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  • Writer's pictureIlan Morgenstern, Bass Trombone

Questions about ethics

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

The college years are extremely valuable. That fact is self evident in how much money people are willing to spend on them. Being on the teacher/employee side these days, I take that investment in time and capitol on the part of students very seriously, especially since the relationship is not a symmetrical one. In other words, in this field of study, I have knowledge and experience that the students don’t have, and the educational and financial incentives are not always to be completely forthcoming with students.

As a result I have been thinking a lot over the years about the conduct of our industry. Especially in the context of higher education, but not only, we have a lot of opportunities to make choices about our teaching that will influence both the educational outcome and our personal relationship with the students.

In an effort to contextualize all this for myself I wrote out a series of short questions. These questions are not intended to have a simple yes/no answer. They are also not intended to give my personal opinion. The only purpose of the questions below is to provide a framework to consider the variety of situations we might encounter in this field. I tried to write them both from the educator’s perspective, and from that of the student’s.

I want to also clarify that in my mind there's absolutely nothing wrong with charging money for teaching, with taking compensation for the sale of instruments or accessories, or for the sale of published material. My preference is that those considerations are made in the open, but I could see how this might not be the case for everybody.

I hope you’re able to take a moment and consider how you might fit into these situations, AND PLEASE send me questions I may have missed!

  • How will you positively influence your student’s career choices?

  • Are your students aware they have career choices in the field?

  • Do you feel comfortable working with a person who does not intend to be a performer?

  • If your student purchases a product you recommend, do you stand to get paid? If so did you disclose that business relationship to the student and/or the parents?

  • Do you come prepared for the student’s lessons?

  • How do you make up instructional time you may have missed?

  • Do you make yourself available outside the structured lesson time for consultation regarding playing issues? If so do you charge for your time?

  • Do you make yourself available outside the structured lesson time for non-trombone related conversation if the student is experiencing a time of need?

  • Have you made yourself available to discuss the opportunities and challenges of a career in the arts with the student and their parents?

  • Have you clarified for the student and yourself what your short and long-term goals are in working with them?

  • Do you allow enough room within your structure for the student to experiment and make mistakes?

  • Are you being informative with your students about your expectations?

  • Are you being truthful with your students when they do not meet expectations?

  • Do you enjoy teaching? Is it a job? Is it just a job? Do you feel you’re helping?

  • Under what circumstances do you provide students the resource of getting advice from other teachers?

  • Do you make it your business to know how a student is doing in their other classes?

  • Do you make it your business to know how a student is conducting themselves in professional situations?

  • Under what circumstances do you dismiss a student early?

  • under what circumstances do you remove a student from your studio?

  • Is your student aware of any grading and attendance policies?

  • When working with a young student, do you feel supported by your student’s parents or other guardians? Do you feel supported by their school music teachers?

  • When working in higher ed, do you feel supported by your administration?

For students

  • Does your teacher ever make you feel uncomfortable?

  • Do you know your short and long term goals?

  • Do you understand how your instrumental studies fit into those goals?

  • Do you fully understand why you chose these goals?

  • Are you aware of variety of opportunities for careers in the arts?

  • Did you come prepared enough to fully take advantage of the teachers time?

  • Did you record yourself prior to the lesson so that you’re aware of the potential issues that will be discussed?

  • Did you take notes while practicing to give yourself and your teacher context for your progress and challenges?

  • Did you compensate the teacher for their time and knowledge both financially and by verbally thanking them after the lesson?

  • Did you show up on time and with your instrument and materials in order?

  • Do you consume music? Do you pay for recordings and books? If not, how do you intend to participate in the economics of the music industry when it’s time to pay your bills on your own?

  • Do you feel special? Are you the best player in your studio in your opinion?

  • Does your teacher make you feel special, or like you’re better or more important than your peers? If so, why do you think they are doing that?

  • Do you really want to know what you could be doing better?

  • If you are experiencing an issue with your teacher, did you inform him or her of it? If you don’t feel comfortable doing so, have you reached out to another responsible party in order to resolve these issues?

  • Do you feel your school’s administration has your best interests in mind?

  • Do you feel faculty in your institution are invested in your career outcomes after you graduate?

  • Do you feel faculty and administration in your institution are able to cooperate in your education?


Thank you for taking the time to read and think through these! If I missed any, please let me know in the comments below, and I’ll be glad to add them to the list.

With hopes you find this helpful,

- ilan

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Ilan Morgenstern, Bass Trombone
Ilan Morgenstern, Bass Trombone
Dec 04, 2020

Further suggestions from Peter Bye via Facebook:

How do you create and maintain safe (physically, mentally, and emotionally) environment for your students?

Does your student/teacher to record lessons?

Are asked as the student/teacher to be recorded how do you respond?

Do you require your students to agree to a lesson contract that outlines expectations in lessons for both parties?


Ilan Morgenstern, Bass Trombone
Ilan Morgenstern, Bass Trombone
Dec 04, 2020

My friend and mentor Marty Fishman, a student of life and trombone, suggested the following questions as well. Thanks Marty!

"From my perspective as someone without professional aspirations, I would add some questions that you might consider for your list: For the teacher - do you have patience for students whose goals are not to be professional musicians? (Clearly, you do!) For the student - do you have a passion for music, at least as an avocation toward which you are willing to commit time and energy? Do you show your teacher common decency and respect, by showing up on time for lessons, paying on time, and preparing for the lesson so as not to make the teacher feel they…

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