Managing Time in the Teaching Studio


by John M. Zeigler, Ph.D.
Rio Rancho, NM USA

iano teachers are professionals, with the same advantages and responsibilities as professionals in other areas. Most professionals spend a great deal of time on things that they are not directly paid for (continuing education, talking on the phone with clients, attending meetings, traveling generally, answering e-mail from clients, etc., etc.). For a working professional, these are "costs of doing business"  and cannot be billed directly to clients or students. The result is that most teachers find themselves in a constant time crunch, because they do so many things for their students, only some of which are paid by students. In this article, I'll discuss some ideas for how a teacher might separate duties from "extras" and use time most efficiently to provide maximum benefit for everyone concerned.



keyinfo.gif (1045 bytes)Managing time and using it effectively is mostly a matter of discipline


Duties and "Extras"

Just what are the absolute duties of a quality teacher and what other things, beyond duties, should a devoted teacher do for students? Piano teachers face this question all the time as they try to juggle normal teaching, student preparation for concerts and competitions, studio events, professional development and continuing education, among many other activities. We have offered some thoughts on what a good teacher might include in quality lessons in our article, What To Expect From Your Piano Teacher. You may not fully agree with all that you'll find in that article, but it may help you in developing your own views about what is most important in your own teaching. The information in my article, Piano Teaching Philosophies, may also be helpful. Answering the duties and extras question for your own situation will go a long way toward helping you prioritize your time and doing what matters most for your students.

Managing and Saving Time in the Studio

After you examine what you do for students, you may want to continue doing most, if not all, of it. If that's the case, then the issue of duties and extras really comes down to time management, broadly construed. Here are some thoughts:

  • Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize! Sit down and make a list of all that you do for students, then rank them in order of importance. If you can't find a good pedagogical or psychological reason for something you're doing, even if you have a feeling it might be important, consider reducing the amount of time you spend on it. Similarly, if you find something works well, emphasize it at the expense of other, less effective, activities.  Prioritization is a first step in figuring out how to use time well.
  • The single biggest thing all of us can do to use our time better is to organize our day as much as possible. Allocate time everyday for those things that must be done everyday, but only a certain amount. Only go over the allotted time for true emergencies. Make sure that your day includes time "just for you."
  • One of the biggest mistakes people make in managing time is to set unrealistic goals and overestimate how much they can reasonably get done in a day, leading to frustration and a sense of failure when things don't work out. If absolutely everything has to go perfectly for you to accomplish your day's tasks, you have set an unrealistic goal.
  • Make or return calls only at certain times of the day and only for so long. Ignore the phone outside that period. Where possible, use e-mail rather than phone calls, since you can usually control the length of an e-mail better than the length of a phone conversation with a talkative parent. When you use e-mail, keep in mind that e-mail lacks the "personal touch", so be discriminating about when to use it in place of a call or meeting.
  • Keep lesson plans flexible and limited, since most teachers tell us that they are often forced to put aside entirely the day's plan for a student! If you plan with flexibility in mind you will spend less time in preparation and be more effective.
  • Consider limiting the time you spend coming up with supplemental music for students. People are so busy these days that you can limit that effort to those students who appreciate and need it.
  • Don't overdo incentives for students, especially if you have to create them or find them. Although they can be helpful in many cases, many students have so much "stuff" that one more small item or prize may be of little consequence to them. If you use computer learning tools, most of the learning programs provide certificates of accomplishment automatically, so that you don't have to make them up yourself.
  • Do all written studio communications (notices, newsletters, etc.) by HTML e-mail, rather than printed newsletters, etc. You'll save money both on postage and paper and time in printing and posting them. Your students will get the document in minutes and they can just print it if they need hard copy. Print off a few copies yourself for the few people who don't have e-mail. To make sure that your communications get read, limit them to one or two a month, if at all possible.
  • Consider employing one of your good students, perhaps in partial exchange for lessons, to help with some of the drudge work. If you have a computer theory lab, having a good, responsible student run it is a good idea. This is a better use of your time and money and is a way for a prospective music student to see what running a teaching studio is really like. It can also be a way to keep a deserving student who is short of money in lessons.
  • Enlist the aid of some student parents to help with some of the recitals and contest preparations. You should not have to bear both the cost and the time penalties to do every last bit of this work. Not every parent will help and not every parent who does help will be available all the time, but you can find some who will amongst your studio clients. Those parents who help will need some brief guidelines from you about what they might do, but it's well within their abilities to help. The goal here is not to avoid work, per se, but to free up time to do what you do best - teach.
  • Ask your local teachers association to publish an agenda for each meeting at least a week before the meeting (this is easily done by e-mail again). Then attend only those meetings where there is significant business or a program that particularly interests you. Of course, you may need and want the interaction you get with other teachers, but meeting attendance takes a good chunk of time, especially if you are really active.
  • Purchase music, teaching materials and office supplies online, as much as possible. This saves time and effort going to a music store for those occasions when you know what you want to get. There are many online suppliers of teaching materials, a few of which are listed on our page, Music, Service and Equipment Suppliers. Many local music stores have their own sites now, if you prefer doing business there. Just search the name of that store with any search engine.
  • If you do your own bookkeeping and/or studio management, do it on the computer, rather than on paper. This saves time during the year and saves a lot of effort at tax time. There are several good studio management programs available now, one of which we've reviewed here on PEP. Our review will give you an idea of many of the capabilities of such programs. You can find others just by searching the Internet, since virtually all the programs have web sites. Most offer limited-time, free use, downloadable versions to try. The studio management programs are particularly attractive for piano teachers, because they bundle basic bookkeeping with scheduling and student tracking, among other functions. These are so useful and time-saving that you may find that you can stop paying an accountant to do taxes, if you use one.
  • Make sure to allot time every week, if not every day, for personal and professional development. This may mean time devoted to playing, improving your knowledge, meeting with other teachers or just time to think. If you fail to do this on a regular basis, you may be setting yourself up for "burnout" over the long term.

A Matter of Discipline

The above tips constitute a small fraction of the things one might do to improve studio time usage. Managing time and spending it effectively are mostly a matter of discipline, just like practicing the piano. Like practice, it requires some organization and a personal commitment, but it pays off in better and more enjoyable teaching.

Page created: 8/12/09
Last updated: 01/30/15
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Reprinting from the Piano Education Page The Piano Education Page, Op. 10, No. 1,
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