What To Do When Your Students Leave You… For Another Teacher

If you’ve been teaching for any length of time, you will experience students leaving you to study with someone else – and maybe not coming back.

It’s never been easier to skip from one teacher/offer/course to another – the internet has created a very porous world. And it’s completely normal, common, and mostly good news that students migrate between teachers – more learning (hopefully) happens for the students and it’s another opportunity to distinguish yourself as the best in your niche.

That said, there are helpful ways to handle these migrations and even benefit. Read on! (Kudos to my two student/friends Deb and Judy who helped me write this over lunch at the Boulder Teahouse – thank you so much!)

IT REALLY DOES HAPPEN TO EVERYBODY

When you discover a student has “left” you for another instructor, let go of taking it personally. It’s such a waste of energy! Instead, remember that no one is a good fit for everyone and, if you are doing a good job as a teacher, at some point your students should grow beyond what you know and plus, people like to learn all kinds of things in different ways from different voices – it doesn’t mean you failed.

Also, check it out: do you even teach what they signed up to learn from this other teacher? (Reality check your story.)

Finally, you have no idea why they choose ________ instead of you and you won’t – unless you ask.

BY THE BY: SHOULD YOU ASK (AKA INTERVIEW) THE STUDENT WHO GOT AWAY?

Ask your “just right” student why they are working with ________ now ONLY if you can do it without being defensive, grasp-y and you have questions to ask that connect to how you conduct your marketing, your student care, your content, or your delivery.

Do your interview in person or on the phone. You need to hear nuances to ask good follow-up questions and thus actually learn something you can use to fine-tune your business practices or teaching delivery.

Back to the main article!

MY FIELD IS TOO CROWDED ALREADY

Too many teachers never teach because they feel their field is too crowded. But why not reverse that: if your students can go to other teachers, their students can come to you!  Or: there are eager students to be taught!

I’ve been teaching for so long, I have seen competition go from almost nothing to super crowded for just about everything I teach. Yet I earned more money last year than ever before (even in my best-selling book / spokesperson contracts/ big speaking gig days) so I say a crowded field is great news. There is a demand for what you offer. A crowded field also provides a great impetus to distinguish yourself as the best in your niche.

My writing retreats fill up in mere hours not because there aren’t enough writing retreats in the world (ha) but because

a) people love writing retreats

b) I try to offer a fantastic experience and

c) I keep growing my teaching so I can offer new insights every year.

Celebrate the crowded field!

THEY KEEP BRINGING UP SO AND SO’S NAME AND I’M SICK OF IT!

Let’s say you feel another teacher is overshadowing you, that every time you teach someone brings up her name, and everything you do is being compared to her. She or he is a demigod! You want to stand on your own material and teaching style, plus you don’t agree with everything she preaches. What to do?

  • Check out your thoughts – is it really true she is overshadowing you? How would you prove that to me? As in what are the facts?
  • You really don’t want to bring even a whiff of “Not her name again!” into your teaching so try sending her gratitude for what she has given to your field.
  • If someone does ask, “But demigod says you should mix paint this way,” reframe by bringing the group back to your expertise perhaps by saying, “Based on my research…” or “Based on my experience…” Claim your authority gently but firmly.
  • No badmouthing ever anywhere. Except maybe with your besties and a bottle of wine/hot pot of tea.
  • Consider inviting this demigod to collaborate with you. Perhaps he or she hasn’t ventured online yet and you could “introduce” them to this world while aligning yourself with their reputation? Or you have entree to a particular conference or festival and can invite the demigod to present with you? In other words, share their coattails.

WHEN SOMEONE STARTS TEACHING YOUR STUFF

Suddenly, something you have taught is all over the internet with another teacher’s name attached to it. It’s easy (at least for me) to jump to the false conclusion that I shouldn’t write or teach about _______ anymore or to be angry at said teacher for “stealing” my material. Stop and consider:

The ideas you are teaching are most likely not entirely yours but ideas you have developed and synthesized by standing on the shoulders of your lineage (remember that exercise in TeachNow? This is a great and natural thing! Haven’t taken TeachNow? We open the doors in March!). So this teacher has developed their take on these same founding ideas – cool!

All you need to do when you teach/reference these ideas is reference your history as in, “When I first started sharing this in 2002…” Also be sure to credit your original sources and highlight what you have added and developed.

  • CAVEAT: IF THESE ARE YOUR ORIGINAL IDEAS, call the other teacher and politely but firmly insist they stop claiming your work without attribution. Do not email; call. I’ve seen legal battles commence because of emails sent too soon or in anger. Pick up the phone.

Finally, consider if you might benefit from collaborating with this teacher? Is there an opportunity here to learn, increase your reach, develop new material that serves your students?

I USED TO RECOMMEND ________ BUT I CAN’T ANYMORE

The most shameful moments of my teaching life are tied to the people I recommended or invited to present with me without either doing due diligence or responding quickly enough when I saw I no longer trusted them. It’s the worst feeling to realize someone you supported doesn’t deliver what he or she promises, isn’t competent, or is perhaps is even a danger to their students. (Of course, it’s also incredibly great to recommend a teacher who is a life changing fit and I’ve had way, way more of those experiences, thankfully.) And there’s also just the “whoops, don’t like how he teaches” or “She gives way too much material” or “That programs costs too much for what it delivers” that can alter your opinion.

But yikes, you’ve already recommended their work – what to do now?

  • Forgive yourself. We’ve all been here. Especially in the early days of the internet, before we learned that people can create an on-line persona that is nothing but a hall of fancy mirrors.
  • Take off endorsements or recommendations on your website or CV from this teacher, and request he or she do the same of yours.
  • Debrief what happened with someone you trust. What can you look for or do differently next time? Ask your trusted friends to help you keep an eye out.
  • If someone you don’t know well asks why you don’t work with so-and-so anymore, and you are worried about this other teacher’s abilities or impact, be polite but frank. “I have serious concerns about her ethics” or “The structure in which she teaches is more directive than I’m comfortable with” or “Working with him is like drinking from a firehose; if you can handle huge, and I mean huge, amounts of fast-moving material, it’s great, but it was too much for me.”
  • If it’s milder than that, you can say, “Our work was growing in different directions.”
  • Next time you want to work with someone or recommend their work, go slow. Take her course or watch a few videos. Ask around about him. Jump on Skype and interview her for twenty minutes. If it’s a go, start small and  be honest in what you know about his or her offers. Listen to yourself if you are feeling uncomfortable, then cut your losses if need be.

When someone asks your advice about studying with another teacher

  • Say hi to any thoughts that sound like, “I must have screwed up or she wouldn’t be wanting something else.” Give yourself a hug. Then, put your student first and learn more about what your student wants. You can’t make a good recommendation or offer to serve that student yourself without knowing more. “What appeals to you about ________?” or “What are you wanting to learn?” or “What has been feeling like it is missing for you?”
  • Help your student to figure out if this teacher is a good match.
  • If you know something negative about said teacher or something that might make him or her not a great fit for this student, share it but with diplomacy and care. Do not share gossip!

Okay, that’s a darn long newsletter so let’s end with this little summary:

There are plenty of students for you. Don’t quit because the field is crowded.
Some students are a great fit for you, some aren’t, and some will be in the future, some have been and now need to move on.
Take responsibility for being your best some of the time and good enough the rest of the time.
Be sure you are making clear offers to your just right students.
Forgive yourself if you make a mistake recommending someone, learn from it, and move on.

Now my friends, go TeachNow!

Love,

Jen

P.S. Talking about other teachers, in our next round of TeachNow we will have four guest teachers on hand for four live Q&A sessions. Who would you like to learn from? Come over here and tell me.