Piano student numbers - How many is "just right"?

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sat Feb 03, 2007 10:34 am

Piano teachers must balance a desire to limit the number of students they teach with a need to make a reasonable living from teaching. Because teachers teach in various ways (group vs. individual, short vs. long lessons, beginners vs. advanced students, etc.) and with differing time commitments (part-time vs. full-time teaching), there is probably no single answer to the question, "How many students is too many?" However, there is no question that a teacher can have a sufficiently large number of students that the numbers interfere with an ability to give one's best in teaching. If you're a teacher, how many students do you teach and why do you limit it to that number? If you're a student, what size studio would you prefer to take lessons in. What are the trade-offs involved?
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Postby Stretto » Wed Feb 07, 2007 11:09 pm

Currently, I've limited my teaching schedule to no more than two 45 min. lessons each day Mon. - Thurs. during the afternoon school hours except one day a week where my teaching schedule goes from the afterschool hours up to 7:30 in the evening. I am willing take on more students during the daytime such as homeschooled students, preschoolers, or seniors. The ideal for me for afterschool and evenings would be no more than 10 students per week while I could teach quite a few more during the day. For me, as far as being able to give my best to each student, I don't think numbers of students would have so much to do with putting my best foot forward in teaching as how I would schedule those students. In scheduling of lessons, I ask myself, "what time of the day or week am I least able to put my best foot forward?" and "What times of the day or week would I prefer not to be teaching?" and schedule lessons around those times.

I don't have a babysitter take care of my kids while I teach but have them play and watch t.v. in a separate living area of the house while I teach. My kids last pretty well up to about 2 students worth doing so. :) I used to teach a couple of evenings per week when my husband was home to watch the kids but decided it was too stressful to try to teach into what would normally be our mealtime, try to fix the rest of the family members a meal, and eat really rushed myself in between lessons. (My family isn't the type that doesn't mind waiting until 7:00 for the evening meal). So I decided to simply not teach at all between the hours of 5:30 and 6:30. The exception is one day a week when everyone fends for themselves for the evening meal and my teaching schedule goes from 4:00 to 7:30.

I've also realized that I am more of a morning and daytime person and don't really like waiting until late afternoon and evening to start the majority of teaching so I am working on finding more daytime students. I have tossed around the idea of having group music sessions for preschoolers.

I have learned not just with teaching piano but in other aspects of life as well to know my limits and to purposely set my limits based on what I know I can handle without getting overly stressed or burnt out.

I know a couple teachers who have had at least 60 or more students who have spoken in terms of feeling like they had too many students. One thing mentioned contributing to draining energy and making it more tiring to teach was scheduling too many students back to back over a day and teaching too late into the evening with a solution of scheduling a longer break during the middle of the day and starting the day earlier by scheduling some students to come before school started rather than teaching as late in the evening. Another thing mentioned was that those students who consistently didn't practice and/or whose families consistently didn't pay fees on time were a big source of draining too much of the teacher's energy. The solution was to send out notices a month before the start of the new semester that these students would not be allowed to continue.

Another solution I've heard mentioned from teachers who have considered cutting back on numbers of students is to have fewer students but longer lesson times such as hour long lessons.

Again, from a teacher's perspective, the main thing I think is to know your limits. Also, when it comes to needing to generate a certain income, if it would become too much to handle for numbers of students, try to come up with other creative ways to generate some income using your musical talent rather than all private lessons.

From a students perspective, I don't think it would matter to me how many students the teacher had as long as they seemed professional, and appeared organized.

I've only in the last couple years been in the position of being able to increase numbers of students. For quite a while I only kept a small handful of students anywhere from 1 to 6 students at a time. I've always wondered what students think of taking from a teacher if you were the only student or only one of 2 students.




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Postby LK123 » Thu Feb 08, 2007 1:24 pm

At the moment, not counting my own kids, I have two other students that I teach. With three of my kids still very young and my husband working long hours it is very difficult to manage teaching, child amusements and dinner. I am hoping to increase my teaching over the next couple of years, thinking it will get easier as my kids get older. Perhaps I will also find more support from my husband and teenaged son in terms of helping out with dinner and the littler kids!
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Postby Beckywy » Thu Feb 08, 2007 1:39 pm

Teaching is my sole source of income - to support myself and my kids. We're surviving on 45 students plus 1 theory class a week.
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Postby Emily Wyatt » Mon Apr 16, 2007 6:39 pm

I have about 23 students, with half-hour lessons. This is an extremely fluctuating income and never seems to be enough, though I am fortunate not to have to rely on it for necessities. I supplement it when I can by accompanying and performing; still, that income source is also unreliable.

I once had a teacher who had about 80!!! students. When I realized later that she didn't know who was coming in next and hadn't even prepared herself mentally I determined that if I ever reach that point I've got to make changes. Incidentally, I am now dealing with a pair of transfer students from her and have ghastly grub work to do teaching basic reading and rhythm skills! This teacher would answer phone calls, cook, and clean while I was playing in my lessons. She never ensured that I had any solid technical or theoretical base, or even that I understood how to count out loud. I guess I was another face out of the blurred multitude to her.

Trying to make a living as a musician is a chancy thing.
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Postby LK123 » Wed Apr 25, 2007 3:11 pm

I can't even imagine teaching like that! As I get my teaching career underway, I have spent an incredible amount of time and energy in getting myself prepared for teaching, including lesson planning and integrating rhythm work, theory, solid technique, ear training and sight reading into lesson time. I really want my students to not only love music but have a solid grounding in all aspects of learning the instrument and making music. I would want that for my children if they were going to another teacher for lessons!
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Wed Apr 25, 2007 7:52 pm

I can't imagine teaching 'like that' either. I guess when you have too many students that is what happens if you want to get in calls and dinner, etc.

I taught about 20 when I had three chilrdren - included Sat. AM as my husband enjoyed being with the children. The first year I had a baby and a 5 1/2 yo and an 8 yo. Later, I continued as a single parent, but the girls were 12 and 16 and capable of handling their 7 yo.brother. My oldest begged to fix dinner two nights a week - she was into Julia Child - and it worked out well for everyone. When she got her license, she also drove her sister to piano and dance and her brother to soccer. A big help. But then she left for college. :p

Now, some many years later, I have a part time job as a companion and always allow time to get everyting ready (have a folder for each student) and get home in time to give myself a little down time and get mentally ready for the lessons. I have always tried to do it this way. It works best for me. I think everyone needs to find what works for them. I had 12 students last year and 9 this year. This is better for me right now. I enjoy it, but if too stressed, I would not. Other things in life can throw you - illness, family problems, etc. and I need to have time to deal with them. I spend a great deal of time preparing for lessons. I love teaching.

:D
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Wed Apr 25, 2007 7:53 pm

PS My middle child turned 46 today. :laugh:
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Postby Stretto » Thu Apr 26, 2007 7:05 am

As far as having 80 students, I just wonder how one would get that many! - especially if the teacher isn't putting forth the effort with each individual as should be, I wonder how the teacher keeps them coming as far as adding numbers.

I've heard of a few teachers who have 60 students. I've known of a couple teachers who have gotten "burn out" having too many students primarly in the way of feeling like they don't have a life outside of teaching. Also they mentioned that the families and students that lacked commitment was a big source of draining the teacher's energy. Some of the ways teacher's I've known that have solved the feeling of burnout is by raising rates for the new semester, also sending tactful letters in advance of the new fall semester to those families who have been lacking in commitment over the prior year that they will not be accepted that fall. Or sending letters for the new semester that certain times will no longer be available. Another solution, fitting all the students into 4 days, giving oneself 3 days off (although the teacher was wiped out on the one or two longer teaching days).




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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed May 02, 2007 7:14 am

Your list of ways to deal with a student overload is excellent, Stretto. Another one that has been mentioned elsewhere, by me and others, is to accept students only for longer lessons (45 or 60 minutes). This gives the teacher enough time to accomplish more in the lesson and helps her deal with larger issues.

There seems to be a consensus that a teacher can have too many students. Is it possible to have too few? Putting aside financial considerations, can having too few students result in a teacher "losing her edge," to use the current vernacular? Of course, there are teachers who teach a limited number of highly advanced students with long lesson times, but can a teacher have too few beginners?
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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