How To Deal With Overzealous, Performance-Obsessed Music Parents
As a professional educator, you’ve chosen an occupation that invests in the future. And although it isn’t a glamorous job, or viewed as illustrious, many music instructors choose this path because they have a deep, abiding love for music and want to share that enthusiasm with others. Thankless jobs are undertaken because of the rewards. The gratification you feel when a student experiences the joy that making music offers, as you see that happiness ignite and develop, and knowing that you are in some part responsible, makes all of the other difficulties seem trivial.
However, there’s no denying the fact that teaching isn’t easy. Although the benefits of seeing a student emerge with real talent is beautiful to behold, music teachers must cope with a broad range of challenges. Not only do you need to develop ways to reach your students, you often have to deal with targeted, obsessed parents who increase the pressure of educating. Known as “Helicopter Parents,” these well-meaning individuals have the ability to ruin your entire year, not to mention make your students' lives hard.
Learning how to deal with obsessive stage parents is one of the hardest skills new music instructors must develop. The problems that parents of performers can cause your entire class, and even your career, can be destructive. Knowing how to guide, converse, and communicate with so-called helicopter parents can have a huge impact in your effectiveness as an educator. By understanding the most effective strategies for dealing with obsessive performance parents, you can manage the problems that hinder your class productivity.
Identify the Behavior
Helicopter parents present different types of problems, and depending on the specific behavior, you should model your solution according to the experience. Some of the most common disruptive behaviors include:
- Chatty Parent—These parents want to talk to you every day. Although they are probably supportive of many of your teaching techniques, they want to discuss everything that you have planned, and generally end up taking at least 10-15 minutes of your class time.
- Habitually Late Parent—These individuals are habitually late bringing their child either to practice or at pick-up time.
- Backseat Driver Parent—These overzealous parents want to tell you how to teach. Perhaps they have had some musical training, or just “know exactly how their child learns” and want to make sure that you are providing the correct information in the “right” way.
- Limelight Parent—These parents are assured of their child’s gifted abilities and frequently insist on precedence during recitals and concerts. They want to know why their budding Mozart doesn’t feature prominently in any and all exhibitions.
Identify the Root Issue
Many of these behaviors generate from specific reasons. For example, the habitually late parent may have scheduling conflicts, health issues, or some other extenuating circumstance that contributes to the problem. Or, the overzealous parents regret abandoning those lessons years ago and want to make sure that their child has every opportunity to learn.
It can be helpful to learn the underlying cause of the behavior so that you can address the parents in a productive manner. Since even the best intentions can end up leaving you frustrated and cross, by taking a moment to examine the root issue, you place yourself in the parents’ shoes and therefore, have more patience and compassion when dealing with them.
Almost all of these problems can be solved with stronger communication practices. For example:
Use weekly emails or a social media outlet to keep parents informed of lesson objectives, current progress, and recital information. Many of the worst problems can be avoided by simply making sure that your stage parents are up-to-date on the latest happenings. Sending copies of any handouts that outline performance information, class schedules, and classroom expectations also gives you an effective way to bring up any particular student needs.
Take control of the conversation. With some very simple communications skills, you can steer the dialog towards a productive exchange. First, calmly and quietly listen to the parent’s concerns. Let the parents state all of their objections, suggestions, or complaints, and make mental notes about how you’ll respond. It can also help to have some reference materials that support your style of instruction, and why you’ve chosen to pursue that method. And, you may also want to invite the parents to observe you in action. However, if the behavior continues, seek out assistance with an administrator, or suggest an alternate instructor.
Above all, be sensitive and compassionate. When dealing with parents who are upset, explain that you take their concerns seriously, but want to arrange an appropriate time for the discussion. That way, everyone’s temper can cool off.
You have a tough job, but you can make it easier when you enhance communications with your stage parents. With rational discussion, you can both provide the musical education your student requires.