Warning: Reader Discretion Advised:
So, the phone rung one day, and you heard the following words from the other end of the line:
“Hello! I’m Mrs Soen-So and I’m calling to enquire about piano lessons!”
“Oh, hi! Yes, of course. How may I help you?”
“Well, my son Junior was having lessons last term with Mr. Nikos Kokkinis, and…”
“Um, sorry, before you carry on… Did you just say… Mr. Kokkinis?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Sorry, Mr. Nikos Kokkinis?”
“You mean, the legendary pianist and renowned editor of Piano Practising, the world’s greatest independent piano website?”
“Well, yes, but why are you asking?”
“Just checking, please continue.”
“Well, um, as I was saying, my son was having lessons with him and he lost interest in his piano.”
“Hm, carry on!”
“Yes, I mean, this teacher was not inspiring at all and didn’t make my son like the piano.”
“Well, he was teaching him how to play, I suppose, but my son lost interest in only his first year of piano lessons. Mr. Kokkinis has a ghastly personality, and for some reason he was constantly going on and on about his greatness and how important his website was! He was so money oriented, and was always insisting on receiving tuition on the exact day every month, and not a minute later, as if he was some sort of a bank! Can you believe it? Not to mention his horrible sense of humour.”
“Hm, I’m intrigued, please carry on!”
“Well, enough is enough I said one morning, and I decided to remove Junior from his piano lessons and seek to find a better, more fitting piano instructor. Someone, that will inspire my son, make him enjoy the piano more, because, after all, piano is about being happy and positive about life and its blessings, isn’t it? It is about enjoying learning and savouring the goods of music.”
“And, what is music without enjoyment, after all? I knew my son liked the piano, oh so much. I don’t want him to lose this wonderful connection he had with the instrument when he first started… And all this why? Because of the incapability of a piano teacher to teach properly. Go figure.”
“*cough. Yes. And what can we do about it now?”
“Well, Missy told me to call you, because you are sensitive, realistic and compassionate she said.”
“… and broke…”
“Sorry, what did you say?”
“Nothing, go on!”
“… and you know how to handle talent and the youth.”
“Please, tell me you are going to accept Junior in your piano studio!”
“Of course I will! Come by tomorrow morning at 10 to discuss!”
The overall response to the phone call from the fictitious piano teacher was ideal; she kept her cool and kept equal distances between former teacher and mother on that first encounter. She neither showed compassion for the mother nor contempt for the alleged shortcomings of the inferiorly presented former teacher. The mother didn’t get an empathetic response from the new teacher, and to be honest, on that first call she would have been okay either way. Again, the new teacher’s responses were appropriate, considering the human aspect and the type of situation (she was caught off guard).
Avoid 1: Mentioning the Former Teacher
A teacher should rise above the situation and needs to avoid mentioning of the previous teacher in her class, if at all possible. Frankly, there is no good reason you would ever want to mention a former teacher. Nothing good will come out of it.
Avoid 2: Mentioning a Former Teacher’s Pedagogical Inadequacy
I’m not happy when I hear teachers asking their students, “didn’t your last teacher teach you this?”
No, he didn’t teach it, okay?! Maybe his former teacher didn’t teach it because the student would have been incapable of doing it in the first place, and now he miraculously can because his mother scolded him to practice and to be good with his new teacher! Or maybe the student only just became so wonderfully inspired by the greatness and didactic voguishness of his new teacher, that he has now finally let his talent flow. You hate me readers; I know — but, I don’t care!
So, STOP IT! Do not ask this nonsensical question, ever. That former teacher is and should be seen as an esteemed colleague of yours.
Never Show Compassion to Your Student’s Fiction
I hate it when a student of mine tells me his/her version of the flaws of the former teacher; I despise that, and I subconsciously start becoming distanced from the student, since I somehow expect the student to equally “betray” me when in the tutorship of a future instructor.
I never buy the distorted stories of the students when they come to me belittling their former pedagogues anyway, because I know that this is part of their, albeit understandable, self-defense mechanism and they most certainly exaggerate the situation in full measure, to their advantage of course — this depends on the age of the student, of course, and one can sniff out lying very easily, however, I do not care at all whether the student is right or wrong. I just hate the backstabbing and the storytelling, especially if I haven’t heard the other side’s version of the story.
Never empathize with the fiction of your new student. Especially when talking about their poor former teacher. Again, you shouldn’t care if the student is right or wrong, and to what extent are they right or wrong — you wouldn’t know anyway, simply because you weren’t there, present in their lessons, anyway.
“Oh, my former teacher couldn’t understand me, sir!” “Um, she wasn’t inspiring enough unfortunately…” “Oh, she didn’t get my plight.” “Oh, she forgot to mention that accent,” “Oh, this, oh that!” This nonsense has got to stop. Please respect the previous teacher if you may and don’t feed the bad wolf. Maybe the teacher “forgot” to mention that accent because:
A. She is human after all
B. She was going to mention it at a later stage
C. Maybe she did mention it, but in one-in-a-million chances you forgot?
D. Maybe she didn’t mention it because you couldn’t do it
E. Maybe… maybe for many other reasons…
How would you know if your student is right? You trust your instincts, right? Well, don’t; trust your own teaching and your student’s future progress.
I’ve written it before, but I seriously doubt that any human being followed one of the most sacred of duties (piano teacher) to destroy the extraordinary talent of someone’s child. Their goal was to educate and to teach, so let’s just respect those poor souls and just let them be. Okay?
And, enough of this fixation on repertoire. Repertoire is… repertoire. Again, you never knew the circumstances under which a former teacher chose what they chose, so forget about it. It’s future now.
Just make sure your future choices of repertoire are the right ones and stop worrying if that method was better than the other, or if that edition of that piece was not the right one – Respect your poor colleague.
I never knew a bad piano teacher at heart. Even the ones that backstabed me were good. They were all good. They all didn’t know any better. I didn’t. They were simply human beings trying to get through another day in the piano jungle.
Copyright © 1st of December 2020, by Nikos Kokkinis
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