1/11/11

Piano Teaching Q&A: Maternity Leave

I am due with my 3rd child in about a month and currently have 8 piano students ages 7-11. They are all in the Primer Bastien book, except 2, who are in level 1. As important as my piano students and their success is to me, my family comes first, so I have been thinking of taking a break for about a month to adjust to the new baby. I'm due January 26th, so I was going to just teach through January until the baby comes and then start up again in March. I would love to get your input and advice on how to make this break time not hinder the progress of my students and what kinds of things to give my students to work on while I’m out. I welcome any suggestions and thank you in advance for your help.
Sincerely,
Haley Castillo


Hi, I just had my second baby a few months ago, so this is fresh on my mind. I'm exhausted! Good luck with your third! I hope I can answer this in a way that will apply to other teachers as well. There are a couple of different ways to handle a maternity leave. One is to find a substitute teacher to teach your students while you are gone, and the other is to just give your students a break for a while.

Substitute

If at all possible, I recommend finding a substitute teacher to take your students while you are recovering and adjusting to life with a new baby. Brainstorm possibilities for someone who might be able to do this: do you have a younger sibling who would like to learn to teach? Do you have any nearby relatives or friends with teaching experience or a good piano background? What about piano teachers in your neighborhood? Maybe an older person who used to teach and might enjoy a short-term return to the trade? Consider that someone who is less experienced than you will appreciate the opportunity and training, but may not push your students as hard as you would. On the other hand, someone with more experience than you should be able to keep your students challenged, but might be more expensive, and honestly, you could lose some students who may decide to transfer to the substitute's studio permanently. There are bound to be drawbacks with anyone you choose, but it will usually still be better than losing the momentum by giving your students a month or two off of lessons entirely.

Once you have a list of a few possibilities, contact each one of them to gauge their interest and availability. Let them know how many weeks you are planning to take off, what your current teaching schedule is, and what tuition your students are currently paying. Ideally, it would be great to find someone who can maintain the same schedule and tuition your students are used to, but minor adjustments may have to be made.

Once you have arranged with someone to be your substitute, contact each of your students to let them know what you have set up. Tell them when and where their lessons will be, who they should make payment to (if you already have a good payment system in place, it might work best for them to continue to pay you, and you can just write one check to the substitute), and any other details you have worked out with the substitute. The smoother you can make this transition for your students, the less likely you are to lose any of them in the process.

Write some notes about each student for the substitute teacher. Let them know how long the student has been playing, what pieces they are working on, what skills they need to focus on, what your practice expectations are, what your reward systems are, etc. If your students will be ready to start any new literature during your absence, select that literature ahead of time and let the substitute know when to assign it. The more info you can give the substitute about your students and your systems, the smoother the transition will be for everyone involved. But keep in mind that every teacher does things differently, and the substitute will probably do some things with your students that you wouldn't have done. And that's okay; you might even learn something!


No substitute

If you can't find anyone that you feel good about teaching your students while you are gone, then it can work to give your students a break for a while. You run the risk of losing some who might decide not to come back once they get out of the habit of lessons, and you will absolutely have to do a little backtracking to re-teach lost skills, but there are a few things you can do to minimize the negative impact of this time off.
  • Let parents know exactly when lessons will start up again. If you give them a date to put on their calendars, they are more likely to view this as a break instead of a stopping point with an optional restart.
  • Give students weekly assignments to complete while you are gone. Maybe they can pass off a song to a parent each week, master a new technique exercise, or complete a theory game or coloring page during their regular lesson time.
  • Don't treat your time off like a break for the students. If they get out of the habit of practicing while you are on leave, they might not get back in. It's likely they won't practice as well as usual, but expect them to, and they might. Especially if they have weekly goals they know they need to complete.
  • It might help to make a calendar showing the weeks you will be gone, and to write assignments and goals directly on the calendar. Maybe younger students would enjoy crossing off the days on the calendar, or putting a sticker on each day that they practice.
  • Enlist the parents' help in keeping the practicing consistent and in meeting weekly goals.
  • See if you can think of a fun and different assignment for the students to do while you are gone—maybe have them write a composition, do a research project about a composer, or write a story about two music notes named Fred and Harry (yeah...I'm sure you can come up with something better than that...)
  • Depending on what you think you are up for, you might consider making a phone call to each family once or twice during your time off, just to check in and see how practicing and other assignments are going. This can help parents and students recommit if they have slacked a bit.
  • Send a birth announcement to each family so they will be thinking about you! (I'm mostly kidding about this one...who has time to send birth announcements after their 3rd child?)

I hope this helps a little. Obviously there are lots of details that could be handled differently, and you will need to think carefully about each of your students and what will be best for them. I hope other teachers will add their ideas in the comments!

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2 comments:

Danielle said...

Thanks for your great ideas, Bonnie. When I had my baby last year, I gave the students a short break, just for 4 weeks. However, I had each student set goals for what they would accomplish while I took the break. Then, at the end of the break, I had a special and large prize for those students who had continued regular practice and had accomplished their goals. Most students kept practicing and did very well!

Amy said...

I've taken a maternity leave for my last 2 children (out of 4), and it worked out well both times, but do be prepared for 1 or 2 to not return. The thing that helped me as a mom the most was to have a phone tree so if I needed to start my leave suddenly, I didn't have to call 25 students on the drive to the hospital. They knew who to call next to pass the info on. The 2nd time, though, I just stopped teaching a week before my due date, and enjoyed the last few days (at much as you can enjoy the last few days....)

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