Forming and Operating A Local Music Teacher Organization


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


recent analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data and membership in several national music teacher organizations suggests that the majority of music teachers have membership in some local or national teacher group. Most large cities and many smaller ones have existing local music teacher groups that interested teachers can join and participate in. Especially at the local level, teacher organizations are all about community. Such organizations provide networking, sharing of costs and work, sanctioning of events, discounted services and materials, mutual assistance and much more. If a teacher isn't participating in an organization, he/she is missing much of what one can get out of membership in a good and active group.  The potential advantages, emotional and financial, of music teacher group membership are so large that most music teachers should join and become active in a local teachers group, if one is available that meets their needs.

However, if you are in that minority of teachers who don't have a music teachers' organization locally, if the local one doesn't allow you to be a member for various reasons (e.g. level of training required), or if it simply doesn't meet your needs, you're not without options. If you can't find a suitable local group of which to become a member, think about forming your own music teachers group. It's not hard and all it really requires is a group of teachers who want the benefits of music teacher organization membership. Read on for some basic tips about how you can form and operate your own teachers group and, if that is your desire, associate it with a national teachers organization.


keyinfo.gif (1045 bytes)The key to keeping an organization vital and growing is involving all the members in as many meaningful ways as possible.


Forming a Local Teachers' Group

All you really need to start a local music teachers' organization is an interested group of teachers (presumably among your friends and acquaintances) and a desire to have a group. You'll need around ten interested people to start, given that some won't be active and some will miss some meetings for various reasons. Just contact your friends and acquaintances among local teachers and ask if they would like to join a local group and be involved in its activities. Have in mind when you talk with other teachers some of the things the group might do and sanction, so that you can give your contacts an idea of why it might be valuable for them to participate.

A music teachers group should have as one of its most important goals the establishment and encouragement of professionalism among its members. The group should have an ethics statement which lays out the requirements of professionalism and members should be encouraged to follow it. MTNA has a good Code of Ethics on its web site that can be used as a model, whether a group joins MTNA or not. Of course, if members and officers pay no attention to such a code, it doesn't help much, so professionalism should be a regular emphasis and occasional discussion point at meetings.

Some teachers who want and perhaps need a teachers group in which to take part may think they aren't "qualified" to participate in or take a lead role forming a group. Don't assume that you have nothing to offer other teachers, just because you would like some help in some areas. You'll find that other teachers will have questions for which you can supply answers or suggestions. My point here is that such groups are most successful and valuable only when everybody contributes time, energy and knowledge in some way. Not everybody will be able to help in the same ways, but all should have a role. People have different strengths and talents, so a good organization looks for ways to use those differences to the advantage of everybody involved. Actively involving people also helps build in the members a sense of commitment to the organization.

Meetings and Activities

After assessing interest by contacting other teachers, you can then form the group and set up meetings, with both formal programs and "mixing" time, preferably. It's easy to find people to speak; many times they can be from the local membership. Meeting programs serve to stimulate discussions and make members aware of the talents and knowledge of other members. My advice is to keep the business part of meetings short (an hour or less, most times) and focused, since teachers are busy and can't usually commit a half day. If some teachers want to linger and talk or share experiences after the main part of the meeting, they can do so. Having snacks and beverages available at the meeting may be a further encouragement for participation. Usually, the best place to hold meetings is in one of the members' studios, since this costs nothing and gives people a chance to learn a little about the teaching environments of other teachers. Use meetings to check on the progress of committees and planned events, not to accomplish those events, as doing so will shorten meetings and provide some impetus for members to carry out tasks in a timely and responsible manner. Every committee, standing and special, should be asked to report at meetings, even if the report is short and informal. Make sure that everyone has responsibilities for both participation and leadership.

Most organizations of any kind have members who talk at meetings about things that they feel should be done or ideas they might have, but are never willing to do any work to bring their ideas to fruition. Such people can be damaging to the group, because they waste everyone's time and energy in meetings with their unrealistic ideas and pontifications. As I said above, no one's ideas should be outright discouraged, publicly or privately. Rather, if time proves that you have people of this sort in your membership, the best way to deal with them is to appoint them to head the committee that will be charged with moving forward with their ideas. Ask for a committee report at each meeting. After a few times of publicly reporting no committee meetings and no progress toward the goal, such talkers will be embarrassed enough to stop or, at least, control their many unfruitful proposals.

I have offered, in various places, especially in several Teaching Studio articles, all kinds of suggestions for additional things an organization can do for its members to provide member benefits, if it collects even a small membership fee. The more "free" member benefits (discounts on music and piano tuning, student locator service, competitions organization and participation, arranging master classes, etc.) the organization can offer, the more attractive it is to potential members.
Negotiated discounts cost the group nothing and are quite valuable to members. It just a matter of making a few phone calls to tuners, music stores, repairers and so forth to get them.

Most music teacher organizations are "non-profit" under U.S. tax law and gain some benefits from that status, not entirely having to do with taxes. Media will often provide free coverage for activities of non-profit groups; it's also easier to obtain member discounts if your group has some formal status. At some later stage, if your group grows, you may want to incorporate it as a non-profit to gain tax advantages. This is not something you have to worry about initially, however.

Note my continuous use of the word "you"; if you want it to happen, chances are you'll have to take the lead to bring people together (contacting teachers, setting meetings, providing or arranging for meeting space, etc.). Once the group is a going concern, it's relatively easy to get at least some help from other members.

Keeping a Music Teachers Organization Vital

Given that there is always some turnover in members, an organization needs to bring in new people all the time. This also allows the group to benefit from the "new blood" effect. The key to keeping an organization vital and growing is involving all the members in as many ways as possible. People who feel they have no voice and no meaningful role to play will quickly drift away. Also, if all the activities of the organization fall on the shoulders of a few people, they tend to suffer burn-out. If your group is active and has lots of involved members, word-of-mouth from them will help bring in new members.

As you identify other members willing to work and contribute, transfer responsibility, power and credit to them. This helps the group accomplish more and also helps prepare people for future leadership roles within the group. The importance of developing leaders cannot be understated. I have seen more than one group fold within a year after an energetic and effective leader was succeeded by a lazy and ineffective one. Although thousands of books have been written about the characteristics of good leaders, it mostly comes down to seeking opportunities and needs actively, getting along with people, recognizing accomplishment, treating people fairly, and motivating them to accomplish shared goals. Most piano teachers have enough of these characteristics to succeed in a music teachers organization. When choosing officers, the group members should look for these kinds of people, while avoiding the "big talkers".

Don't close the door to people who might be members of other music teachers groups. Many teachers have multiple memberships. If your group is active and encouraging to members, you'll find that these multiple membership people will become more and more active in your group and less so in their previous group. I wouldn't suggest that a new group work hard actively to recruit members from other groups, as this may engender some bad feelings within the other organization. But, when members of other groups come your way, welcome them and get them involved. The same can be said for student members. Most teacher groups have student members, either within the main group or in an affiliated one. This is great for serious students, especially those who might be contemplating a career in music teaching. They get to see what music teaching is all about and learn tips and techniques from accomplished and experienced teachers.

Keep in mind that, while piano teachers might constitute the largest single group among the local population of music teachers, your group should welcome membership of teachers of other instruments and voice. These other teachers can add both breadth and insights that a group composed entirely of piano teachers might miss. Of course, many piano teachers teach other instruments, in addition to piano, so having non-piano music teachers in the group can directly help those who teach  other instruments, as well as piano.

Communication is critical to the success of any organization. The best way to publicize member benefits and activities within the group is to have a newsletter. The content of the newsletter could include teaching tips, announcements of activities and events, occasional columns, printed discount "coupons" for members and even some well-edited "news and views". The newsletter should be kept short enough that it can be read in a few minutes and prepared in no more than a few hours. Make sure that everyone in the group is encouraged to contribute items to the newsletter and that the editorship changes every year or two, to avoid burn-out or too one-sided a view.

Although I'm sure some would disagree, e-mail is the perfect medium to deliver such a newsletter, since it costs nothing except time and delivery is instantaneous. You can print a few hard copies for those who require it. Most can simply print their own from the e-mail. E-mail programs provide more than enough complexity of formatting for most newsletters. You can send the newsletter as a .PDF file attached to e-mail, if you're really committed to having your newsletter be a thing of beauty. You don't really have to buy (pricey) Adobe Acrobat to generate the PDF these days. Adobe has a free PDF generator on its web site for those who need occasional PDF's. Most word processors will print to a PDF file, too. Failing that, there are large numbers of free or nearly free PDF generators available for download. Also, OpenOffice, a free and full-featured office suite which reads and writes Microsoft Office files, has a built-in PDF generator. It's available for PC and Mac operating systems, as well as Linux.

Some Mistakes to  Avoid

It's pretty easy to succeed with a teacher group, if you exercise good will and good judgment. However, there are a few things that a group can do which will, in the long term, destroy it as an effective organization. Do not allow the group to become splintered into cliques, to get too hierarchical (the officers vs. the members) or too political.  All members should have a meaningful role and be welcomed and encouraged at all times. If someone is willing to help, accept their help and give them whatever guidance they might request to do the job. Similarly, if someone has ideas for activities or events to which they are willing to devote time and effort, support them! Make people accountable and reward accomplishment with credit and praise as publicly as possible.

Any kind of unprofessional behavior among members should be strongly discouraged, in keeping with the purposes of a professional organization. Officers should view their offices as responsibilities, not as personal fiefdoms, and should be held accountable by the membership. Group treasury reports should be given at every meeting and monitored closely by both officers and members.

Make sure that you have a written set of by-laws and follow them! There is no quicker way to destroy a group and impose personal legal liability than to violate or ignore the by-laws. Few people realize that most Directors and Officers (D&O) insurance policies specifically exclude coverage for any actions in violation of the group by-laws. If you are informed that you have mistakenly violated some provisions of the by-laws, thank the person who alerts you to the violations and correct them as soon as possible.

State and National Affiliation

The Music Teachers National Association, Music Educators National Conference, National Federation of Music Clubs, and The National Guild of Piano Teachers, in the U.S. and abroad, all provide opportunities for teachers to associate with other teachers and students at the local, state and national level. Affiliation with a larger national group can give your members contacts and insights that might not be available locally. If you want to associate with a larger state and/or national group, you'll have to write a set of by-laws for the organization consistent with those of the national group. Usually, you can download a model set of by-laws from the web site of the national group. I wrote the by-laws of WMMTA (PEP's organizational sponsor) based on the MTNA by-laws, revising the provisions as necessary to meet local conditions. This revised set of by-laws was sent to MTNA for approval. The organization then became a member group of MTNA, though it later went out on its own.

Teachers outside the U.S. also have some options for affiliation, either within their own country or as a part of an international organization. One possibility for joining an international group is the National Federation of Music Clubs. NFMC is the only music organization member of the United Nations and operates internationally. There are also non-U.S. based teacher organizations native to many countries. A quick trip to a search engine can give you an idea of what organizations might be available in your country.

It's the Participation

I hope this gives those who might be thinking about starting a music teachers organization some help, even though I haven't covered all aspects of forming and running such an organization. It is not really very hard to start a local group if you don't have one nearby, but making it work does require effort on the part of all the members. Music teacher organizations are all about participation. You tend to get as much from them as you put in. If you and your colleagues are willing to participate actively and work to involve others, it will be a positive experience for all of you.  

Page created: 3/27/09
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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