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,
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
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
- 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
- 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.
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