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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Teacher Report Card

Written by Paula E. Bird ©2013
I wrote last week about a parent report card [here is the article link], and I promised to provide a teacher report card this week. Parents (and teachers), review the following statements and see if there are any areas that need attention. Parents, be sure to discuss these issues with your teacher.

The teacher's instructions are clear and understandable.

Be sure though that you as the parent are making an effort to understand and to remember the teacher's instructions. I have had instances of parents who do not follow my instructions well because they do not take adequate notes during the lesson and do not make an effort to understand what the child and I are working on. Sometimes parents are distracted by email or text messages on their phone. I had one parent who liked to go through her wallet and reconcile receipts. These parents are sending the message to their children that what the children are doing at their lessons is not as important as emails, text messages, or reconciling checkbooks. Really? Even if a child is at an independent stage in the lessons, would it not be better to look (and be) attentive to what the child is doing?

At some point in book 1, I may lose a few parents who claim that they are "confused" and that things are "so hard to understand" because the form of the songs may be a little bit more complicated than Twinkle. I understand when a parent truly is struggling to understand, but in many of these cases the parents did not seem to want to put in the effort to learn for themselves. Sometimes even parents then begin to insist that the child be independent at this point, even though the child is at early elementary school age.

Nope, the young child is not yet ready to be independent and instead would benefit from the parent's making the effort to stay involved. Here is how I look at it. I have three and four year old students in my studio. If I can teach them the names of the eight notes of the A scale, then surely a parent can learn them too. If we expect young students to remember how to play the form of a song, then surely the parents can learn to remember the form. Anything that a parent expects a child to be able to do should be something that the parent can also do.

I recall an instance of talking with an adult who claimed that they just did not understand how Facebook or computers worked, and that the iPhone (or other smart phone) was too complicated for that adult to understand. I relate the story of the two year old sibling in my studio who picked up his mother's iPhone, swiped the screen on, and then called me. I note that most adults begin to work through their technology issues after they hear me tell how easy it is for extremely young children to figure out. It just takes effort on the part of the adult.

Oh yes, I have heard the arguments that personal communication is better than electronic and that some parents would prefer that their children not be exposed to the big, bad Internet, but parents, please know that your children are quite exposed to the Internet and electronics. It would be better if you, the parent, would be on top of this issue so that you could adequately monitor what your child learns from this exposure. You may keep your house devoid of electronics, but the rest of the world does not. Your church, your school, your neighbors, and your child's friends are probably connected and showing your child how to be as well. Stay on top of this so that you can adequately protect your child from what you call from the bad effects of the Internet.

The teacher explains the points that I should focus on during my home practice sessions with my child.

Be sure you leave the lesson with a clear understanding of what your child's teacher expects you to practice. I can give the parent a detailed list of things to practice, but I am not in the home the other six days of the week. I am not there to gauge the child's energy level, motivation, or other life difficulties. I rely on the child's parents to make those assessments during the week and to structure the child's practices accordingly to best meet the criteria of the moment. If a parent takes careful notes during the child's lesson, then the parent will have at least one lesson plan to follow -- the lesson plan that the parent observed during the lesson. I usually also suggest one or two other games or ways to practice things. If the parent makes a list of these types of practice techniques as lessons progress, maybe in the back section of the parent notebook or on a list of index cards or review cards as Sue Hunt suggests (here are the links to the interview and Sue's website), then the parent will have created a large basket that is full of practice tips and ideas.

The teacher shows me how to be a good home teacher to my child.

The teacher understands the child from the standpoint of a teacher. The teacher is not the parent. The teacher should be role modeling how to teach your child. If the parent follows this same approach and is careful to not to insert the "parenting" aspects at the same time, then the parent will be a more effective home teacher to the child. Parents who insist on regulating behavior during lessons and practices rather than building up a relationship that focuses on the learning environment, may have a hard time being effective home teachers. The teaching and learning environment should be happening at the child's lesson, and it is the parent's responsibility to continue the environment in the home.

A parent who frequently harps at the child about posture issues or who uses an unpleasant tone of voice (signaling frustration and exasperation) is not building a motivating learning environment. Better to turn this energy and focus into some sort of game that aids the student to become more aware of the student's behavior. For example, if the student cannot remember to hold the bow at the proper tilt, then set up a chip game. Place 10 chips on the table, and every time the student forgets to hold the bow at the proper tilt, remove a chip from the student's pile. I guarantee that the student will start remembering to perform the bow tilt correctly after losing two chips without my having to harp on it. The same thing goes for a student making squeaky noises because of speeding, or missing the finger tapes, or any number of other items. Playing a game and finding ways to make the practice sessions more fun will make the entire experience more enjoyable for both parent and student.

The teacher treats my child and me with respect.

The atmosphere at the lessons should be positive and nurturing. However, that does not mean that the teacher should allow misconduct on the part of the child or the parent. I believe that I show my parents and students respect by making sure that they live up to the best that they can be. I very seldom permit a parent or student to talk disrespectfully to each other or to behave improperly to each other or to me. If a parent is talking unpleasantly about the child or making snide remarks about something that the child and I are working on, I will call the parent on it. I will try and do it in a way that is pleasant, but there have been one or two times when I had to call a halt to unpleasant words coming from a parent. We all need reminders now and then, and I believe that I am showing my students and parents the ultimate respect by expecting them to adhere to a code of doing and being the best that they can be. The teacher's giving respect to the parent and student does not mean that the parent and student can misbehave or get away with improper actions.

The teacher understands my child and the best teaching method for my child.

The teacher makes an effort to understand the child's personality and learning styles and to choose a teaching method that best addresses the child's unique styles. The teacher explains to the parent how the teaching method will help the child to learn better. The teacher may also take time to help the parent understand what the parent's personality and learning styles are so that the parent can be a more effective home practice partner.

I would like to remind parents that the teacher is the expert in the music lesson arena because the teacher has spent many years learning how to play the instrument and how to teach music. The teacher should therefore be accorded the appropriate amount of respect for this expertise. Many times I have counseled young teachers who have parents who treat them with disrespect because the teachers are young. I frequently remind these young teachers that they are the experts in their instrument and in teaching, and they should not feel intimidated by the parent because the teacher is young or is not yet a parent.

My child enjoys the lessons and group classes with his teacher.

This statement seems obvious. The child should enjoy coming to lessons and group classes in order for learning to occur. However, when a child is reluctant to attend lessons and group classes, the parent may want to reflect on whether the parent has adequately prepared the child for lessons and group classes. A parent who has not practiced consistently and regularly before lessons and group classes will be raising a child who shows uncertainty and reluctance at lessons and group classes, and who exhibits dawdling and other acting-out behaviors.

My child and I learn something at every lesson.

Generally, the student and the parent should walk away from the lesson with a new lesson learned or a new insight gained. However, if the child and the parent are not learning something at every lesson, the parent may want to reflect on whether the parent is helping to make this possible by providing the fertile ground during the week that makes it possible to teach the child and parent something at every lesson, or whether the parent is dragging down the learning process by not following through at home with consistent and regular practicing. My practice handbooks are very helpful for me to show parents when I have to teach the same lesson over and over because the parent and student are not practicing my homework assignments in between lessons. The parent can do quite a bit here to make this statement ring true -- or not.

The teacher is available outside of the lesson to discuss any questions that I have.

I maintain a very full teaching schedule, and so I have limited time available outside of lessons. I prefer emails or other written communications rather than phone calls because I can spend a little more time reflecting on the communication, and I can answer the communications at my leisure at all hours of the day or night. I love answering parent questions, when the parents present these questions in the written format. I also answer questions during lessons as well, although it is much better to address these things outside of the lesson. Answering questions at lessons often takes longer than the parent realizes, and rather than be hurried in my answers because I am trying to keep to my teaching schedule out of courtesy to my other students, I would rather answer the questions in a more relaxed and thorough manner after lessons.

The Suzuki Triangle

So there you have it -- the Teacher Report Card. Notice though how much of the teacher's successful reporting will have a direct correlation to the effort that the child's parent puts into home practices, regular routine, consistent interaction during lessons, and enhancing the home learning environment. That is why the Suzuki world talks about the Suzuki Triangle: the triangle partnership between the teacher, the student, and the child. Every person at one of the points in the triangle is important. Each person at the point of the triangle has a job.

The teacher's job is to teach the parent how to be more effective as a parent, how to be a good home practice partner, and how to teach the child to play the instrument well. These are merely three items, but I could write a book about each item.

The parent's job is to play the recordings daily, practice the teacher's homework assignments daily with the child, set up a nurturing and motivating learning environment (listening, music concerts), and help the child to learn the notes and bowing of the songs the child is learning.

The child's job is to be a child. If the parent and teacher do their jobs correctly, the child will be able to be a child. The child will be able to learn at the child's appropriate pace. The child will learn things from his environment. The parent and child will have happy practice sessions in the home, and everyone will benefit together with happy and productive lessons and group classes at the studio.

I will not be writing a report card for the child, because I believe that the success of the child will be due to the efforts of the adults in the child's life. So, teachers and parents, let's all pledge to be the best teacher and parent that we can be so that our students and children can be nurtured by love to become fine citizens with good and noble hearts.


  1. I do think that the child should be allowed to be a child, but I also think of the child's job as being cooperative and trying new things. ???

    1. We teachers would all love that! I look at it this way, who teaches the child how to be cooperative and try new things? I am not sure that children will automatically do things like this, especially if a different way is being modeled in the home. Also, there may be instances of family dynamics that are causing the child problems, such as divorce and visitation schedules. sometimes I have to work through these issues with a child, and I am always looking at teaching the parent how to get through these issues. I would love a child to be able to do this, but children are children I have found, and unless we teach them these skills and behaviors, I do not think that they automatically happen. A child's maturity level may also impact. Don't you find this to be so?