We have all had lesson teachers that we have loved and from whom we learned so much. I will always remember every one of my flute teachers. Each brought something different to the table, good or bad. Sometimes I wasn’t ready to learn what they presented and other times, I needed more than they could give. So how do you know when it is time to move to a new teacher and how do you approach the subject? It can be tough for everyone involved to address the topic. Alternately, depending on the situation, sometimes it isn’t difficult at all!
There are a few questions that you want to answer before making such a big decision. First and foremost, why? What are the primary reasons behind the desire to change teachers? Has your teacher suggested this change? Are you interested in a specific style of performance that your teacher is unfamiliar with (historical performance practice, jazz etc…)? Do you feel you have outgrown your current teacher? Do you and your teacher argue or do you feel that they are not giving you the full attention that you require (do you feel like you are just a source of income). Have you just not clicked with their teaching style? These are all very valid reasons for considering switching to a new teacher. After all, there are so many teachers who specialize, so many different personality types, and so many different teaching styles.
Really think it through, because there are some less legitimate reasons for switching. Like, switching a the more famous teacher doesn’t mean they are better. Or being upset that your teacher comments regularly that you’re unprepared (you know if you have practiced or not). Moving to the more expensive teacher because obviously since they charge more, they are better is, again, a bit leap of logic. Also, switching to the more popular studio because that is where all the cool kids go doesn’t mean it will be better for you. Switching to the cheaper teacher isn’t always better either (although sometimes really great teachers are quite affordable). If money is an issue, talk to the teacher. Most of us are willing to work with a family that has some financial hardships although if the family owns multiple expensive cars and takes regular Disney trips, we may not be as willing to work with you (teaching is part of our income).
In general, and I am speaking from my own experiences, I want my students to have every opportunity. I don’t push them harder than they express a desire to work. I want to keep it enjoyable for them even if they express that they wish to pursue music as a career. I am always upfront about the expectations of that choice and I am very direct if they are not meeting the expectations for that career path. I also encourage students to take lessons with other teachers. Most often, those other teachers say verbatim what I have said. Students often return to our lessons as if I had never said anything of the sort and they heard the words for the first time from the other teacher. I usually just smile and nod while they spurt this all too familiar verbiage. If a student expresses the desire to go study with another teacher, I try to be very supportive but I always ask them for some insight into the change of heart. Most often it is (at least from what they have shared) a schedule conflict with my availability. I never push for more because it isn’t necessary, especially if the student has reasons they don’t feel comfortable sharing. With young students it can be simply that they want to study with the same teacher that their friends go to. This is their choice and it’s not my place to pressure them.
There have also been times when I have had to encourage students to go elsewhere or suggest a different teacher. In rare cases, I have found myself “firing” a student because they just don’t do the work or, more often than not, the parents have become overly demanding or unpredictable. These are the cases with regular, short notice cancellations and pushback when I require compensation for the time I set aside for them and couldn’t use for anyone else. Most often, these parents don’t see lessons as a job or my income because it is extracurricular for the student.
In general, approaching this change should be upfront and honest. If there is pressure or negative response then there may be underlying issues. You never want to burn a bridge on either side because you just never know what the future holds. Honesty is always best, but be sensitive, as both the student and the teacher can be bruised by the experience. I have had to say goodbye to some beloved students because they chose to pursue dance or gymnastics rather than flute but I have also had teachers poach students as well. I always appreciate when a student talks to me about the change and it is a good learning experience, especially for the younger students, in growth and maturity. It is always bitter sweet at a student’s last lesson and there are usually tears. This is how you know you’ve touched a student’s heart. You never know when you have been the one stable adult in their life!
If you are an adult student, keep in mind that with the good and the bad, we always learn something. The things we learn may be the ways NOT to do something (boy the stories I could tell) but we still learn. Focus on what you can take away from one teacher and use moving forward. Even in my worst experiences as a teacher and as a student, I have been able to look back and identify what I got from those interactions (sometimes just therapy bills) but I always move forward stronger and with knowledge I didn’t have beforehand. One of the best teachers I ever had told me once, “I am here to teach you to teach yourself.” I have never forgotten this and it is my own personal teaching philosophy.