Now that the new school year has started, it’s time to start setting goals for yourself and your studio. So when you get a moment, sit down (or walk with your phone’s recording app open!) and reflect on last year. What were your proudest moments as a teacher? What were some situations that could have been better? What techniques did you adopt in your teaching that seemed to work with most or all of your students? What techniques seem to be not so effective anymore? What have you learned so far about the psychology of learning?
The great thing about teaching is you get better and better over time. Sure there are good first year teachers, but those teachers are the ones who will become GREAT. Why? Teaching takes experience to become good at it. It’s like parenting. They called the first child a “starter kid” for a reason. You make all your mistakes with the oldest child and improve your skills with each child who comes after.
As a teacher, I find I get better with each passing year. Why? For one thing I start noticing similarities among ALL students the longer I’ve been teaching. There are near-universal traits in most students. I say “near” universal and “most” because you do occasionally get that student who just “gets it.” But this isn’t the norm.
I’m a piano teacher, so I’ve learned to notice and anticipate certain struggles most students have. Posture and technique are the big ones. Sight reading is another. Practice discipline is a big one as well as how you’re supposed to practice (I’m amazed at how many teachers overlook this basic skill in their instruction.).
So when you’re setting your goals for this school year and you’re figuring out how to become a better teacher than you were last year, I want you to think about those things. How can you improve those teaching skills? What do you know to be near-universal truths about music learning and how can you become more efficient in helping your students with them?
Another area I want you to consider is your own self-care. It’s one thing to improve your teaching skills, but you are no good to anyone if you’re neglecting your own needs. Are you getting enough exercise in your free time? Are you dealing with behavior issues in a productive way so that you don’t think about it on your off time? Do you have enough time for lunch and dinner?
For myself, I made two big decisions for my own self-care. One was I will no longer keep students if their payments are chronically late. In the past I was way too lenient. But now, if you don’t pay on time, I don’t show up. It’s that simple. This is a matter of self respect. Thankfully I don’t anticipate that happening this year because last year one of my goals was to only take on families I got a good vibe from. I know that’s esoteric and hard to define, but it’s just something you have to learn on your own. It comes from many years of running a business and learning to notice certain red flags in people. When I see those red flags, I say good bye. SELF CARE.
The other thing I’m changing this year, and this was a hard one, is making time for dinner. Seems so obvious, but it was hard for me. Time is money, and I didn’t want to sacrifice any amount of time that would take away from teaching. But last year I found I was increasingly cranky towards the end of my day, which means I wasn’t giving my last one or two students as much of my energy as the ones in the early part of my day. I might be losing a tiny amount of money, but when I raise fees in January, it will make up for it and I believe the boost in my teaching will lead to more success and sustainability with my current students. I want them to stay with me at least until they go to college.
So what are your goals this year? What could be improved from last year? What changes were so great that you want to continue doing them? Take some time for this. The only way to improve and continue to enjoy your career is to pay attention, learn, and adapt. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.