I don’t teach piano, I teach students. I teach people, mostly small in size and age, but people nonetheless.
I educate families. I help them understand the value of piano lessons, how to navigate the challenges, and how to offer support to their students.
This means I care. Sometimes I care about a student for 10 years or more. I care about them when the unpredictable events of life come crashing in: divorce, illness, loss of family income, death of a beloved relative or pet. I care about them when predictable events pop up: adolescent woes, friendship failures, loss of opportunities, and not-so-hot performances. This caring takes energy.
I am not alone in this. It’s the way most independent piano teachers function. We build up connections with students and their families because the tutorial system depends on connections. We realize that is a central part of our job.
caring becomes an opening to be a little too understanding. Those of us who have been teaching one-on-one for decades have stories of people who take our kindness as a way to push established boundaries, especially if they are “nice” people.
1. Chronically paying late or not at all, as though we don’t have expenses that have deadlines.
2. Disregarding policies without reasonable justification, as though we set them up to have loopholes.
3. Using teachers as babysitters because it’s hard to run errands with kids. Believe me, I know that. I did that.
4. Expecting services beyond teaching, just because they are nice and the teacher is nice and being nice conquers all.
5. Telling the teacher how and what to teach. There’s asking, and there’s telling. Most teachers welcome input on the best ways to work with specific children, but the boundary between healthy exchange and taking over is firm.
The relationship between teachers, students, and families is both valuable and unusual. We are hired, but we are not employees. We are business owners with clients. We aim to please our clients by doing our best to be knowledgeable, respectful, and encouraging. We relish long-term relationships with students and families, relationships that often last beyond formal lessons.
Do we make mistakes? Sure. We are human. We also have boundaries.