Friday, September 23, 2011

Question of the Week: September 19, 2011- The Slump

I want to take a little time this morning to take a brief survey with the help of other teachers. It's only my third week into the fall term, and I'm already beginning to experience what I call "the slump".

Several students have shown up for lessons this week with little or no practice logged. One student even had the guts to tell me he'd "forgotten about practicing".

Over and above this, the level of focus among my students was way off this week as well, and I had a hard time reining in the energy and maintaining any kind of focus.

I always find this phenomenon occurs about mid-term, after the first month or so of lessons has passed and the reality of the recital hasn't quite hit home. I've never had it hit so early. Two weeks ago we were just started off, setting our goals, and talking about what we wanted to accomplish this fall.

Over the years as I've taught, I've seen this slump slowly shifting earlier and earlier each term, and lasting longer and longer. It seems that students just don't have the enthusiasm and discipline that I expect them to have. On top of this, the parents also share their attitudes and don't make disciplined practice a priority, rather, they'll come in and make excuses for their kids and expect me to be the one to pick up the slack.

I am just curious if other teachers out there are noticing this type of trend in their respective areas? Do you find my observations to be relevant and applicable to your own studios? Have you dealt with this in the past? Do you have any ideas for how to breathe fresh inspiration even when it seems to be needed in the first month of the term?

I'm not meaning for this to be a negative post, I'm just sharing my observations and looking for feedback and (hopefully) some advice from more experienced teachers. If you wouldn't mind taking a few moments to share your own experiences by commenting, I'd love to get a good discussion going on this topic!


  1. I usually notice my slump after Christmas...during "let-down" time. I try breaking up the lesson time with a game or a fun activity and it seems to help the kids. For adults, so far they have been pretty well self-motivated, which is nice. But in the kids I notice the slump.
    As for practice time, I have it in my policy that failure to practice is not the teacher's fault. But I also have a statement in there that if consistency in failure to practice and improve may result in termination...of course that is a last resort, but it gives a little bit of a cushion against criticism of the teacher.

  2. I am holding off the slump with my practicing incentive but I feel it coming. I observe tired kids with many extracurricular activities who have the concept that life is hurried and they don't have time. I observe parents who claim there is plenty of unstructured time but seem to miss the need for a child to process their day. When I listen to them banter about getting 10 minutes in before dinner ot 15 minutes in the middle of homework I am sad. Life is hectic and people are becoming immune to the craziness, not realizing that if they would slow down the important things would start to become relevant. I am so in competition with sports and because sport have a social reward I feel like I need to ramp up group lessons, interaction from one student to the incoming next student and so
    on. Today I composed a letter to parents in my head, noting how much money they lose if their child quits piano before they are a competent musician. The letter is still just in my head.

  3. Thanks for your comments.

    Leah, I try to be as flexible as possible over dismissing my students, it's always such a hard call! The only time I've actually ever done that was in a case where the students missed half their lessons and were consistently late with payments or even failed to make payments. When practicing is the issue, I try everything I can think of to get a student motivated before I decide to let them go. I always do stress to both the students and parents that taking lessons is a contract between teacher and student- my end is to give them their weekly lessons and their end is to take that material home and practice it over the week.

    BusyB, I hear you! I often feel like I'm just part of the competition as well- and between homework, sports, and other activities it seems like I'm often the loser. I just try and do the best with what my students give me. I find I often have to re-adjust my expectations, otherwise I'm constantly disappointed. It's sad when I see the students' potential, but am unable to capitalize on it because they are so busy with other activities.

  4. If my students are slacking off in their practicing, I remind them of the need for regular practice, long enough practice time, and self-discipline, IF they want to play piano. That is a big IF. Some want to, some aren't sure, some are playing because of parental pressure. I don't let it get me down--I try to be their cheerleader and give plenty of praise and encouragement.

    I almost never have to terminate students for lack of practice--those students just quit. I don't pass pieces that are not acceptable, and they get tired of the same pieces for a month or two. Over that time period I get less congenial--I let them know I am dissatisfied with their work. I suggest they have a talk with their parents. They either get with the program or quit. Yes, sports activities are a problem. It's great to get a student who makes piano a priority.

  5. Jan- I really like the cheerleader analogy. The tough part is knowing when to push and when to take a step back. Some kids really respond well to challenges, while others get overwhelmed!

    I am blessed to have a few students in my current studio who do make practice a priority- and their progress shows it. When I get really frustrated with other students who aren't putting forth any effort, I just try to remind myself of the ones that do and focus on the positives.

    I do think that music is such an important part of a child's education that I try my hardest to work with any given situation before letting myself give up. But sometimes the kids (and even the parents), aren't on board, and that's when I talk it over with them and we make a decision.

  6. I have two off season events each year. One is a costumed performance at Halloween. The other one is a "play it by heart" recital for Valentine's Day. The parents love these, too, because they are held at less busy times.