Chapter 14 – Understanding Parents and Caregivers
“Expect the best and people will rise to the occasion.”
~ James Kerr
Dealing with parents and caregivers is a big part of our job as teachers. First and foremost, let me say that I love my piano parents. The fact is they pay me and are the ones responsible for bringing their kids to lessons and supporting them as they learn to play the piano. I try to always view them in the best light. Parents look up to me as a teacher. They rely upon me to help them make their kids successful at the piano.
I have found that if I can try to understand where parents are coming from it helps me navigate those sticky situations without becoming upset or distraught.
I am a parent myself, so I have compassion for how hard it is to juggle everything. I raised five boys. All of them took music lessons and participated in sports, scouting, and other extracurricular activities. I know that I was, at times, the cause of exasperation for my boy’s teachers, coaches, and leaders. I always went out of my way to be super nice, respectful, and pay on time. Still, my Achilles’ Heel has always been household organization and scheduling. On more than one occasion, one or the other of my two older sons showed up to an orchestra concert in a wrinkled tuxedo or with two left shoes. Between trying to run a studio of 45 students, holding down a playing career, and raising a large family, I found it nearly impossible to stay on top of everything. Every time we got to the right place with the right stuff on the right day, I considered it a small victory! So trust me, I have sympathy with parents and caregivers.
Looking at things from the teacher’s side is a little different, though. I have a job to do—teach my students to play the piano. This is a monumental and complicated task. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I have no issues with parents. Everything is as they say “copacetic”. No serious problems. However, now and again, some things arise with a parent or caregiver that impacts the quality of piano the education I am able to provide.
Here are some of the challenging parent-types I occasionally encounter and how I work to resolve them.
The Overwhelmed Parent
This is the parent whose child is rarely brought to lessons on time, often unprepared, and sometimes shows up without his music. This parent or child frequent loses the directions to the recital. Obviously, I can relate to these parents.
My biggest advice here is not to sweat the small stuff. If they are late, I teach them for the time remaining. I never expected teachers to give my sons extra time if I was late, but I have had some parents in my studio who have. To solve this problem, I stick firmly to the schedule. I make sure that when the lesson time is over, I show my students out. To solve the problem of forgetting music and materials I make extra copies of handouts. Since my piano method is online and printable, we never have to worry about losing or forgetting the music. My experience with these parents is that they mean well but, like me, they are probably in over their heads. The best approach is to do your best and take everything in stride.
Only Child Syndrome-Parent
This parent thinks his or her child is your only student. Not only that, they assume you have nothing else to do besides wait for them to show up. Have you ever gotten texts like this five minutes before a lesson
“Sorry, we can’t make it at 4:00. We’ll be there at 5:30.”
Huh? What are these people thinking? Even if I don’t have a 5:30 student, this is just kind of… well… rude. In the parents’ defense, maybe they just don’t understand how a studio works. That is why you must make sure to explain everything in your Studio Policy from the very beginning. After that, if this kind of thing still happens, nip it in the bud—immediately. Text back and say no to the time change, and be sure to charge for the missed lesson. I’ll say that again, be sure to charge for the missed lesson!
The Know-it-all Parent
I find this one funny because in my experience these parents are rarely professional musicians. They may play a little; usually, they don’t play at all. The child usually doesn’t practice much, and therefore doesn’t play well. According to this type of parent, the reason her child isn’t doing well is either because she doesn’t like the music the teacher selected, or the teacher isn’t using the right technique. These parents bring in music, make suggestions, and tell you how to do your job. Can you say INFURIATING? I know these parents mean well and want the best for the child, but it’s hard not to get your back up when someone is questioning your competence.
I think the best thing to do in this situation is to stay calm and listen to what the parent has to say. After all, they are paying you and have a right to be involved. Take the time to explain your teaching methods to them. You may even want to share your Teaching Roadmap so that parents can see that you have a well thought-out plan. I have found that—most of the time—these parents are just trying to be helpful. Once they understand a little more about what’s happening, the problem resolves itself.
The Hover-Round/Helicopter Parent
These moms and dads are very contentious but caring. They want to be involved in everything their children are doing, and they want to help them succeed. These are great qualities, but sometimes they can go too far. This usually happens when a parent is overly involved in practicing, and it becomes a battle of wills. Sometimes the kids just refuse to cooperate, other times the little whippersnappers will convince mom or dad that the assignments are too difficult.
With these parents, I tend to be very gentle. I tell them that I know that they care… a lot! I urge them to take a break, relax and let me take care of things. In my experience, once these parents understand that their children are in good hands, they become very supportive parents and their children do very well.
These are the parents who don’t respect boundaries. They come early, pick-up their children late, drop-off unattended siblings, and let their kids run through your house. They don’t pay on time or try not to pay for missed lessons. Arrrgh!
Most of these problems can be avoided if addressed in the Studio Policy and the policy is enforced. Sometimes, however, it becomes an ongoing battle forcing you to stand your ground. It’s important that you keep control of your time and your studio. Do not let people step over the boundaries you have set or break the rules you have delineated in your Studio Policy. Be sure to address these issues as soon as they come up. This is your right as the teacher and business owner.
So there you have it—my advice on dealing with challenging piano parents. I have found that most people are very nice and well-meaning. One of the reasons I am really big into educating families about what is involved in learning to play the piano and what we as piano teachers do is that I believe when parents know what to expect and what is expected, things run fairly smoothly. I am also big into educating myself. I have taught lessons in several cities and small towns in the U.S. I have had students from all over the world. Some misunderstandings are simply cultural differences. I try to be sensitive to these.
I feel it is important that families see teachers as the wise, honorable, dedicated, and caring people they are. I realize this is easier for more experienced teachers.
When I was a young teacher (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth), I can remember not feeling very confident. I have had to cultivate confidence over the years. I had to learn to see myself in a positive light so that I could come across as a professional and earn the respect of my students and their parents. You can too!
When dealing with people always expect the best. Expect people to be happy. Expect them to cooperate with you. Appreciate every person, and expect them to respect you as well. You may come across a few difficult cases from time to time, but most people are really quite nice.
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