When to let a student go

If leaving a voice teacher is difficult, think about how difficult it is to let someone go.

First of all, you’re not “firing” someone in the sense that you are paying someone and that person isn’t working out, so you let them go to use your money more efficiently. Your student is paying you to teach them, and letting them go means you have to find a new source of income.

Also, because singing is such a personal thing, you want to make sure that you aren’t affecting someone’s self-esteem. You don’t want to have someone never sing again because you let him/her go as a student.

I have never let a student go because he/she couldn’t sing. If I did, I would be acknowledging that I have limitations as a teacher. I do not. 😀

I have let a couple of students go because:

There was some organic vocal issue – nodules, hemorrhage – that they weren’t dealing with and I felt that to continue was pointless and would cause further damage.

No-shows and excessive cancellations – these are particularly annoying to me. I find that the last-minute cancellations came the most often from adult students who weren’t taking their lessons seriously. My MS/HS kids are the most dedicated students. They aren’t “dabbling.” This isn’t something they’re doing because they “gave up smoking/got a divorce/just want to do something for me.”My MS/HS kids want to sing better in choir, get cast in the musical, and maybe, just maybe, go into music or theater. This is why I don’t take adult amateurs any more. I’ll work with adults who have some musical outlet – choir directors, community theater – something where the goal is clear and not something nebulous. Perhaps I just haven’t met the right adult amateur.

They clearly didn’t want to be there. These are the students who are taking lessons because their friends are taking lessons or because their parents’ friends’ children are taking lessons. They don’t want to perform. They don’t like performing, they like practicing even less, and they spend most of their lesson times checking their phones to see how close we are to being done, looking in the mirror and checking their hair, and sighing and rolling their eyes at new exercises. I have to say that I have had very few of these students in recent years. But these are also ones who no-show and cancel excessively.

This is different from the student who doesn’t want to perform but wants to sing better as part of an ensemble. I don’t mean to imply that I have no use for non-performers. I prefer working with performers because I love coaching them on performance practice and style. But if someone doesn’t want to perform but still loves to sing and takes joy in the process, that’s wonderful. That’s more than enough.

They don’t take summer lessons. In the last few years, I’ve been really liberal about summer lessons. There are some teachers who insist that you take a full semester of lessons over the summer or at least PAY for a full semester of lessons. My requirement is that you try to take lessons, ideally four. Part of this is because I have a wait list, and if I’m giving lessons to new people and then I have to turn them away in the fall because someone is coming back who didn’t intend to take lessons all summer, well, that just seems unfair. “Thanks for your money this summer, but my real student is coming back.” It’s a question of maintaining what we accomplished during the school year and it’s also a business decision. This is my primary source of income. If I can’t count on a student for income in the summer and someone else has shown enthusiasm for lesson, that person gets the spot.

They don’t pay me on time. See “business decision.” I love teaching. I really, really do. But it is my primary source of income, and if someone consistently pays me late, it means I might be paying someone else late as a result. This isn’t as much of an issue as it was when I was first teaching or when I was single, but it’s a question of respect. I send money emails out every Saturday during the school year, and every Thursday or Friday out during the summer. Not paying me shows a lack of respect for what I do.

Even with all these reasons, it’s difficult for me. Sometimes I just wait for them to graduate, if the behavior isn’t too egregious.

Going back a few paragraphs, it’s the idea of taking joy in the process. If the process is joyless for me, it’s probably joyless for the student as well. And perhaps it’s a question of the student not knowing when to leave the teacher and acting out rather than coming out and saying, “It’s time for me to go.” If this is the case for you as a student, please read my previous blog entry.

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

One thought on “When to let a student go

  1. Exactly what I need to hear at precisely the right time! I'm starting to get requests from new students and I'm having to drastically downsize my private studio this year because my university teaching schedule has doubled. I've pretty much decided who to let go, but telling them is not going to be easy!

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