Piano Teaching Q&A: Teaching Mama

I have had many great questions asked by readers in the recent months and have been so horrible at responding to some of them!! So, I thought I'd start with one that somewhat explains why it sometimes takes me awhile to answer these questions...it's because I'm a busy mama! :) I know that a lot of you understand this, having children yourselves, and so I hope to hear your feedback on this important question as well!

Here's the question:

Teaching When You Have Your Own Small Children:
You might have answered this before, but I haven't found it on your site, but I have a question about teaching once you start having your own children. How do you keep them entertained/safe/QUIET while you're teaching other students? Has that been difficult for you? Or would you recommend taking a break from teaching when your children are very young? I don't have any kids quite yet, but I just got married and know they'll come along sooner or later and I want to be able to figure out what I'm going to do with my students when that time comes. Thanks again for all your fun ideas and hard work!

Thanks for the great question! I have talked about this topic a little before, but not for awhile. And now with child #3 on the way I feel better-equipped than ever to answer it :)

this little man made me a mama!
I have been blessed to be able to successfully teach for the past 5 1/2 years since becoming a mother. At some times I have taught more than others, sometimes it has been harder than others, but I have learned a few things along the way about how to make it work.

First of all, I think you need to determine your priorities. For me, my kids are most definitely my priority. I have always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. To me the most important thing is to be there for my kids. I particularly have determined that will not be a mom who is always teaching in the afternoon when my kids get home from school. To me it is important to be there when the kids come and go, to talk, to help with homework, to read, to play, etc.

me and my buddy boy
Now, having said that, I think that teaching piano is wonderful! It is such a rewarding way to use my training and talents. I love seeing my students progress. I love being able to work at home to help put my husband through school :) and to earn a little extra income. I LOVE having a job that I love that is flexible; I am my own boss, I choose my own hours, my own vacation days, etc. It is a pretty ideal job. And with the training and experience that I have, I can make just as much working at home for just a few hours a week as I could make outside of my home at a “regular” job for many, many more hours. It is such a blessing. And, I definitely see myself as a piano teacher for life. Even if I take a break while my children are young, it doesn’t mean I won’t continue my teaching in other ways (preschool music classes, maybe some group lessons involving my kids when they are older, maybe an adult student or two while all my kids are at school, and definitely teaching a lot more once my kids are grown).

So here are some ideas and suggestions that I have learned over the years to help balance teaching and mothering.

It’s all about scheduling! When you are a mother of young children, you must take into account your child’s schedule, as well as your spouse’s. Before I had children I had a moderately large studio, about 20 students. When I had my first baby we moved shortly before, so I had to drop all of my students.

me & my daughter
NAP TIME: When my son (my oldest) was a baby, I started teaching just one or two people, and was able to schedule lessons during his nap time. It worked most of the time. :) He was a pretty regular sleeper. It was so nice to have a little time each week to use my talents and interact with other adults again after having my baby.

QUIET PLAY TIME IN THE ROOM: As my son grew and became a toddler, I started to pick up a few more students and to work on getting my NCTM. My husband worked odd hours and would sleep a lot during the day. I was still able to teach while son napped, but there were more and more times that he would be wide awake when lesson time rolled around. Luckily, I only taught one or two students at a time. He was pretty good at playing quietly in the room, or would quietly watch a little show on my iPod while I taught (not ideal, but it worked). Since it was just once or maybe twice a week that this would happen, it worked fine. However it was definitely not ideal and not as professional as I would like to be. But, my son came first, and my students/their parents were very understanding.

getting a little picture-happy now...
CHILDCARE BY SPOUSE OR FAMILY MEMBER: When my son was two, we moved to a new state for my husband to attend optometry school. As my son grew older it got trickier to teach. It is a constant balancing act between keeping your child occupied/safe/quiet and having a quiet/productive/professional lesson. With my husband in school, he was definitely busy but since he wasn’t working full-time he was able to be home a little bit more. Since money was tight and my teaching really helped pay the bills, my husband and I figured out a schedule and made my teaching more of a priority. I tried to schedule lessons at times when my husband could be home. This worked very well. I would teach all or most of my students in one afternoon while my husband and son had play time together. This, to me, was the most ideal solution. My son was not neglected at ALL, he was playing with his Daddy, I had a chance to use my skills, interact with people, and to help make some money for our family, and lessons were quiet and professional. If you live near family members (which we do not), you could also work out some kind of a deal with a family member to help watch your kids for a few hours one afternoon.

HIRE A BABYSITTER DURING LESSON TIMES: I have only done this occasionally, but I have friends who have been able to either swap babysitting with another friend with young children, or to hire a teenager in the neighborhood to play with their children while they teach. This could be an excellent solution as well! 

After I had my daughter, teaching got even more tricky. I admit that I did teach many lessons with her sleeping in her swing in the room, or sitting on my lap (mostly quietly!). I found some other solutions that worked well:

look at that face...
how can you teach with those eyes looking at you?? :)
TEACHING IN THE EVENINGS: My kiddos have always gone to bed around 7:00. They are very good sleepers (most of the time) and are used to hearing the piano while sleeping. I focused on getting more students who were able to come to lessons in the evenings. I got more adult students (who are really rewarding to work with!!) and just LOVED this schedule. I was usually able to teach from around 7:30 to 9:00 pm, while my husband studied hard for school. This schedule worked so great for our family. Of course there are times when kids get sick, or won’t go to sleep, and you need to be flexible. But for the most part this worked so well.

Along with creative scheduling, you also need to be able to BE FLEXIBLE. I usually schedule in an extra lesson or two in the semester in case of sickness or other cancellation. My kids tend to get sick a lot, so this has really been important. Your students/their parents need to be flexible as well, and you need to be able to reach them in the event of a sudden sickness, to let them know to not come to lessons that day.

CHANGE THE FOCUS OF YOUR STUDIO: Another way I have facilitated my teaching as a mother is by shifting the focus of my studio. As my son has grown and shown interest in music himself, my interests have also shifted because I have wanted to find ways to teach him music as well! It was in large part because of my son that I started teaching preschool piano classes, which has turned into a wonderful curriculum of “Early Explorers” and “Mighty Musicians” music classes. My son attends the classes, and all the hard work is worth it to me because my son loves it so much. And now my daughter, who is 19 months old, can at least attend the classes and is starting to participate as well. I don’t have to feel like I am choosing teaching over mothering. As my children grow, it will be interesting to see how my focus shifts further. Maybe some group lessons involving my children and some neighborhood kids as well? Who knows!

my two favorite students!!
TAKE A BREAK!: With my oldest now attending Pre-K each day, my toddler daughter exploring and living life to the fullest, and my third child about to be born in six weeks, I have definitely slowed down in my teaching, and plan to take a break. I still have one private student, and I am teaching my preschool classes. So I have slowed down to focus on my children and my pregnancy, and it is the best decision right now for me and my little family. We will be living here for about another year after baby boy is born, and then will be again moving out of state. So for this next little season at least, I will be taking a break and focusing on what matters most to me and my kiddos.

Some scheduling ideas for the future:

TEACH HOME-SCHOOLERS WHILE MY KIDS ARE AT SCHOOL: Once all my kiddos are in school, I think this sounds like a fantastic idea. I will be there when my kids come and go and won’t have to choose between my kids and my students, but still be able to teach (in a quiet house!).

TEACH GROUP LESSONS: Putting those home-schooler students in group lessons would be an even better (and super time- and money-efficient) way of teaching to maximize my time spent teaching. I think the only way I would teach group lessons after school is if one of my kids was involved in the group. Could be lots of fun!

I love my fun music classes!
PRESCHOOL MUSIC CLASSES!: I just love teaching these classes, and want all of my kids to get a chance to participate. I’d love to have some morning preschool classes which my young children at home could attend while my older ones are at school.

So, in conclusion - it is possible to teach while you have young children! But first you must determine your priorities, and schedule accordingly. You and your students need to be flexible. Also, you need to learn to say “no” to too many students or too many studio-related commitments that take away from your family. I also have had to learn to accept only students in my studio who I feel good about teaching and who work hard and progress. If they don’t, it is simply a waste of my precious time as a mama. Yes, it is difficult. And yes, sometimes the answer is simply to take a break. But that is the great thing about this job - you are the boss! My advice is to talk it over with your spouse, do what feels right for your family, and if it is ever too much, don’t be afraid to make a change.

Good luck!

What ways have you readers found to help balance teaching and family? I'd love to hear about your experiences and your ideas and suggestions.

Read my follow-up to this post here!

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