Thursday, July 19, 2012

When Students Transfer

Earlier this week, I had the good fortune to meet a young pianist who will be studying with me in the fall.  This teen student came to me after spending several years with another teacher.  While he has gained some valuable skills, he does not enjoy the repertoire being assigned and his mother expressed that she does not believe he has progressed as he should have in the past year.  As they began to discuss the possibilities of transferring to my studio, I began to think of ways that I could better serve students who transfer from my studio.

Transfers are natural.  They occur because a family relocates.  A student may desire to study an area of piano outside of their current teacher's expertise.  Conflicting personalities would also be a valid cause for a student to seek out another teacher.  In a few cases, the student has progressed to the teacher's skill level and must be encouraged to seek out another mentor.  As a profession, how well are we serving students who transfer?

In the American public school system, a student transfer is accompanied with a massive file detailing the student's history.  It contains test scores as well as transcripts -- which outline what material has been introduced, repeated, and mastered -- and paints a portrait of the student's development.  Additionally, many students also have an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) which identifies learning disabilities as well as an intensive strategy for accommodating these needs and reports regarding each accommodation's effectiveness.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to receive similar information from former piano teachers when new students opt to study with you?  While the files that are developed in public education are extensive on each student, a piano student's file could be generated with little difficulty.  The best teachers take some time at the end of each term to reflect on their students' progress, evaluate their mastery of concepts, and develop a plan of action for the future.  When a student transfers, what a gift it would be to the new teacher to provide this valuable information along with a brief note of introduction to the student.  No one has more information about the student's positive (and negative) musical traits than the current teacher.

Do I currently have these files ready on my students?  No, but I do see the value and plan to implement a simple version.  At the end of each term, I plan to list the repertoire studied and a brief statement of what was addressed in the lessons (major focuses for the semester).  By identifying a few things I plan to address in the coming semester, I am also beginning to consider new repertoire.  Personal reviews about memorable lessons (both good and bad), performances, and response to pieces could also be added.  If you wanted to make it even easier, simply organize your notes from your weekly lessons into a file and have everything in one place.  When the time comes for your student to leave your studio -- for whatever reason -- give them the gift of knowledge by offering to share your records with their new teacher and elevate your level of professionalism.  After all, as teachers our greatest concern is for our student's development.

In a perfect situation, what information would you like to know about a student from a prior teacher?  In what circumstances can it be a hindrance having a teacher's input?  I look forward to hearing from you!