We have all taught (and smiled) through nasty headaches, various aches and pains, and plain old fatigue, but what about when your body just doesn’t seem to cooperate any more and your health is a constant challenge? Below are some ideas I have used personally and also those of other music teachers that I interviewed for this blog. I hope today finds you healthy and strong, but if not, take courage. Teaching can be a time of enrichment and satisfaction in your day.

  • Be a fun, warm and friendly person to be around. This is not always easy, but it will help others to see you and not your disability or illness.
  • Enjoy each lesson and each relationship. This can actually take your mind off your own problems for awhile.
  • Carefully plan your energy usage for the day. If you have to teach all afternoon, you might not be able to clean house and run errands all morning.
  • Be realistic about your schedule. Don’t take on more students than you can keep up with and also maintain your strength and health.
  • Adapt your environment to your needs. Get the right kind of chair, use a baton to point out issues in the music, keep all your supplies close at hand.
  • Don’t over do it or over commit on days you are feeling pretty good. Continue to work according to your overall ability. It is so tempting to try and get the one million things done you have been neglecting for so long, but exercise restraint. It is easier to plan a big event down the road than it will be to get through it once it gets here.
  • Schedule breaks between students or groups of students.
  • Strategically talk to parents and adult students about your limitations. They are usually willing to accommodate and adjust where needed.
  • If you need to cancel more frequently because of illness, design a more lenient “sick policy” for you and for your students.
  • Enlist the help your older teen students to help around the studio filing music, dusting the piano, or helping younger ones with theory lessons.
  • Be very clear about your teaching priorities and focus on core skills. Now is not the time to add extra programs and studio activities.
  • Have a volunteer sign up list for your studio parents. They can bring snacks to group lessons, emcee at recitals, help set up for events, take pictures and many other things.
  • Build a good support system. Have friends you can call for advice and support when needed.
  • Get help with housework and meals if possible. A little extra help might mean you can continue to teach, which is probably a higher love on your list than scrubbing floors. Sometimes you can trade services for lessons.
  • Take care of yourself every day. Do all the things you know are healing for you.

If you are worried about how your students will react to your challenges, I think you will be encouraged by this note from John Ledell.

Piano Teaching With a Debilitating Illness, by John Ledell

“When the doctor announced I had to go full-time into a power wheelchair, many thoughts flashed through my mind but the dominant thought was what would my piano students and parents think? Would I still be able to teach the way I always had, jumping up on the piano bench to play parts of pieces for students? How would I show them how I wanted certain passages played in the music? Would people want to take lessons from an old man in a wheelchair?  Lots of questions and very few answers popped into my mind.

First a little background. I had polio when I was two. From an Iron Lung, it took 14 years of rehab and more than a dozen operations to bring me back to as normal physically as I would ever be. I could walk with braces but had a very pronounced limp. I was proud of my accomplishments in being normal enough to pass for normal. Flash forward to my 40’s when something called post-polio syndrome set in. The motor neurons controlling the muscles that were damaged by the polio virus started giving out. Thus my ability to walk was gone completely. I started using crutches full-time and got around satisfactorily but I always hid that fact from my students. 

In the room where I teach, I would enter before lessons and sit in a rolling office chair and then hide my crutches in a closet so my students and parents would not know I was disabled. I could still hop onto the piano bench to play and then hop back to my office chair. I learned the hard way that it’s important to go to the bathroom before lessons in order to keep my disability hidden. 

When the doctor told me I had to use a power wheelchair, it was because decades of using crutches had ruined my shoulders and made continued use of crutches unbearably painful. However, there was no place to hide the big bulky wheelchair in my teaching room so my secret would be discovered. I even thought of giving up piano teaching and let my wife, and fellow piano teacher, take over my students even though she already had a full schedule. 

In the end we decided to confront the disability openly and just explain what was going on to both students and their parents. It turns out most of them suspected what was going on because my behavior and lack of movement was unusual. Instead of being put off by my disability, students and families rallied around me and threw their complete love and  support to my wife and myself. It turns out what they loved about my teaching was my humor and supportive efforts with their children and music. No one cared about my mobility only the love and encouragement I always gave to their children and their music.”

Please add your insights in the comment section below so we can all learn from each other.

LINKS

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Posted in Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

An essential part of learning to play music on an instrument (as opposed to singing!) is having an instrument on which to play. Owning or renting an instrument and having the necessary accessories are important for learning but are not something teachers may be prepared to handle.  And yet, without the right equipment it’s hard for a student to get very far.  How can the teacher help?  What do you do to help your students?  (Please add a comment at the end to share your perspective!)

Some teachers might simply accept whatever the student has for equipment.  Others direct their students to local or online stores to purchase recommended items.  Still others select and rent or sell instruments and accessories themselves.

I’ve done all three.  Lately, I’ve taken to making things available myself, especially for beginners.  This post is about why and how I’ve gone about it.
Read more…

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Posted in Financial Business, Professional Development, Studio Management

I remember it well. Waking up with coffee in hand, I hurried to my laptop to open the Music Teachers Helper tab. Yes, I could have read the Daily Summary email that appears in my inbox which lists all the students arriving for lessons that day, but I wanted to access my calendar to double check the lessons scheduled for the entire week.

You can imagine my surprise when I logged in and I received a message that my account had expired. I logged in again assuming that in my haste, I had incorrectly entered my password.

Uggh…again the message: your account has expired.

You know that feeling when your stomach drops right after the roller coaster has crested the top of the ramp and begins its descent? Suddenly my coffee wasn’t sitting so well with me any more.

My anxiety grew as I had a list of items to complete on my Music Teachers Helper site before students arrived. I was planning to

  • Update a wait-listed registrant to active so I could create and send an invoice to the new student
  • Edit a lesson as a student needed to switch a time from Monday to Tuesday morning
  • Begin a draft of next month’s newsletter
  • Ensure that parents would receive the correct lesson day and time in their notification email by checking the week’s schedule
  • Email a new student family and inform them about the convenience of paying online with a credit card. I worried—would this handy feature be available to my new clients because of my expired account?
  • And more…

Insecurities crept in. Were my blog posts no longer appreciated? Perhaps I posted one too late which triggered the shut-off valve of my MTH account?

I figured there was a reason behind the MTH lockout and I knew Ronnie Curry and his timely MTH support team would have the answer.

Ronnie to the rescue! He promptly responded to my email plea and reopened my account that had been closed due to a small glitch. Breathing became easier and I brewed myself a fresh cup of Keuirg coffee.

Music Teachers Helper is the on-demand assistant that I’ve come to value even more than I knew.  With my current student load, the $49 a month, unlimited Music Teachers Helper account averages out to 92 cents a month per student. The peace of mind this system has offered me through the years is worth EVERY penny.

NOTE: Some of you may know that I also have my own blog at 88PianoKeys.me. Results from a recent MusicTeachersHelper survey revealed 88pianokeys.me is appreciated by MTH readers. I’m honored and thankful for your readership! Keep this list handy as it includes many relevant and helpful resources you’ll visit (as I will) on a regular basis.  Resources Music Teachers Love

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Posted in MTH 101, Studio Management, Using Music Teacher's Helper

Sandy Lundberg

Mid-winter Motivation

January 26th, 2015 by

Being a person who is strongly nourished by sunlight and warmth, this is a hard time of year for me. That makes mid-winter a great time to remind myself why I really do love my job. This list is a compilation of many individuals’ thoughts, so most of us will find something we can relate to.

  1. I get to keep learning new music all the time.
  2. I am giving a gift that will last a lifetime.
  3. My young “clients” are adorable and amazing.
  4. Nothing compares to seeing a face light up when a child finally “gets it.”
  5. Small accomplishments bring great pleasure.
  6. I connect to children at the level of their hearts.
  7. My job is much more meaningful than a typical 8-5.
  8. I am sometimes the first person to alert parents to a learning or visual challenge.
  9. I teach kids to rise above negativity and self-doubt to create beautiful and very personal music.
  10. I get to witness generations of musicians enjoying their music.
  11. It is gratifying to know that I am an important part of a child’s life.
  12. I enjoy the constant challenge of finding better and more effective ways to teach a concept.
  13. I am never bored—I get a whole new personality to enjoy every 30-45 minutes.
  14. I have the privilege of helping to keep the arts alive in our culture.
  15. I am helping to make someone’s dream come true.
  16. I am able to model for a child smart work habits, diligence, perseverance, patience, and confidence.
  17. I never really know how much impact and influence I am having, so it keeps me on my toes every single day.
  18. Music is a unique form of human expression and I get to draw it out.

This makes it worth pouring my heart, soul and love for music into my work every day. Even the cold, dark days of winter. Please share your inspirational thoughts below!

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Posted in Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

 

The issue of internal or external motivation is a debate that is sure to continue as long as there are music students and music teachers. One reason for this is the uniqueness of each student and each teacher. There is no one right answer.

Everyone seems to agree that an internally motivated child is the ideal. But what do we mean by “internally” motivated? Is it the child that seems to practice every week without wanting or needing stickers or prizes? Is it internal motivation to want to please your teacher or parents, or must it involve some level of personal enjoyment of the activity? 

Dan Pink, in his TED Talk, describes three elements of internal motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose. We can we strive to incorporate these three elements into our lessons. Certainly teaching students to be good readers and helping them to understand the fundamentals of music and harmony will promote a sense of autonomy. Training a student carefully in the elements involved in high-quality playing and taking pieces to completion, should develop a sense of mastery. A sense of purpose might come from discovering how their musical abilities can be used to serve and bless other people. Read more…

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Posted in Practicing, Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

So I just had my annual Studio Holiday Recital last weekend! I give my students a recital gift at every studio recital, and I do two studio recitals a year. After 10 recitals or so, it has become increasingly harder to come up with new gift ideas. I am excited to report that I have found the ultimate holiday recital gift idea that will last 23 years!

What is it?

Ok, it’s not all that original – Composer Statuettes!

Believe it or not, this was the first time I gave out these little composer statuettes. In the past I have given medals, trophies, pins, certificates, personalized ornaments, little USB Christmas trees, giant candy canes, Christmas crackers, chocolates, soft toys…I thought these composer statuettes looked rather serious and students wouldn’t like them. I was wrong!

It’s all about personalization.

So on Sunday, the day after my recital, a dad called me out of the blue. It turned out that he had broken his daughter’s composer statuette by accident! No matter how much he assured her he would get her another one that looks just the same (they are easy to order online), my 7-year-old student was still upset, because “it won’t have her name and the name of the event on it.” I had no idea it meant that much to her! In the past I have sometimes personalized the recital gifts, sometimes not, but from now on, every recital award I give out will be personalized with the student’s name, name of the recital (summer or holiday) and year.

So how does this last 23 years?

There are 23 statuettes in the collection. Each student received the statuette of the composer whose music they played at the recital, if applicable. If there are multiple students in the same family, I give them all different ones, so the collection will look interesting on their piano. I keep a spreadsheet of which student got what composer, so I will be sure not to give them the same composer in future years. So in order to get the entire collection, a student will need to play in my studio holiday recital for the next 22 years! If a family has two kids, it will still take them 11 years to receive the entire collection! I think I will still give them something different for the summer recital, but at least for the holiday recital, I am set for a long while! The last statuette in the collection is called “World’s Best Student” – saved for special students, or those graduating or moving away.

Still room for variety from year to year.

I dressed up each composer with curling ribbon that looks like a scarf on the neck (break up the all-white, serious look), packaged each statuette with a candy cane inside, and tied the cellophane bag with shiny ribbons and a jingle bell ornament. In future years, I can put different kinds of candy or chocolate inside, use different ribbons, and attach different ornaments. This way the gift will still be interesting, especially since they will also get a different composer.

End Result

 

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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Posted in Studio Management, Teaching Tips

Recently, we asked a series of questions to over 300 students of Music Teacher’s Helper users. Today, we share some of that data, which is likely representative of most private music teachers. So please share with your peers.

99% said that their teacher runs their studio in a professional manner. We hope Music Teacher’s Helper has played a part in such an impressive number!

Keep up the great work!

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Posted in Professional Development, Studio Management

All working parents have a challenge getting dinner on the table, but private music teachers have it especially hard when the evening hours are prime business hours. I’d like to explore a few ways to address this dilemma.

Most teachers do better if they take an actual dinner break, not just teach straight through. Less than 30 minutes is probably not sufficient. Be sure to tell your last student before your break that you are not available to stay after the normal lesson time and chat.  As we all know, the main thing that signals a student to leave is that the next student is waiting for their turn!

Many of the items in the lists below could be in every column; this format is just a way to be a little more organized about it. If you have a favorite freezer meal or crockpot recipe, please share it in the comments section below.

In the end it really comes down to three Read more…

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Posted in Studio Management, Teaching Tips

In a series of blogs called ‘Getting Innovative with MTH’, I am sharing some of my favourite workarounds.  My previous two posts were: creating a To Do List and keeping track of my Inventory.  These workarounds help me be even more efficient within Music Teacher’s Helper with a ‘One Stop’ approach for all my studio needs.

Monthly Calendar View: Week 3

Innovative Calendar of Events (combining all events in your life)

I really do love the flexibility of MTH and the powerful features within the Calendar for scheduling all my students.

I have now also created a way which works well for me to combine most, if not all, of the events in my life! Within the MTH Calendar for my student schedule, I am able to remember much more as I combine several calendar schedules together:

(1) for my personal appointments,

(2) for another teacher using my studio and

(3) my own piano/violin students both at my studio and offsite at students’ homes. Some of this logic might also help YOU if you have two teachers sharing the same studio space.   Read more…

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Posted in MTH 101, Studio Management, Using Music Teacher's Helper

I admit it. I want everyone to be happy; even me! This fall I took a few surveys to help me better understand what behaviors and circumstances promote happy students, happy parents and happy teachers.
It is much easier for me to know which behaviors in my clients make me happy as a teacher. Some of these things are important enough to be included in a policy statement—a place where clear communication can set healthy boundaries and solve problems before they happen.
Here is what I included in my registration packets this fall:
Keep Happy Teacher

Students:

  • be willing to try new things, and new ways of doing old things
  • listen to directions and follow them at home
  • read your assignment notes over at home each week
  • enjoy the songs you are learning
  • have a respectful attitude
  • practice faithfully, and record it in your assignment book
  • smile a lot
  • tell the teacher frequently that you love piano lessons
  • always bring all your books to your lesson
  • participate in studio activities
  • take good care of borrowed books and return them on time

Parents:

  • offer your child support, incentives and encouragement at home
  • set aside practice space and time in your child’s schedule
  • say uplifting things about piano lessons in front of your child
  • provide an adequate instrument on which to practice
  • keep your expectations high, but fairly close to reality
  • help your child participate in studio activities and recitals
  • respond to studio emails in a timely manner
  • rarely cancel lessons, and call ahead on those rare occasions
  • drop off and pick children up on time
  • pay your tuition on time each month, without a reminder
  • call me when you have a concern or problem so we can resolve it
  • remember that I thrive on appreciation, and your kids thrive on praise

That covers my side of things, but what about the students’ or parents’ perspectives? For the last few weeks I have been surveying students and parents from my studio, as well as parents with other teachers in my local association, about what makes them happy with a piano teacher. Below is my compilation of the student and parent responses.
I expected certain things to be high on the parents’ list: keep tuition rates low, limit the number of outside activities, high tech studio, make sure we get our perfect time slot, be flexible with sport schedules, vacations and illnesses, have a location close to school or home, have lots of degrees, certifications and professional performance experience.
I was wrong. Not one of these items was mentioned. Read on to find out what was Read more…

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Posted in Customer Support, Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Studio Management, Teaching Tips