A while back, one of my lesson parents had a request, “I want you to be more harsh with my kids”.

This is a tricky one… especially when you do lessons in the students’ homes as I do.  Some parents would be appalled if you were too strict or demanding with their children.  Others think you should be a taskmaster.  And it’s not always easy to tell which is which!

Now, I will never be harsh with my students.  I just won’t.  Kids are one of the best things about planet earth.

I do believe in being firm with a student if they are being disrespectful, disobedient… or too playful for an extended period of time.

One of my students, who usually excels, had a practicing-lapse and failed to work on his most important piece for over 6 weeks in a row.  The song was definitely not too difficult for him; he just wasn’t putting in the time.  I was torn about what to do, since being frank and honest wasn’t cutting it.  His need for real practice was obviously, ridiculously, embarrassingly overdue.

At the beginning of one of his lessons I had him play the song.  It sucked, of course.

So, I stopped him after he fumbled through the first page.  I reminded him that he had been assigned the song for 6 weeks in a row and that I had been quite patient with him despite this fact.  I gently informed him that I was going to leave the room and he was going to practice it until he got it right, then he could come and find me and play it for me.

I didn’t yell.  I wasn’t harsh.  I simply told him.

Then I got up, gathered my stuff and left the room.

He started practicing immediately.  I might have heard a few sniffles in between rests but he kept at it until he got it.

The next week his mom said, “That thing you did, where you left the room… that was awesome!  My son’s been practicing piano like crazy!”

Tell you what, he was excited and happy during his lesson that week too.

Yesterday I was out to eat with family when I happened to overhear a conversation between two little girls and their aunt who was presumably spending the day with them.   One of the girls said, “I love the violin!  I started taking lessons from my orchestra teacher over a year ago but my teacher was so mean!  She never smiled and she was always angry.  So I quit.”

She proceeded to say, “It’s no fair!  The school just hired a new teacher and she’s so nice and everyone loves her and now I’m behind on the violin!”

I’ll speak the truth in love, I will find creative ways to motivate them but…

I’m never going to be the mean teacher.  You can’t make me.


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