Maintaining a large private teaching studio is not a normal 9-5 job. Some non-musician friends balk at my work schedule, but I love teaching children and I love music. So how does a studio teacher find balance? Here are some tips that have helped me stay happy and healthy as a studio teacher. And a fun infographic. Because who doesn’t like an infographic?
Organization is an absolute necessity for teachers. I have a large D-ring binder just for teaching (and a separate binder for group class days), which has tabs for my teaching schedules, bookkeeping, lesson assignment sheets, notes on student progress, and photocopies of the handouts I use regularly. Having everything in one place means I never have to spend valuable lesson time frantically searching for an etude. Since I also use a lot of “props” in teaching (erasers for balancing on the tops of violins/violas, moleskine for making chin rests more comfortable, etc), I like a sectioned over-the-door cosmetics organizer to hold all my supplies and keep like items together. Here’s the one I use.
When organizing your time, set a schedule for your non-teaching time and stick to it. Do you feel like you spend way too much time answering emails? Try setting a timer and committing that you will only answer emails up to a certain time. Not only will you stay on task and productive, but you will probably learn some techniques to get your boring stuff done quicker. For managing the many hats of working musician, I highly recommend the Passion Planner http://www.passionplanner.com/ or any other planner that has time slots on each day. I fill out the next day’s tasks the night before and sleep better knowing that I have a plan to get things done.
If staying in touch with studio families is a challenge, I suggest using an email marketing platform to streamline your email process.
Take a Day Off
I know, I know, easier said than done, but this has been one of the best things I have done for myself. In general, my day off is Sunday, which usually works out well because there are less concerts and weddings on that day. A few times a year I will have a studio recital or a concert of my own on a Sunday but generally I set aside a day to relax, catch up on errands, and spend time with my friends and family.
Beat Afternoon Crabbiness
Teaching can be tiring! It takes energy to keep up with my students and I need to make sure that I’m in good health to get through a long teaching day and stay in good spirits. I recently completed my first 10K and in the weeks leading up to the race, I was surprised at how much energy I had. Before I started running, I felt like I was dragging myself home at the end of the day, tired and grumpy. Now that I run regularly, I still have some energy after work, and I feel mentally sharper too. Whatever kind of exercise you like to do, make it a priority.
For my own state of mind, it’s also important that I eat a substantial, healthy lunch at 1pm or later and have healthy snacks throughout the day. I used to pack a granola bar to work, but I have found that most contain a ton of sugar. Now I’ll pack an apple, nuts, or a cheese snack for a little boost between lessons. Since I often don’t get home until 9pm, I make a lot of crockpot meals or make-ahead meals during the week so I don’t have to worry about dinner when I get home.
This is important no matter what field you are in, but it’s easy to forget when you are teaching for 5 or 6 hours straight. Nobody will die if you insist on the occasional 2 minute bathroom break while your student gets their instrument out. If you feel like you just can’t get away, at least drink a lot of water before and after work. If you stay well-hydrated before work and start drinking water again during your last student’s lesson, you should be able to stay properly hydrated.
Set Good Boundaries
As teachers, we want to change the world. We want every lesson to be magical, every student to be thriving, and every parent to be involved and supportive. And we think that this is ALL. ON. US. The mindset that I am personally responsible for the outcome of others is a recipe for burnout. My job is to give each family the tools they need to do their best, give parents the information and support they need to succeed, and to nurture the heart of the child while challenging them to play beautifully. After I have done these things, I need to detach and not obsess over those things I can’t control.
On a bookkeeping note, I will often ask myself how much hand-holding my studio families really need. Do I need to send them a third reminder that Labor Day is a school holiday? Does that unmotivated student really need their own personalized board game to get through the Twinkles? Is it necessary that I come up with an awesome Irish-themed group class for St. Patrick’s Day, or can I just plan a regular class if I’m short on time? It helps me to prioritize my to-do list and to accept the fact that not all the “it-would-be-nice-if-I-could” tasks will be completed.
If you are responsible for setting your own studio policies, set a strict policy on make-up lessons and stick to it. Here is one of my favorite articles, written by a Suzuki mom and economist, on why it is unfair for parents to expect teachers to make up lessons.
Remember Your Why
I like to regularly reflect on my priorities for my students. I think a lot about what kind of experience I want my students and their parents to have in lessons and group classes, what I want my students to learn to value and to strive for, and how I can help them to meet their goals. With all the technical skill required to play a string instrument, it’s easy to forget the bigger goals of teaching music, which will vary by teacher. For me, it’s most important that I nurture a love of learning, a love of music, and a strong work ethic, and to help my students become more sensitive, thoughtful human beings. Thinking about these broader goals helps me to put things in perspective and to maintain a positive attitude in the midst of challenges.
When I’m in need of some inspiration, there are many resources I can turn to, such as teaching books, teaching blogs, or the Suzuki Association of the America’s website.
How do you strike a balance in your busy teaching life?