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Despair with lack of practise from pupils


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#1 cel

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Posted 11 February 2019 - 14:35

I have been a piano teacher in a primary school for about 10 years and today with sadness, I have decided that I will finish teaching next term and won't return in the Autumn.   I am so fed up with the excuses for not practising from both the child (& the parents) and also with pupils not turning up with their requisite tutor books.  They clearly haven't played from one lesson to the next because they just haven't had the time!!!  

 

I spoke to one parent this morning who said that he couldn't make his 6 year old practise even though he tries to encourage him to do so.  My response to that was if you can't make him do something now, what hope have you got when he's a teenager...!

 

I do understand the challenges of motivating beginners as the repertoire in the early tutor books can be a bit dry, but without any practise at all, progression to anything more fun is very unlikely.

 

I think as teachers, we are having to compete with electronic devices, both parents working (in a lot of cases full time) and clubs for anything and everything.  I am a parent myself so I know the challenges, but I really do believe that parents think that if they pay for something it will happen and underestimate the importance of time and supporting the child which is what really matters.

 

I will continue with my private pupils, although some of those aren't that much better and see how it goes.

 

Apologies for the rant, but I do feel so much better!

 

 


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#2 DMC

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Posted 11 February 2019 - 14:50

You have my utmost sympathy.

 

I wish parents would adopt the same ethic to Piano practice as they do to reading, writing, sums and spellings - all of which, given the choice most kids wouldn't do. 

 

 

 

 


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#3 The Great Sosso

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Posted 11 February 2019 - 15:08

I hear you, cel.  I have been similarly despairing of my private students before now, and I will not work in a school because I know that it would be like that and I couldn't bear it either.  At least with private students you get a little more time, more contact with parents and hopefully a little more support from the parent who at least has to take the child to the lesson, so I think is more invested in the process.

 

I have recently had a little bit of a breakthrough in giving my students exercises related to bits of their pieces to practice (eg if there is a crescendo that they're not getting right, I ask them to practice a five-note (or one octave, or whatever is appropriate) scale with crescendo, or if it's drop slurs, I ask them to complete a run of drop slurs along the entire keyboard as part of their practice).  I think sometimes it's not knowing HOW to practice that holds them back, and these little exercises are small enough to be doable, and seem relevant enough to not be boring/pointless in the child's view.  I also focus less on the notes and more on the musicality of the piece, so that they have something rewarding to work towards.  They know that the notes and fingerings are important, but I try to encourage them to learn those in the context of making a musical sound and that seems to inspire them to listen to themselves and seek to improve instead of getting bored of the repetition.

 

Well done for making a positive move to improve your life though.  I'm sure you'll be happier for having left a bad job for what it is.

 

TGS X


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#4 Misterioso

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Posted 11 February 2019 - 17:41

I will not work in a school because I know that it would be like that and I couldn't bear it either.  

 

Ditto. When I did, for one year only, and was asked to go back the following year, I refused. It can be so demoralising. You make some very pertinent points, TGS, re the wee exercises and making sure the How To's are in place. Focusing on musicality is always excellent because kids need to know there is something beyond the notes, or their playing can become robotic and expressionless.

 

I tried a few different things when I worked in the school to try to inspire them, but nothing seemed to work. I am much happier with my private pupils, and am not above a little bribery and corruption when practice gets derailed. Fortunately, neither are they!


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#5 cel

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Posted 11 February 2019 - 18:36

I have given all my pupils a Practise Schedule which I designed myself, so that they could keep a record of their daily practise and then total the number of minutes up at the end of the week.  That works for the first couple of weeks of the term and then gets forgotten about by the parents. 

 

I also write everything in a notebook, sometimes including a request for them to draw the new notes learnt on the stave, but that is hardly ever completed, because more often than not, the notebook is hardly ever read. 


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#6 Bagpuss

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Posted 11 February 2019 - 19:13

Here's another one contemplating jumping the sinking ship, cel.....

BPx


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#7 STRINGMUM

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Posted 11 February 2019 - 19:27

DMC as a teaching assistant I hate to have to say but many parents don’t bother to help their children practise their reading, spelling or times tables either.
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#8 Boogaloo

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Posted 11 February 2019 - 22:08

I gave up my teaching in a private school after last October half term for exactly the reasons you state - I have not regretted the decision at all and have managed to take on the same amount of private pupils since then so I'm no worse off financially. It has been the best decision I have made recently - stress levels completely changed for the better. I still teach in another school but the parents don't run the school pay school fees and this makes a heck of a difference!


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#9 Aquarelle

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Posted 12 February 2019 - 00:53

This is very sad. I’d like to comment on what Stringmum says about parents not helping their children with reading, spelling and tables. When I worked in England as a primary school class teacher  we didn’t set homework  on a regular basis and we didn’t really expect parents to help when we did. And as a child myself  back in the fifties I remember that when we left primary  school we were very proud of the fact that  when we got to secondary school we would have homework.  So things have obviously changed a lot.  I started teaching in 1967 and worked full time both in England and from the 1980s in France – both class teaching and individual instrumental teaching. So I have observed children for many years in many situations. I am forced to conclude that the average span of attention is very much reduced, that behaviour is much poorer than it was and that there is less appreciation of the value of education. Inattention and even mildly disruptive behaviour wastes hours in school and I think that is where most of the problem lies. I could probably write a book on my opinions as to the reasons but I’m not going into all that now. Let’s just say that a lot of teachers are finding that that is just how it is at the moment.

 

Running against this tide is the hysterical response of politicians who think that to put this right we should be testing children every five minutes and of   those parents who are so desperate for their children to get on and rise to the top of the ladder that they hassle and push them  until they become nervous wrecks or just plain sullen. There are also parents who simply opt out  - who take refuge in leaving their children to bring themselves up.

 

 

For those of us at the grass roots who are battling with the non practisers and the don’t carers and the ones who have seven activities per week, with parents who are incapable of exercising even the mildest  parental authority and parents who don’t give their children the slightest bit of freedom – well it’s a mighty big challenge. And there are certainly instances when you have to put your health and sanity first and get out – maybe for a while, maybe forever.

 

And as soon as I have said all this I can think of numerous exceptions and of many wonderful parents, good schools and excellent teachers – and even some pupils who practise!  I had a friend who used to say “It’s all part of life’s rich pattern.”!

 

I am incredibly lucky. Most of my pupils practise most of the time. I do have times when one or another of them doesn’t practise and I have occasionally had a pupil give up because I failed to motivate them and there was no progress. I am also very fortunate in that I don’t actually teach for a school – in a school yes, as I borrow a room in a primary school and I do have several pupils from that school but it’s on a private basis.

 

I don’t suppose any of this will help cel or any others in her position but I have certain ideas about practising which might be a bit of use though no one’s ideas work for everyone.

 

My first thought is that my job is not to teach piano but to teach the enjoyment of music through the piano.  That’s my philosophy and I don’t like the word “fun” as applied to any kind of learning situation. I don’t mean that piano lessons should be everlastingly serious (we spend a lot of time laughing in lessons) but that they should, over a period of time, give rise to a deep sense of enjoyment – whether the music is funny, sad, elegant, intellectual, emotional, simple, complicated  - whatever. For me, the only way to do that is to consider every child as a companion on a musical journey that we are taking together. When they practise we advance. If they don’t we sit at the wayside and look at the view and I do my best to get us moving on again because the same view can be great for a while but not for ever.

 

In practical terms I have found that practice records don’t help my pupils. Many teachers use them successfully but I’m not good at them. However I have a fairly fixed order of events in lessons and they all know that I will expect progress (however small) in every aspect of the work  I have set in their notebook. They also know that I have a duplicate notebook for each one of them and I won’t forget the instructions given the previous week. If there is no progress, whether because there is a genuine difficulty or misunderstanding or simply a lack of practice we do the practice together there and then. I don’t believe in just running through something or showing them something and then leaving it at that. Every point has to be gone over in different ways until I am sure the child will be able to apply what has been done in the lesson to what is done at home. I tell them exactly what to do and if there are problems I break them down into very small elements. I discourage any kind of intellectual laziness and I never tell a child anything I think they can work out for themselves – but I do help them to work out the right solution via the right reasoning. Remember Joyce Grenfell? I put on my theatrical shock/disappointment/disbelief tone when they haven’t practised something I asked them to do and if it isn’t done the following week I write it in red ink instead of in pencil in the notebook. I am careful to praise when praise is due – even if the improvement is only slight. I don’t rely on parents to help. I encourage pupils to manage their own practice as soon as possible, even the little ones. That’s where some of today’s wonderful modern materials help. I get parents to see that the child has a CD player next to the piano because if you are using a series such as “Piano Adventures” the CDs are a super incentive to practise. And for technical exercises I find there is little to beat “A Dozen a Day” because the little ones like the little girl cartoon and love to see how her movements are illustrated by the music and the older ones are profoundly thankful that the exercises are short and easy to read!

 

I also like to play  for them or use a CD occasionally to let them hear what they might be able to do one day. I don’t do enough of this as time is always short but it can fire enthusiasm. So many children don’t really know why they are being sent to piano lessons. If we can only get them to really love their music they will practise -  well most of the time. This week I had a hard working sixteen year old arrive and knowing she has a heavy school homework load I asked her if she had been able to practise. Her reply was “Yes, but not as much as I would have liked.” I also had four weekly boarders arrive in a panic as their practice time at school has been cut. A piano on loan to the school has been removed by the owner and the girls are very upset. I don’t know if there will be a solution.

 

So, if at all possible, don’t be too upset by non practisers. You never know what seeds you might have sown. Cel, I hope you will feel better after the Easter holiday. Hang on in there and if it really is too discouraging take a break but leave the door open. Even if they don’t manage to practise  much I’m sure your pupils will miss their lessons with you.


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#10 jenny

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Posted 12 February 2019 - 09:52

 

My first thought is that my job is not to teach piano but to teach the enjoyment of music through the piano.  That’s my philosophy and I don’t like the word “fun” as applied to any kind of learning situation. I don’t mean that piano lessons should be everlastingly serious (we spend a lot of time laughing in lessons) but that they should, over a period of time, give rise to a deep sense of enjoyment – whether the music is funny, sad, elegant, intellectual, emotional, simple, complicated  - whatever. For me, the only way to do that is to consider every child as a companion on a musical journey that we are taking together. When they practise we advance. If they don’t we sit at the wayside and look at the view and I do my best to get us moving on again because the same view can be great for a while but not for ever.

 

 

Wise words, as always, from Aquarelle. I particularly enjoyed this paragraph. smile.png


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#11 ma non troppo

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Posted 12 February 2019 - 10:33

I thought Aquarelle's post was actually rather beautiful and moving.
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#12 Aquarelle

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Posted 12 February 2019 - 11:28

You are very kind Jenny and ma non troppo - but it's really just everyday stuff for many of us here.


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#13 jenny

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Posted 12 February 2019 - 12:27

You write so thoughtfully and have a wonderful way of putting into words what a lot of us feel. Thank you, again.


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#14 agricola

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Posted 12 February 2019 - 13:07

Excellent post, Aquarelle!  I especially agree with the bit about 'sowing seeds' as I sometimes get feedback from pupils I bump into years after they left lessons and what they recall can be quite different to what I thought was happening at the time.  


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#15 MinnieWhite

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Posted 13 February 2019 - 12:46

This is a topic I am particularly interested in because as I am relatively inexperienced teacher (4 years teaching privately, mostly primary school beginners, although in advanced years myself), and although I know that pupils like coming to my lessons, I feel that many are SO super slow in their advancement because they just don't practice - or maybe they play a piece through once a week, and that's it. It makes me feel like it's me being a second-rate teacher as parents are now asking me when their child can take their grade 1, and they are only on the level 1 (pink) Piano Adventures book - and when I say it's going to be a while, they seem to suggest I go at too slow a rate. When each piece takes 4 weeks to get up to scratch, it's really going to be a long long time. I go through what they should do to practice (play bitesize chunks etc; start at the hard bit etc), but I say the same thing every week. i also correct finger / hand position each week - giving exercises and technique tips to help - but each week they come back with the same problem. I wonder a lot of the time, Is it me!!???

 

This has also come up with a friend of mine who says that shouldn't it be about the enjoyment of the music, playing for your own satisfaction, that parents who have to make their child practice will only end up making them hate playing, and the child should do what they want to and when. That children don't need to practice for other things in the week like ballet or horseriding - and I think this might be indicative of what lots of parents think. Has it always been like this? I only ask for 10 minutes a day - I daren't ask for more, but most don't achieve this.

I'm not sure, but I don't think I'm the only one - but why! 


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