Starting with students is different for everyone, and I’m not about to sugarcoat. I’m going to tell you how I jumpstarted my teaching again.
A former student’s mother convinced me to teach piano to her daughter again. I don’t let people into my piano studio anymore, so I agreed to walk to their house each week.
At home, I flip through my piano teaching binder, from back when businesses couldn’t run paperless and I couldn’t manage people without stressing.
These are a few lessons I’ve learned from my last round of piano teaching.
Lesson 1: Have a Fair Studio Policy
Most people don’t intend to take advantage of you. They don’t know that they’re taking advantage if the rules aren’t clear.
When I taught Design Lab, the main policy was, if you weren’t happy with the online course in 30 days, I’d give you 100% of your money back, no questions asked. Only one person has ever asked for a refund, and ironically, the red flag was that she didn’t sign the policy document. I gave her the money anyways.
What a policy does is set the ground rules and lets people trust you. It says that you know what you’re doing enough to set it in stone.
I printed a piano studio policy and arrived 15 minutes early to the first lesson to go over it with the parent. It took 2 minutes for the deal to be signed, and we got our lesson started early. Parents love the extra value.
Lesson 2: No Drama
I never complained about students, but dreaded calling and scheduling. My students were screened by my mom, the HR expert, but even then, I was too accommodating. Sometimes only two students showed up to the group lessons.
My aversion to confrontation was going to kill me. So I made a deal: If something wasn’t going right, I’d let it simmer for 24 hours, then I’d fix it. Because if the problem persisted for 24 hours, then it needed fixing; if I didn’t do it right then, it was never going to be done.
Lesson 3: Really Good is Good Enough
Don’t expect perfection from your students, unless you’re in the business of perfection.
Design Lab is the most challenging course I have taught to date– I can’t evaluate progress in the traditional sense, because it is online. The students are adults building their businesses, but I still had to (virtually) whip a few people into taking action.
In the past, when I taught piano, I’d expected the same level of dedication to piano from my students as I’d put in. We’d work at the same piece for weeks, where the music would go stale and I’d invent games that drilled technique and it would burn me out.
To prevent that, I’m going to set a buffer. If we work on three lines of music for more than three weeks, and it feels stale, then we’ll move on.
Students are responsible for progress more than the teacher is.
Lesson 4: Don’t Tattle
He’s the kid who wouldn’t stop talking, who’d slipped from rocking back his chair and cut his lip on my table, and who likes Kung Fu Panda. He and his brother had started spouting curse words in the group class one day.
I asked them to stop; I had four other students’ progress to manage. When the mother came to pick the brothers up, I informed her about cursing with a smile; they stopped coming the next month.
That was the first and last time I would tattle. It’s bad business: parents want to know that the teacher can manage a classroom with their kids in it.
Lesson 6: Record Everything
Can you figure out how many lessons Sally had in September, in 1 minute or less? If not, then you’ll need a better system.
I also debrief after each period: what is working, and what isn’t?
Lesson 7: Impressions Matter.
Parents sign your cheque based on what they think you’re worth to their child. You have to communicate this value.
Before a parent steps through the door for the first time, they should know your value so the interview doesn’t consist of you selling yourself. The interview is just to make sure your personalities click.
Ksenia Ilinykh is a reader who asked me to design a logo and website– she is moving to Utah and starting a private studio, with her day job as a Music Director.
Imagine the mother of a 4 year old child looking for top-notch music education– would you trust Ksenia, with the website below, or someone whose website is from 1995? Who would you pay premium pricing to get the best for your precious child?
I was frank in presenting new, tighter terms– after all, I’d stopped teaching for a few reasons– and the family had agreed to them in a heartbeat.
Which goes to show, that often, you only have to ask.