Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My Life as a Piano Teacher

It has been a busy spring at Asberry School of Music. Since February, students of mine have participated in the following events:

(1) NFMC Federated Festival (26 Superiors, 2 Excellents, 7 15-point gold cups, 2 30-point gold cups)

Hayley with her 30-point gold cup

Emily with her 30-point gold cup

(2) GMTA Local Auditions (1 Outstanding Performer, 1 Honorable Mention)

(3) GCMTA Ensemble Concert (a "monster concert," if you will--five grand pianos on stage with two students at each piano, performing duets while following a conductor)

John with me after the ensemble concert

(4) GMTA State Auditions (1 Honorable Mention)

(5) Detroit Midwest Fleadh (an Irish music competition--my student, Liam, won first place in all three piano events he entered!)

(6) Kody/Robin Extravaganza--presented by my two graduating seniors; in the program, I was cited for "pianistic perfection" and "pre-show preparation," but these kids did all the work themselves, demonstrating that I have met my goal of making my students independent of me!

Robin/Kody with Ms. Pam

(7) I also took small groups of students to several assisted living enters in the area to perform for the residents.

Hope with Ms. Pam and John at Brookside Senior Living Community

(8) And I hosted a composition/improvisation workshop presented by Dr. Joseph Akins. That evening, Joseph and local musician Stanton Lanier gave a solo piano concert at Piano Works in Duluth. It was a very special time.

Stanton Lanier, Ms. Pam, and Joseph Akins

Finally, I attended the 2009 MTNA National Conference, which was held in Atlanta in March. I heard some wonderful speakers and listened to some great music. I think it is accurate to say that I learned things that will revolutionize the way I teach piano. More on that later.

* * *

I LOVE being a piano teacher. I started taking piano lessons shortly after my seventh birthday, decided that I wanted to be a piano teacher when I grew up, and never looked back. But as much as I love playing the piano and coaching others, in some ways my job goes against my nature. When I am teaching, I am "on." But I am introverted by nature. Now, by "introverted," I don't mean shy. When I was in high school, I was extremely shy, quiet and awkward. I am over that. Just ask anybody who knows me well. According to about. com, "an introvert is a person who is energized by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around other people." I teach six or seven hours a day. That's twelve to fourteen students in a row, and I often interact, at least in a limited way, with their parents and siblings, as well. That explains why I often make hasty retreat to my room as soon as I am finished. I just need some time to re-charge my batteries.

And, for the record, what I do is a full-time job. I see 50-some piano students every week. Most have 30-minute private lessons; a handful have 45-minute or 60-minute lessons. That comes to "only" about 30 hours a week of actual face time. But add mountains of paperwork and time spent planning for and participating in the above events, and it is easy to see that I put in well over 40 hours a week--including lots of time at night and on week-ends.

But this is the hardest part. A couple of weeks ago, a family that I have worked with for six years made the decision to stop their children's lessons with me because they had issues with some of my studio policies--reasonable, clear policies that have been in place for the past three years. This situation still troubles me a lot, because these students loved coming to lessons, practiced faithfully, and were progressing beautifully. Not only that, just a month or so ago, the parents invited John and me over to look at a house that was for sale two doors down from them. They told us how great it would be to have us as neighbors, and drooled at the prospect of their kids being able to WALK to piano lessons! The manner in which the parents chose to end their relationship with me was ugly and hurtful. In a series of e-mails, I was accused of being money-grubbing and unprofessional. In the end, despite the fact that I met all their demands, they withdrew anyway. It was all very confusing. There has to be more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. (Maybe they were upset because we didn't buy the house?) I cried myself to sleep two nights in a row. The worst thing was that I didn't even get to say good-bye to the children! The strangest part was receiving a check for their June tuition in the mail, along with a letter from the mother saying I am "an incredible piano teacher" and "I love you, Pam." (Call me cynical, but I think this might have had something to do with the final e-mail I sent her--although the opening line of the letter was that she had not opened that message, nor did she intend to--in which I responded to her assertion that telling me in May--on the 29th!--that they wouldn't be returning for lessons in June was "a month's notice," and therefore released them from obligation to pay June tuition. I further offered to meet with them and their pastor so that we could clear the air between us. It seemed a shame to me to end a six-year relationship on such an acrimonious note. Maybe that was too confronting.)

So I was asking myself a lot of questions. Then, just minutes after opening the check and the letter, I received an e-mail from a former student, explaining that he had "needed to take some time this past year to put [his] piano playing in perspective," but he knows now what "a great teacher" I am, and asking if I have any openings in my fall schedule. (It just so happens I do--see the preceding paragraph!) I met with him yesterday, and it appears that we are going to be able to renew our relationship in a mutually satisfactory way. Is that synchronicity, or WHAT?!?

* * *

My Spring Piano Recitals will be held at Piano Works this Saturday at 1:30 and 3:00 PM. The following week I will wrap up this academic year, the week after that I will teach a couple of days of make-up lessons, and then my summer schedule begins. This year, I have just a handful of students continuing through the month of July; it looks like I will be teaching Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. That will leave me with some time to reflect on the past and prepare for the future.


Carley said...

I really enjoyed your blog update! Great pictures and all the student awards reflect the great piano teacher you are. Keep up the good work and don't let one negative mother or family steal your joy. She may be going through covert problems of her own which is being reflected toward you as her way of striking back at her real problem.
Just remember that music washes from the soul, the dust of everyday living.
Also a good quote by Theodore Roosevelt that gives me courage when I feel I'm being unfairly attacked: “I care not what others think of what I do, but I care very much about what I think of what I do! That is character!”

Cindy said...

Hey Pam,

It was great to see photos of your students and to learn of their successes -- which are your successes too! Who knows what's going on with the parents who pulled their kids from your studio. It really sounds as though they are going through some problems -- they're certainly sending mixed messages. I'm jsut sorry that you were caught in the middle of this and that it was so painful for you. How amazing that a former student returned and can now rejoin your studio. Life is amazing. Hope you are doing well and that you have a great weekend.