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Pushy parent

Exams Parental-expectations

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#1 ontheblackkeys

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 11:16

I took on a transfer student in September, 7 YO girl.  She's doing OK, knows the basics and I've spent this term plugging any obvious gaps in knowledge/skills and started her on work to move forward. We're currently working on the end of PA Level 1 (just started I and V7 chords) and have been doing some Dozen a Day for technique, theory, and started scales (just C major for now).

 

She had her lesson last night and at the end, mum says that she wants her to do an exam next year because she'll be going to the local private secondary school (in 4 years time!) and oh, actually, she wants her to be at Grade 3/4 level by then.

 

Ugh.

 

I did make it clear to her (I hope!) that I would be the one deciding when said child is ready to do exams and that I didn't expect to be pushed into it but I'm not sure whether that will be enough.

 

I knew this parent was potentially pushy - I was a bit reluctant to take on the child initially because of this (probably should have trusted my instincts) - and if she'd said this about exams at the start, I wouldn't have gone near it.  I'm really tempted to stop the lessons now and refund any leftover payments, because I DO NOT want mum breathing down my neck for the next 4 years, fussing about why the child isn't on Grade X by now but I'm feeling that that's a bit of an over-reaction, plus I don't really want to lose a pupil right now (or have to refund).

 

(ETA: A couple of positive points - mum sits in on the lessons and seems to take an interest (she sits behind me so I can't really see but when I turned round to grab a book she seemed to be sitting forward and following the lesson, rather than playing on her phone or similar) so hopefully she will realise if her daughter is struggling with something and will understand if I have to ask her to repeat things for homework.  Also, she said last night that she likes the structure of the lessons (I think it's a bit different than with their last teacher) and she likes the way I'm doing things, so hopefully that will give me a bit of leverage.)

 

Any advice?  I am prepared to be tough if she keeps bugging me and if I have to let her go, I will but...ugh. sad.png


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#2 hammer action

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 12:15

If it was me i'd stick with it for a few more weeks, perhaps up to Christmas, to see how things go then re-assess.  Mum might begin to understand that it's going to be a lot of work and take time, more than she realises at the moment.  If not and she's constantly badgering you about exams every week, i'd let her go.  I had that once a few years ago and it was very stressful and in the end the student left to go to another teacher looking for that magic wand to fast track the daughter through exams. 


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#3 sbhoa

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 12:21

Show them what grade 1 music looks like for starters, especially some of the higher end of grade 1 pieces.

Suggest that it can be better to start off with a lower level exam as a first one when she is ready so that the experience feels less pressured.

Have a discussion about practice time and habits so that you (both?) know whether what goes on between lessons supports good progress.


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#4 maggiemay

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 12:26

There seem to be a few positives, so I think I’d be inclined to ignore the warning bells for now, and continue to build a firm foundation.

Sometime before the end of this term, it might be helpful to return to the topic of exams, and show mum a sample of what will be required, along with a nice verbal list of scales, broken chords, sight reading etc etc. (Haha - I see sbhoa beat me to this one!)

‘ I remember you mentioned doing an exam next year, and I thought it might be helpful for me to show you the difference between what we are working on now, and the grade one book’.

Visually the two books will be quite a contrast, and mum may well be a bit taken aback. Plus you will be demonstrating that you are not ignoring the topic of exams, and have taken her ‘request’ on board.

It may help. As others have said, if the hassling continues through next term, I’d ask her to find another teacher, as it’s not how you work. But worth sticking with it a bit longer, I reckon.
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#5 linda.ff

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 12:28

For me, it makes a little sense to allow parents a little input into how or whether their child will be externally assessed - but I also make sure the child is also comfortable with the idea. If they are both keen, I will let them know when I feel they're ready to take the first exam. And I also let them know what the alternatives are - ABRSM Prep Test, Trinity Initial Grade, LCM Pre-prep, Step One, Step Two, or wait maybe an extra year and start from grade 1.

 

When to enter them for an exam, in terms of they're being ready for the relevant grade, is clearly up to me, but whether to do it, once I feel they are sufficiently prepared, must be something the parent and student should decide. Of course the time to enter the exam is a little too late to discuss this, as the preparation can take anything from half a term to a year before that, and the parent and child need to be aware of what this is leading up to.

 

I have plenty of parents who within a term of passing one grade, say they want their child to be working for the next because "it's only when she has the exam as a target that she applies herself to practising". I don't have a problem with this, because everything a child does after passing grade 3 is potentially preparation for grade 4! Often I will assuage their twitchiness py showing them the syllabus for the new grade, and starting the scales, and if necessary even making a slow, steady start on just one piece.  At this point the child, at least, will be aware that they need quite a bit more time, and will welcome the "in-between music" as a relief from the stress.

 

Exam certificates are not the be-all and end-all of learning an instrument, but it's not unreasonable for the parent to want to know how well their child is progressing over time, and exam grades in this country are more or less a yardstick. If they want a more free-and easy approach then that's their prerogative too.

 

Even my adult beginners, after a few months, are asked whether they feel they want to be assessed on their progress. More often than not, they say that as and when the tine is right, they would feel it was a good idea, even if they take their time over it. So I currently have one who has grade 1 and is working for grade 2, one awaiting the result of Initial grade, one taking grade 1 next term (though she knew about grades, having previously passed grade 5 violin, and having bought the grade 1 book herself) and one who started before the summer and has looked at LCM Step One and thinks she'd like to do it, or maybe if she goes through that book fast, start in at step two.

 

I don't think it's pushy to look ahead and hope that your child will be at a standard to keep level with the better players in her year. Competing doesn't necessarily mean wanting to outdo - often it's good to be running happily stride for stride.

 

But that's just my 2p worth and all students and parents are different.


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#6 ontheblackkeys

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 13:06

Thanks for the input everyone.

 

I'm not too worried about practise, as there have already been conversations about this and they seem to be on top of it.  Mum mentioned that she liked how the homework was presented (I write a list in their notebook, along with extra comments if needed), as daughter can then work through the list and mum commented that she can hear the improvement each week.  I do have a small issue, based on a specific problem that I will bring up next week if necessary and ask Mum to supervise that problem a little more closely but so far, so good on that score.

 

I do have a chart of G1 requirements which I shall print out and give them but also a good idea to show them what G1 pieces look like, thank you.  I've been using Trinity quite a bit with the little ones, as I like the Initial exam as a good introductory point.  She could probably do Initial next term, to be honest, as I've done some Initial level pieces with her and she's learned them pretty quickly but I'm not sure whether it would be better to press on to G1 instead.  I'll have a think about that and see what they think, as well.

 

I always start scales for the next grade straight after the previous one, so they have plenty of time to learn them.  I did also reassure mum that everything we are currently doing is ultimately preparation for Grade 1, that it is a goal in my mind for some point in the future, so hopefully that will help a bit as well.

 

I do realise I sound a little over-stressed about this - I've been battling a bit of a cold this week and am running on a less sleep than normal as a result, plus I have a dentist appointment this afternoon, which is always stressful, so I'm a bit more inclined to go "arrrrghh!"  I actually wouldn't have been too worried if she'd just mentioned G1, as the little girl has been having lessons for about a year, so that's a reasonable expectation, it was the G3/4 in 4 years bit that bothered me.  Not that it's not achievable (I took G4 at 10 after 4 years of lessons) but a lot of things can happen and progress might be slower than expected, for loads of reasons.


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#7 ten left thumbs

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 13:20

I think sometimes parents say 'I want grade X by such and such a time' when they actually mean, 'I want my child to actually achieve and not just coast along'. And I really get that, as many children (and parents) are quite happy with coasting. 


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#8 musicalmalc

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 13:21

I understand that it's up to the teacher to determine when a pupil is ready to take an exam if that's what they want.

 

Have I missed something - G3/4 in 4 years doesn't really sound like a ridiculous target unless the pupil isn't practising


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#9 ontheblackkeys

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 14:03

I understand that it's up to the teacher to determine when a pupil is ready to take an exam if that's what they want.

 

Have I missed something - G3/4 in 4 years doesn't really sound like a ridiculous target unless the pupil isn't practising

 

As I said in my second post - no it's not a ridiculous target at all but in my experience, progress can often be slower than expected, for loads of different reasons.  I also prefer not to have a deadline of that kind hanging over my head as a teacher - I prefer to let the pupil develop at their own rate and not rush them through an exam a year just to say they've done it.


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#10 ontheblackkeys

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 14:06

I think sometimes parents say 'I want grade X by such and such a time' when they actually mean, 'I want my child to actually achieve and not just coast along'. And I really get that, as many children (and parents) are quite happy with coasting. 

 

I can appreciate that too.  And I want their child to achieve, I really do and am happy to help them towards that.  It just felt a bit more pushy than that, although maybe I'm more used to parents taking a more laid-back approach to exams.


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#11 Latin pianist

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 14:11

A few years ago I would have students at grade 3 or 4 by Y6. I still get the odd one or two, but most are only grade 1 or 2 as are the inherited Y7 pupils at the school I work at. Progress seems much slower these days.
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#12 agricola

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 14:14

It can be helpful to know what a parent's expectations are but I never agree to any specific targets, especially for new students who I don't yet know very well.   Any discussion about timetables for exams has to take account of the amount and quality of practice done and the child's technical ability.  For parents who expect Grade 1 to be taken at an early stage (which I consider an understandable assumption for a non-musical parent) I demonstrate the difference between typical pieces from PA1, PA2a, the easiest type of Grade 1 piece (Bluemerang, song of Erin) and one or two from the current syllabus (eg Asian Tiger, Aria in F as they move around more).  Often they have not realised how much is involved in what sounds like a very basic exam. 

 

I took on two 5-year-olds four years ago, one with ambitious parents and the other with a very laid-back one who didn't want her child to have any pressure or criticism whatever.  Child 1 is starting on Grade 4 now and Child 2 is still working through PA1 after going through the MFPA books at snail's pace.  However Child 1's work is sometimes scrappy and reluctant whereas Child 2 enjoys playing, keeps time extremely well and can shape a phrase musically.  I'm not sure what that proves but I'm interested to see where they both end up ! 


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#13 Dorcas

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 14:52

It seems to me the best way forward would be to prepare the youngster for the Initial exam, as the OP states she is coping with the level of pieces.  This will show the mother that you are not against exams.  Definitely agree with explaining and showing the level required for grade 1.  Also a discussion that each grade requires more at each level, not at an exponential rate, but it is not just a little extra difficulty.

 

Handled correctly, this mother could be an asset.  She is keen, supportive and probably just very keen for her daughter to succeed.  If she has not gone down the instrumental exam route herself, then she needs help understanding what is involved.

 

Agree with the advice above, do not make promises.  Explain the work involved, acknowledge that the foundations are being laid already at home, but stress it is not an easy or guaranteed route.  Also stress, the daughter has to want to do it herself, and to keep practise time fun, or there will be blood!


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#14 ontheblackkeys

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 14:57

A few years ago I would have students at grade 3 or 4 by Y6. I still get the odd one or two, but most are only grade 1 or 2 as are the inherited Y7 pupils at the school I work at. Progress seems much slower these days.

 

Yes!  I agree with this.  I also like to be thorough and make sure that they can play reasonably musically, rather than teaching them just enough to get them through the exam.  I do worry that I'm not going fast enough sometimes but I can only go as fast as the pupil.  As I said, I want them to achieve and wish that some would achieve faster at times but I'd rather they enjoyed it than felt pressured to reach a certain level by a certain age.


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#15 ontheblackkeys

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Posted 29 November 2017 - 15:07

It can be helpful to know what a parent's expectations are but I never agree to any specific targets, especially for new students who I don't yet know very well.  

 

 

Definitely that last bit - I feel I still don't know the pupil that well and I'm sure that I'm going to come across things that she doesn't know that I would maybe expect her to know at this point.  For instance, based on something we did at the end of this week's lesson, I don't think she's really sure about intervals, even though mum said she remembered her learning about them. 

 

When I first started with her, I realised after a couple of weeks that she'd never learned bass clef middle C and B, as the book she was using, whose name I've forgotten but it focuses very heavily on "positions", hadn't covered those notes yet, even though she knew many more notes in both hands.  Now, the books I use (and many others) teach middle C and B right from the beginning, so it was a reasonable assumption that she'd know them.  Also, because she's used to positions, she doesn't actually know the note names that well, as individual notes, she tends to know them as part of a particular hand position, so there's work to do there as well.

 

I do enjoy teaching her, in case anyone's wondering, but I would rather not have the pressure of exams just yet, before I've really settled into a rhythm (ha!) with her and got to see what she can really do.

 

ETA: Dentist visit is now over (phew!) so that's one less stressor to deal with.  I shall definitely be taking on the excellent advice to talk to them both about requirements/show them some pieces and maybe suggest Initial early next year as a starting point - I was a bit blindsided at the end of the lesson and had another one incoming to do more than say that I needed to tell them when she was ready and not the other way around.


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