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Transfering to a new teacher

Some advice with changing teachers.

As with our family, sooner or later, many kids will be faced with changing teachers. Families move. Teachers move. Retirements happen. Or teachers recommend switching so the student has access to new techniques and perspectives. We recently moved to a new city and were faced with the need to change teachers. Although we’re still in the midst of the transition, we’ve learned a lot about what happens in such a move.

Attend to the emotional side

Adults often take shortcuts in dealing with difficult subjects. We assume that other adults are emotionally healthy enough to dive straight into rational problem solving. Children are different. They always need to deal with the emotional side first; otherwise they feel alienated and unsupported.

The relationship between student and teacher is strong. Children look to the teacher as a trusted person, almost like a parent. After years of sharing difficulties and celebrating progress, kids become attached to their teacher. Severing that relationship is the most difficult part of transitioning to a new teacher. When we talked with ViolinGirl about moving, she had little to say until she realized that it meant losing her violin teacher. Then she became sad and tearful.

My advice is not to focus on working with a new teacher but to deal with the sense of separation and loss as it is. If we start by explaining that we will find a new teacher, then we’re dealing with the rational side of the process rather than addressing the immediate emotional needs. It’s better to support the child and listen empathically before addressing the eventual need to find a new teacher. Children will come to terms with the change in their own time; but they need time to adjust before working on the nuts-and-bolts of moving to a new teacher.

Do your research

We spent over a year finding out what opportunities are available in the community where we’d be living. We had a lot of lead time because the move involved immigration issues. Rather that waiting until we got to our new city, we looked into Suzuki programs and studios in the new area. Over the course of many phone calls, e-mails, and web searches, I had a reasonably good sense about the local community.

We were able to meet teachers; and ViolinGirl played for them in a sort of preview lesson. That gave us a sense of teaching style and compatibility. I suspect that it gave the teachers a sense, too, of what kind of student and family they would be working with.

In the end, time spent researching new opportunities paid off. We felt that we were better informed and our daughter saw that we worked hard to make the transition smoother.

Focus on the routine

Not everything changes when you begin working with a new teacher. One of the wonderful things about the Suzuki repertoire is that it is universal. When ViolinGirl went to her first group classes in our new city, it was remarkable that she simply walked to the front the group and began playing the pieces despite the fact we had just moved to a new city. In another country. After a year immersed in immigration paperwork, it was refreshing to see how universal and seamless music is!

Many things will change; but practice is a constant. Apart from dealing with the logistics of moving, we tried to keep practice a constant by working some every day. Eventually, what we do in practice will change as we get instructions from the new teacher; but in the transition, we continued to follow our previous teacher’s direction. Focusing on what doesn’t have to change gave us all a sense of needed stability.

Focus on the basics

Teachers do things in different ways. They have different points of emphasis. But the basics are the same. How is the posture? How is the bow hold? Are you playing into the string? How is the tone? By focusing on the basics during the transition, it means that the child can delve sooner into the musical aspects of the repertoire with the new teacher.

Teacher to teacher

Our previous teacher did a marvelous job of communicating with the new teacher about what ViolinGirl was working on, what she struggles with, the books we use, and so forth. The new teacher was very impressed with the thought and detail that she had put into the summary. Asking the teachers to communicate through the transition is a great way to foster continuity.

Going back

Several teachers mentioned to us the possibility that a new teacher may spend time focusing on techniques that were learned earlier in the repertoire. We talked with ViolinGirl about this beforehand so that she would not be surprised or frustrated about having to “go back.”

Changes are harder for some kids than others - just like grownups! With a little care and attention, it needn’t be a painful experience. In fact, framing it as a chance to grow and develop in new ways can be positive.

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Written by:

Alan is the main practice partner and accompanist for a young violinist.