Shades of Grey: 2012 String Teachers Ethics Survey Results

Article excerpt

String teachers discuss the ethical dilemmas faced when trying to make music pay

Mixing passion with practicality can be a confounding thing, as string teachers well know. Of course, violin teachers enjoy the professional delights of encouraging their students' love of music and guiding them toward musical success, but most will admit that doing so with a full stomach and in comfortable surroundings remains a priority. And so they must find a balance between their calling and their business, which elicits a number of difficult questions. How to gather enough students, how to be paid appropriately for your time. How to ensure your students' success. Is it ever okay to poach students? Should teachers accept a commission on an instrument that they recommend to a student? And should teachers ever suggest that a student use beta blockers?

Strings polled teachers in 2007 to find out how they navigated the more vexing ethical issues that confronted them and recently updated our poll to see if attitudes had changed.

Here's what string teachers - many of whom requested anonymity - said in the latest poll and how opinions have changed since 2007.


Soliciting students on another teacher's roster is a tricky business. There are times in a student's career when a change in teacher is a natural part of his or her education - the move from high school to college, for example. But often, it is the result of the student wanting to move on, or of another teacher encouraging the move. In the 2007 poll, only 3% of respondents felt that it was always acceptable to solicit students who were studying with another teacher, while 72% felt it was never acceptable and 25% felt it was sometimes acceptable, depending on the circumstances.

In the updated survey, not one teacher responded that it was always acceptable whereas 52% felt it was never acceptable and 48% thought that it depended on the circumstances.

The circumstances under which "poaching" a student from another teacher is deemed acceptable are similar on both surveys and focused on the happiness, health, interests (generally style-specific), and progress of the student. As one respondent noted, "The relationship between student and teacher is unique because of the intimate nature of learning. When there is a mismatch between personalities or learning/teaching style, the student may progress, but not joyfully or quickly. It should be every teacher's desire that every student find the right match of teacher."

Many respondents specify that they do not seek out a student on another teacher's roster, but may respond to an inquiry if approached. Still others will ask prospective students if they have discussed their interest in leaving with their teacher, and may call the student's current teacher as a professional courtesy before agreeing to take on the student. "Once the conversation between student and current teacher has taken place, I feel I have met my ethical obligations," says one teacher. Other reasons considered acceptable deal with the quality of the teaching ("Only if you consider that permanent damage is being done to a student by an unqualified teacher") and opportunity ("If the new teacher can offer more than the current teacher, whether it is greater motivation or more advanced technique, theory, and opportunity").


Teachers are split on setting up shop. The needs of a string student are seemingly endless. Instruments, strings, bows, rosin, peg dope, sheet music - the list goes on and on. A string teacher, in addition to offering sage musical advice, may choose to stock some of these items with the idea of selling them to students. But what of making a little extra on these items? Is it ethical to sell musical items to your students for profit?

In 2007, 58% of respondents offered an unqualified no. Another 15% said it was always acceptable to do so, and 28% preferred the gray area in between. …