Teaching Mama, Part 2

I am loving all of the wonderful comments on yesterday's post about teaching when you have your own children. It seems to be a topic that is on many readers' minds - and so many of you had such great input! I wanted to follow up with a summary of some of the excellent ideas YOU had, and address a couple of other questions/topics.

Here are some of the many great ideas/suggestions from readers:

my daughter & her friend LOVE the piano!
1. Take a break from teaching while your children are young. As they enter school, gradually pick up students again. Excellent plan - I think this is a great way to do both jobs fully.

2. It is CRUCIAL to have the support of your spouse. I couldn't agree more! If your teaching is a priority in your home, then you must work together on figuring out how to make it work.

3. Decide beforehand how many students you can commit to. Great comment - I have often turned down students because I simply couldn't take the time away from my kids. But it is sometimes hard to turn down extra students/income! It's good to figure out beforehand how much time you can really commit to.

4. Teach in the early mornings. I have not tried this (probably because I am not a morning person!) but what a wonderful idea! Another creative scheduling plan to allow for piano teaching and parenting.

5. Be upfront and professional about your children. I loved the comment from a reader who states in her policy that her child will always be watched by someone. The times when my children have not had someone watching them have been hard. Even though it can work (and as a parent you've got to plan to be flexible), your students are paying you for your professional services. Those are always the times that make me re-evaluate things and change my schedule.

6. Make a maternity leave plan for your students. I loved a reader's comments about ideas for her students during her maternity leave - hold some type of competition for learning scales and pieces, have them attend a seminar by her piano tuner, etc. For more great ideas, read contributor Bonnie Jack's great article about maternity leave for piano teachers.

7. Childcare in exchange for piano lessons. One reader talked about a situation where two families from her church watched her children, while she taught all of theirs - for $8 a lesson, because her kids were being watched at the same time. (Aside from the low tuition rate, not too bad of a set-up, although I wonder how quiet it is during the lesson with so many kiddos running around!) She also wondered if I charge less for "poor" people. This could be an entire post on its own, but I wanted to quickly address it and see what others think...

I charge all of my students the same amount. Sure, a discount should be in order if they watch your children during the lessons, but I think you do need to be careful that you are not undercharging too drastically. A couple of reasons:

1) The less you charge, the less professional you seem - and the less seriously the students/parents will take the lessons and the commitment required. People will take you more seriously if you charge a more professional rate.

2) Your time is so precious, especially as a mama! Make those times away from your kids worth it. Be a good, professional teacher, work hard, get paid what you're worth, and then enjoy your free time with your kids.

If I gave discounts to everyone who asked for them, it would not be worth my time; I'd be seriously shortchanging myself and my abilities, and really doing a disservice to the profession and to the families I teach. (I think when you stay at your higher, professional rate, they expect more and will work harder. If you give more and truly are a great teacher, they will value it more and practice more.) I have given free months of lessons away at church auctions/charity events, but I don't give discounts for people, even if I teach 2 or more of their children. I think that I would consider a scholarship program for a student if and only if they: are VERY motivated to practice, have VERY supportive parents who understand the importance of music lessons and consistent practice, who truly make great progress, and are truly financially are in need. Yes, I would give a small discount in exchange for them (a parent or sibling) watching my children during the lesson.

And some thoughts of my own -

Yes, I have taught lessons when my children were home, and playing quietly in the other room or sometimes in the room. This is definitely not ideal - for me as a teacher, or me as a mother. In situations like this, I feel that I am doing both jobs - that of a piano teacher, and that of a mother - half-way, and something has got to change. Yes, my kiddos are my #1 priority. I always, always prefer and plan to have somebody watching them (or to teach while they are asleep). But, sometimes life happens, my husband has a big test to study for, or has to TA or has something come up, and my kiddos are home while I teach. In such cases, flexibility is important. But at the same time, I need to be as professional as possible in my piano teaching, and I know that my children can disrupt that. That is why, when you are a piano teacher AND a mother/father, you need to know where to draw the line. You need to know when to call and cancel a lesson, knowing that if that student came, it would not be a good/professional situation. I have, many times, been asked to watch somebody's child, but had to turn it down because I had a piano student coming that afternoon - I can't do both at once! It is SO not fair to the piano student. Your students pay you for your professional services and for your full attention. If you know you are going to be too distracted from the lesson, you need to fix it or reschedule the lesson on your own time.

As a parent and a piano teacher, you have GOT to have in place a good cancellation/make-up policy, taking into account that things will come up with your own children. I have had to cancel SO many more lessons as a mother than I ever, ever did before, simply because my kids tend to get sick! When sickness or other things in your family come up (watching a family members' kids, school functions, etc.), you need to have a plan, in your policy, for what to do when YOU have to cancel a lesson. I'd say that it is much better to cancel a lesson than to have a student come when your house is crazy and your full attention is not on the student. I like to put into place in my semester's calendar specific "make-up days" for times like this when I need to cancel. I normally don't make-up lessons missed by students (except in extenuating circumstances, which I understand), but I ALWAYS make-up lessons that I cancel.

In the past few years I have found a great way to keep all lessons a little more flexible, allowing for those times when my child needs my attention during a lesson. I schedule an extra 15 minutes of music theory practice/instruction on the studio computer at each lesson (paid for through a yearly "technology fee" per student). If my evening student arrives and my children are not quite tucked into bed, I have them do their computer time first, allowing for me to finish up my motherly duties and get my kiddos all settled. If a student arrives and my husband is watching my children, I do the lesson first, and then they do their computer time afterwards (at which time I can relieve my husband and grab my baby for a cuddle). This has worked so well in allowing a little bit of flexibility at every lesson.

As cheesy as that may sound, I think it is really important. I love teaching, I really do. But I knew it was time to drastically reduce the number of private students I taught when I started to dread those afternoons when I taught. When I found that I would rather be out there playing with my kids than in my studio teaching, I knew it was time for a change. And yes, it was very hard to give up that extra income, but it is definitely worth it. This is a season of my life to slow down on the piano teaching and focus on my kids. I know there will be many other seasons to come that I will have more time to devote to private teaching, and many ways now that I can continue my teaching - whether I am teaching a little preschool music class and singing little songs about train rides and rivers, or whether I am teaching my own children to love music, or teaching an occasional student here or there. I am a music teacher for life, but a mother forever.

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