REASONS FOR CHANGE
No doubt there are at least as many reasons to change instructors as there are students in the world, but certainly the ones listed below are the most common. Read through them and decide whether any apply to you, and consider the issues addressed in the description. Sometimes you may realize that a reason you were considering was not as important as you thought, or possibly the opposite, the situation is more severe and in grave need of change more than you realized.
LOSS OF TEACHER: If the teacher becomes ill, moves away, or passes away, the student is left without a teacher and in need of seeking a new one. This situation is usually the most difficult for the parents because finding a new teacher can be difficult (especially of the former teacher did not, or was unable to make a referral). Usually, the parents and student were satisfied with their former teacher and will try to find a replacement that is similar or the same. Unfortunately, this approach may be more difficult than it seems at first glance, and the parents and student should prepare themselves for a new teacher that is likely to be VERY different from the former one. In addition, the parents should not delay in their search, or allow their search to be dragged on by obstacles, as the student's progress is impeded with the passing of every week without a lesson. As a simple rule, with the same teacher a student will need ONE catch-up lesson for every TWO weeks gap in continuity. With a new teacher, the student will need the same number of catch up lessons in addition to the adjustment period lessons. (See "A Good Transition")
REFERRAL: Many times a teacher will refer a student to another teacher. There are many reasons for this, and sometimes the former teacher will not be fully clear which reasons apply to your situation. Regardless, any time a teacher refers a student to a new teacher it is ALWAYS intended to be in the best interest of the student. Teachers usually make a phone call first to confirm that the new teacher is available and willing to take the student (unless they have a prior understanding about referrals). When a teacher refers a student, the transition is usually the smoothest, because both teachers usually understand what to expect, and the parents will accept the transition with more trust and confidence. If there is any reason you might not trust the referral, or there is a logistical difficulty regarding the referral (distance, cost, prior understanding, studio is full, teacher declines to accept the student, etc.), then you may be in the position of having to do your own search for a new teacher.
COST: Changing teachers due to issues of cost is usually the least important reason for change. The difficulties of the transition always outweigh the savings likely to be incurred. Sometimes, the issue of time is part of the cost factor, such as a long commute that is eating up the family schedule as much as the gas budget. If you are considering a change due to time or costs, the need for finding the best possible teacher is totally imperative. A student who feels she/he has gone from a good/liked teacher to a mediocre/unliked teacher will stop practicing, develop negative attitudes toward the teacher and the instrument, and may decide to quit all together.
QUALITY: There comes a time in the music education of many students where the parents (and sometimes even the student) question the quality of the education. This feeling may develop over time (student is not progressing or is not sufficiently challenged), or could have been anticipated from the beginning (parents chose a teacher based on proximity to the home rather than credentials and quality of teaching). What the parents should first accept and understand is that the ethical and honest teacher will always refer a student to another teacher whenever it becomes apparent to the teacher that the student would benefit from the change (see above). The situations which must be addressed by the parents and student themselves are: 1) The teacher has the general position of keeping all students as long as possible, either due to need for income, or other reasons; 2) The teacher has strong confidence in her/his pedagogical philosophy which she/he believes works for ALL students, and the parents are beginning to question the veracity of this position; 3) The teacher accepts the student's slow progress because she/he believes the student simply does not practice enough, or lacks inherent abilities; 4) The parents are concerned that the teacher is not qualified to bring the student to the next level, and suspect the teacher will delay transfer beyond the point that is best for the student; or 5) The parents have observed aspects of the teacher's style or technique they do not agree with nor accept as appropriate for their child. Each if these issues is addressed in greater detail below:
Financial: Most parents know whether their teacher has financial need to keep students. Simple indicators to watch for: 1) Is the studio growing? 2) Does the teacher always have new students? 3) Has your teacher referred other students to other teachers for advancement? 4) Does your teacher have any very advanced students? The more times you answered "YES", the less likely the teacher is keeping students for the sake of income. If you answered "NO" for all four questions, you may have reason for concern.
Confidence: Every student and parents of students should seek out and prefer a teacher with a strong sense of self confidence, and a clear idea of her/his pedagogical approach. All good teachers SHOULD believe that their approach is good for almost ALL students. On the same token, all good teachers SHOULD be able to accept that there are some students that will not fit their mold, and possibly would benefit from another approach. If you believe you are in this situation, you have every right to, and in fact the teacher should appreciate, an honest discussion regarding the situation. Although the parents and teacher may come away from the discussion with different conclusions, it should at least clarify the issues for both parties and when the parents make a decision to change, the teacher will at least know the reasons. Any open-minded teacher would support your decision and accept it as a learning and growth opportunity, and the head-strong teacher probably will dismiss you and the student as hopeless causes. At least you tried to come to an agreement with your teacher, and possibly the teacher can give you a referral in either case. Despite whatever you perceive from your end, the teacher will never want to alienate a colleague and if in fact the teacher refers the student to a teacher whom they consider not as good as themselves, there is strong possibility that the new teacher will be different enough to provide a new learning approach for the student!
Progress: If you believe your child is not progressing up to her/his true potential, it is often easy to blame the teacher before looking closer to home. Before you decide that the teacher is the problem, it is in your best interest to consider these issues: 1) Time: Does your child put in the time as requested by the teacher? (Ask the teacher regarding time requirements if you are not sure.); 2) Following Directions: Does your child follow the directions specified by the teacher? (Practicing two hours daily will do nothing if the student is not practicing WHAT was assigned and HOW the teacher instructed her/him to practice.); 3) Consultation: Have you discussed your concerns about your child's progress with the teacher? Are you satisfied with the discussion? 4) Objective Assessment: Are you being honest with yourself about your child's abilities? Does you child participate in juries (outside evaluations) and competitions which would measure his/her progress? Have you carefully compared your child's performances at recitals to those of other students at the same level and years of study? Have you considered getting an outside opinion from another teacher or parent? 5) Interest and Attitude: Is your child disinterested in music study, and only pretending to make the effort? Does your child play games at the lesson or at home that feign lack of ability? Do you attend lessons to observe exactly what is going on? You probably need to be able to answer "YES" to EVERY question here before you can be sure that a change to a new teacher is required.
Credentials: The credentials of any teacher can be measured in three simple ways: 1) Eduation, 2) Experience and 3) Quality of Students. Do you really know your teacher in all three areas? Education: A music degree is certainly not required to teach beginning students, and in fact it can be argued that spending money on a teacher with a very advanced degree is a waste of money for young and beginning students. (Would you want Einstein to teach your children arithmetic?) For teachers of beginners, experience, referrals, testamonials and parental direct observation are the best indicators of a good teacher. For students beyond the beginning level, a music degree is certainly important if not a requirement. If your child is planning to audition for college music, you MUST make sure that the teacher's credentials are sufficient to meet this challenge. (See FACULTY for specific education and credentials of KMI faculty). Experience: The total years of teaching alone is not sufficient measure of a teacher's experience. There are factors of HOW MANY students, maturity, level of students and education that can affect the teacher's overall level of experience. A teacher with a music degree who has 30 or more students at different levels, and only 3 years of teaching under the belt will probably have gained much more meaningful experience than a teacher without a degree, with 10 or less students all at the same beginning levels, who has been teaching for 5 or more years. Observe your teacher at the lesson, and pay attention at the recitals. If you like what you see, then the teacher is probably demonstrating good application of experience. Despite all the degrees and years of doing something, the fact that some people are just natural born teachers is still an important factor as well. Quality: "How well do the teacher's students perform and progress?" is always a difficult question to answer. To answer this question, you must: 1) observe other students at recitals carefully, 2) talk to other parents, and; 3) observe the successes of other students (competitions, awards, entrance into prestigious ensembles, etc.) The only way to measure the teacher's ability to produce quality students objectively is by observing ALL the students in the studio, and not just your own child. (See FEATURED STUDENTS for examples of KMI student performances).
Teaching Style: Some are natural born teachers. Some develop a solid teaching style based on years of experience. Some are naturally energetic in their style. Some are good, but more quiet and low key in their approach. Some instill interest by making things fun. Some pass on strong desire to work due to high expectations. Some are critical, yet supportive. Some try to get you to do it right without pointing out the mistakes. Some work hard with you to help you fix things. Some tell you what's wrong and leave it you to make it right. Some hold your hand with every step. Some show you the result and let you find your own way. EVERY ONE OF THESE IS A GOOD APPROACH! But is it the best for your child? Sometimes a student needs several approaches over the years, so that she/he can figure out what is best. Sometimes a student needs the OPPOSITE of what they are used to in order to be prepared for the real world. Only you can tell, and only by carefully observing lessons and the progress of others will you be able to decide.
PHILOSOPHY: Finally, there is one general issue that is best addressed separately from all the above: What is your teacher's general philosophy about music education? There are generally two outlooks: 1) music is not for everyone, only those with inherent ability and desire should continue study; 2) music is a gift everyone should enjoy, just like reading, because it opens the mind, heart and soul to so much more later in life. The first outlook was much more common in the last century, and is based on the assumption that teachers are the front line leaders in finding the next generation of professional musicians. Whereas this is certainly one of their goals, some teachers believe that their role is not limited to this function. The belief that everyone should learn music is NOT new, and in fact was born in the 19th century when every middle class family bought a piano and gave their children (daughters) piano lessons. However, since WWII society's focus on becoming "productive" members shifted the emphasis in education away from "good for the mind, heart and soul" to "important for my career". Therefore, many teachers began to adopt a similar attitude, that if the student does not show promise it is a waste of money to continue their lessons. More recently, research is showing yet again that a music education in fact is more important for the general development of children than ever before realized, and as a result teachers are again approaching the process as something that should be available to everyone. If your teacher is not giving your child adequate attention, because she/he seems to be more of the belief that only those who have potential should continue, but you believe that your child deserves a quality music education "just because", you might want to find a teacher more in the second category. Sometimes what works in education is a direct outgrowth of the teacher's general belief about why we teach in the first place.
(Proceed to THINGS TO CONSIDER to understand additional issues regarding a transfer.)