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The Nature of Our Business

This is an outstanding article focused on the art of teaching music and the many unique aspects of this work. It was written by teacher Yiyi Ku, published on the Music Teachers Blog, 2/1/11:
Independent music teachers are ‘supermen’ and ‘superwomen’. Yes, I am talking about you and me! We do so much more than just teaching, and understanding the nature of our business is important if we are to remain successful and sane. Our job description is but a unique one. Here are some thoughts I would like to share as a private music instructor:
1. Ours is not a 9-5 job.
We are always working even when we are not working. We are always thinking about our students. When we decide to take on a new student, they now share a piece of our heart and occupy a place in our thoughts. As Kristin pointed out, we spend just as much time (if not more) preparing lessons, answering parent questions, dealing with students’ emotional well being, filling out audition entry forms, writing student reports, giving advise on what pianos to get, even shopping for student incentive awards, as we do in actual teaching during lessons. All of it is time and energy consuming. We need to know to set boundaries, so that we still leave personal time for ourselves and our family. If not, we risk burning out.
2. We are our own boss and employee.
While we do not need to report to anyone but ourselves, no one will recognize our good efforts and reward us accordingly. We do not get quarterly bonuses just because our students pass their auditions or win a competition; there are no sick days and annual leave with pay. That is, unless we build it into our studio policy. This is a hard one to implement; I am still working on this myself. My goal is to one day have a studio policy where I am allowed sick days and annual leave, without worrying about reduced income.
3. Students come and go.
We form a bond with our students, and it is hard when parting happens. But parting WILL happen, it is just a matter of time and under what circumstance. Under good circumstances, we part with our students because of relocation (either party), graduation (students going to college), or upon your recommendation that they should move onto a different teacher. But more often than not, we have to deal with students leaving our studio for reasons that are not very pleasant. These can include non-payment, unacceptable behaviors, and especially issues relating to difficult parents.
I am sure all of us have encountered difficult parents at some point. It is unfortunate that we are for the most part powerless if a parent decides to withdraw their child from our studio for whatever reason. Sometimes the parents are mis-guided or ignorant, they really do not know what they are talking about or doing, sometimes there is misunderstanding, and sometimes, it is just the nature of our business. Learning to be emotionally “ok” when students leave for whatever reason is very important for our well being.
4. There is always a better teacher somewhere.
We must never be satisfied with our skills. We must continue our training through private lessons, masterclasses, attending concerts, conventions, workshops. We must acknowledge our own limitations and know when it is time for our students to move onto another teacher and learn from someone else. This is not easy; we must learn to deal with our ego.


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