Drone-Strike Parenting: the step beyond Helicopter Parenting. Hover, hover, hover, quietly, out of sight, then swoop in and cause massive collateral damage and mayhem. Retreat. Hover, hover, hover. Repeat as desired.
A young teenage girl, maybe 12 or 13 years old, started lessons with me earlier this fall. I put her in the beginner level of a series I hadn’t used before, wanting to try something different. It quickly became clear that this method was pedagogically questionable – illogical ordering of concepts, requiring technique way beyond the capabilities of a beginner, learning note names indirectly. It also became clear this method was geared toward very young students and my teenager was probably bored, maybe explaining why she obviously wasn’t practicing. I planned to switch her into a different method’s adult book, figuring to address all problems simultaneously.
Meantime, her father was two weeks late in paying tuition, and was giving my employer grief about charging him a late fee. This was not the first time he paid tuition late. The girl at the desk had already warned me about him, having spoken to him on the phone. (She looked terrified.) So when he came in, brandishing a check and proclaiming “and what’s this about new music for my daughter? How much will that cost? And let’s discuss my daughter’s progress, and possibly longer lessons,” everyone except my employer pretended to not exist.
While he was giving her yet more grief about the late payment, I sized him up pretty quickly. Self-important, self-proclaimed Big Deal. He was the Boss. Ready to take action, negotiate, bargain, whatever he needed to Get His Way. I put on my “Don’t you even TRY to BS me” armor, cloaked myself with a Disarming Smile, introduced myself as his daughter’s teacher and invited them both into my studio so I could clear up any questions he had regarding her progress.
He found this satisfactory. I led them back to my room; he very obviously sized up the room to see if it was professional enough for his standards. Upon seeing my Beethoven Sonatas score laying on the piano, he smirked at me. “Ah, Beethoven.” Like he knew something. Like now he knew the lay of the land. Like now we were speaking the same language. Part of the same club. Dude, it’s Beethoven. Please.
Father: (back to business) So, about my daughter’s progress. Where should she be by now? Is she going as quickly as she should? (ugh)
Me: Well, each student moves at their own pace. There are no benchmarks; I work to develop skill and build concepts. When they are ready to move on, we move on. Some are faster than others, some need more time. It’s very much dependent on each individual student’s capabilities and how much they practice.
Father: Right. I’m just thinking, you know, I know a bit about music (oh do you now?), I played guitar when I was younger (I’m sure), maybe I just forgot about the boring learning part before you get to the fun stuff, right? Heh heh. (smirk again)
Me: (wow, way to disparage your daughter!) Sure. Also, I am switching her into Adult books. I originally began her in a series more aimed for children, which I also discovered is not up to my personal standards pedagogically. This is entirely my fault – hopefully this new book will be more interesting and she will be able to progress a little faster.
(Meanwhile Daughter is standing next to him staring at her feet. I feel so bad for her.)
Father: (finding this acceptable) Fine. And how long should she be practicing? Right now she’s barely practicing at all, are you sweetie? Maybe 20 minutes twice a week.
Me: Yeah, I know. Again, hopefully this new book will be more interesting. However, I do ask that all my beginning students practice 20-30 minutes a day, six days a week.
Father: (with another smirk and a side look at Daughter) Ah, is this the old “if you want a puppy ask for a pony” trick?
Me: (for the love of…) No, sir, I don’t negotiate with my students. I don’t ask for an hour expecting 30 minutes; I ask for 30 minutes and expect them to do it.
Father: Fine, fine, good. So, I was wondering if it would be helpful to increase her to 45-minute lessons? Would that help her out?
Me: I only recommend students go to a longer lesson when they master what I’ve assigned them within a few days, long before the next lesson. Because a longer lesson gives me the chance to introduce more stuff and give them more to work on. Lessons are not supervised practicing. You’ve already confirmed with me that your daughter doesn’t practice as it is; let’s see how this new book works out. If she starts progressing quicker than I assign pieces, we can certainly consider it then.
Father: (doubting me) So you don’t think it would help?
Me: No, I don’t. Not until she outpaces my lessons. Again, let’s see how this new book works out first before we go changing anything else.
Father: Fine, thank you, that’s what I wanted to know.
I shake his hand, give him my business card, walk him to the door and let his daughter get composed and situated at the piano. I come back in, apologize to her that that was so awkward. She just shrugged. I started her on the new book and she found it much more to her liking.
Maybe two months pass and it’s clear she’s still not practicing. Enjoying the books more, sure, but not actually practicing. She only remembers concepts that stick the first time and she’s clearly not doing much of anything outside lessons. I start playing reinforcement games with her, like flashcards and finger number games. She’s a bright kid, maybe she just needs a little more engagement. I teach her practicing games to play at home. No improvement. Eventually I flat out ask her if she likes piano. “Yeah, I like it” with a smile – that smile you give someone when you want to say yes to please them, that smile that’s eager but not earnest, the smile that says “I like it for you, but on my own I probably wouldn’t.” I tell her, “It’s okay to say no! I won’t be offended!” She reassures me she does in fact like piano.
Time comes for semester re-enrollment. I ask her if she’s coming back next semester, because we have to get the paperwork in and square our schedules. “I don’t know, my dad is taking care of it.” That’s all I could get out of her for three weeks; it was pretty obvious she had no say in it.
One day my employer pulls me aside between lessons. She apparently contacted the father as the re-enrollment deadline (to secure your current teacher and time) was a week away. He informed her that he would let us know in one week; in the meantime he was auditioning a different teacher.
Auditioning a different teacher.
Part of me really wanted to be offended. But the better part of me thought that was the funniest thing I’d heard in a long time. Your daughter isn’t practicing! She has told me as much! There’s nothing I can do about that; I don’t live with her. But you do! You can do something about that! I even told you, to your face, what I expected from her! You’re going to pay money for lessons but not make sure she’s getting the most out of it, when I laid out exactly what to do? Please. And now you’re hoping that a different teacher will magically make her better? I openly acknowledge that not every teacher and student make a great pair, and sometimes a different teacher helps. But that’s not the case here! Your daughter just doesn’t care enough about piano. This is the equivalent of replacing your weekly personal trainer because you’re not losing weight but you still eat McDonald’s every day. You’re a fool. Please. Get out.
No, they didn’t re-enroll.