflicting schedule and has chosen the other activity (sports, ballet, etc) over piano. Those are just 2 of the many possible reasons for leaving. If this were happening to me, I would convince myself that it was definitely one of those two things - but that's just how I am! :)

Now, to tackle the more uncomfortable possibilities... It might be that their learning style was not matching up as optimally with your teaching style - and that is okay. One might immediately say "Yeah, but then why did they study with me for FOUR YEARS? Wouldn't this have come up sooner?!" Possibly, possibly not. Students change - we all know how much personalities change as students get older! The last (and most uncomfortable) possibility is that the mother found a teacher that was a better fit for her children. However, the important thing to remember about that sentence is the last part - FOR HER CHILDREN. It doesn't mean that you are a bad teacher or a "lesser teacher" than someone else. And this is assuming she's even leaving you FOR SOMEONE ELSE - it might be that she just chose to remove her children from lessons altogether!

I am totally the "Every Cloud has Silver Lining" sort of person, and so what I would do is this:

1. Call the mom and ask why. I know it might sound gutsy - because it is - but you have a right to know, at least as it concerns you. Why? Because you want to know how you can improve yourself. I wouldn't call her and demand "Why did your children drop out of my studio?! TEL ME NOW!" Nothing like that! But call her and kindly ask if there was anything in the way you ran your studio that prompted her to remove her children from your studio. Explain to her (and this, I think, would be the most important part) that you aren't trying to be nosy, but as a professional teacher, you want to know how you can improve your services to your students. This phone call will be very revealing, and if you're a sensitive person, brace yourself, because you don't know what the response will be. However, whatever the reason is, know that it will help you be a better piano teacher.

If the mom doesn't respond to your phone call or email (I'd do both), then perhaps try contacting her via both mediums one week later, and then leave it at that. If you choose to not contact the mother, or if you never hear back from her, then I would do some self-evaluation. Do a Studio Evaluation, as I like to call it - scrutinize every aspect of your studio, think of a master teacher (such as Leon Fleisher, Nelita True, etc) and ask yourself "Would his/her studio handle it this way?" and model your studio after that. This way, you are ensuring that you have the most professional studio possible.

These are just my thoughts and theories - I would absolutely love to hear feedback. If you completely disagree, please let me know - we can all improve!

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