When you teach private lessons, it's only a matter of time before one of your students bursts into tears in a lesson. This is a shocking experience the first time around, and I thought I'd share some advice about that today.
Don't take it personally.
Unless you're a jerk, chances are low that you did something to make your student cry. It's far more likely that your student is stressed out or going through some personal issues that are taxing them emotionally.
Provide immediate comfort.
Take care of your student's basic needs of the moment; tissues, a chair to sit down, a glass of water, and a place to put their flute down. After they start to calm down, you can assess the situation.
Ask your student what upset them.
You might get an immediate, clear answer or you might have to dig a little to understand. Either way, if a student reaches the point of tears in a lesson, it's time to take a break and figure out what's going on.
Send an update to the parents.
Shoot the student's guardians a quick email after the lesson to let them know what happened. You don't have to get into details if it doesn't seem appropriate, but you should at least let the parents know that their child was upset in their lesson so they can have a chance to check in.
Hopefully you never have to handle this particular situation in your own studio, but now you'll be prepared if it happens! If you have any tips and tricks for comforting an agitated student, share them in the comments!
I just taught my last lesson before Christmas, and most of my students came in with small presents for me. This happens every year, and every year it surprises me how touching these little gifts are. It really is wonderful to feel like the hard work I put into this studio is worthwhile, and it's so nice to be appreciated.
In the spirit of paying it forward, I want to take a moment to recognize my private teachers:
Cynthia Livingston, my first teacher, taught me from elementary school through mid-high school. She created a warm, welcoming space for me to learn more about the flute and gave me a great foundation in the basics. She also had the extraordinary grace and humility to tell me that she didn't feel like she could adequately prepare me for college auditions and that I should consider working with someone else to give myself the best possible chance.
Berta Frank, my high school teacher, pushed me to explore the music I played in a deeper way and refused to let me sell myself short. She made me work on etudes even when I didn't want to and created a great sense of community among her flute students. She mentored me through my college audition process and I'm certain she had a great deal to do with why I got into the schools I wanted to go to.
Kenneth Andrews, my undergraduate teacher, was a huge influence in my flute career. He absolutely refused to accept excuses, and that taught me to stop making excuses and start working hard to get where I wanted to go. He gave me the incredible gift of the good habits that make all the difference to musicians; timeliness, preparation, and inquiry. I owe him a huge debt.
Vanessa Mulvey, my grad school teacher, was the one who fixed my messed-up shoulder, which allowed me to keep teaching and playing. If not for her and the Body Mapping she taught me, I would have had to live with chronic pain that would most likely have cut my music career short. Instead, she showed me how the muscles and bones in the body move and connect to each other so that I could learn to play in the most efficient way possible. In the process of learning Body Mapping, my shoulder pain was healed. This alone would be a huge gift, but she also taught me to take pleasure in the act of sharing a piece of music with an audience, and how to invite them into my experience rather than trying to forget that they're watching.
I dearly hope that I can make the same sort of difference in my students' lives that my teachers have made in mine.
The last couple months of the year are filled with holidays and school vacations, which often interfere with lesson schedules and student practice time. How do you, as a teacher, balance your students' progress with the reality that they'll be traveling or spending time with family and thus not as likely to spend time practicing during the holidays?
It's tempting, especially when working with older students who are prepping for big auditions, to tell them that their required time is what it is, and that's that. This only leads your students to lie to you about how much time they spent working on their music that week, and that doesn't do anyone any good.
Instead, recognize that in order to get progress out of your students during the patchy holiday lesson schedule, you'll need to plan things out ahead of time and make it easy for your students to continue to work during their vacations.
If I know a student won't see me for a few weeks, I make up a packet of etudes and pieces for them with an instruction sheet on the front indicating what activities I want them to do with those materials. Sometimes I send a weekly email with reminders, helpful articles, and tips about those activities to make sure my student is at least thinking about flute.
Showing your students how many ways they can practice without using the flute also helps keep them engaged in music during the holiday months. Some things they can do include:
So this holiday season, don't despair at the thought of your students backsliding. Instead, take the initiative and show them how to fit practicing into their schedules.
I'm in the middle of a really exciting period of growth and learning these days, both in my studio and my non-musical work. I've always appreciated constructive feedback (there's no way I could have survived music school if I didn't) and I'm interested in your opinions.
I've constructed a brief survey that will help me make this site more useful for you, and each person who takes it will receive an email with a coupon code for a free download of my book, The Conservatory Boot Camp Workbook. I hope to hear from you!
A post I wrote recently got me thinking about how to make your studio a comfortable space for your students. Here's what I've learned since I started teaching:
Playing the flute when your hands are freezing cold or slick with sweat is a tough thing to do. Lessons are a vulnerable time for students; they bring in music they're working on that isn't polished yet and they're asked to try new techniques that might not work perfectly right away. Your students don't need the added challenge of being overheated or chilly. If you have your own teaching space, make sure you set the thermostat appropriately. If you share or rent a space, talk to the owner about making sure the temperature is comfortable.
Your students will come in with varying qualities of sheet music. Some might spring for the lifetime-edition Urtexts that read as clear as day, while others might have a grainy printout from IMSLP. In the case of the latter, your students will need more light to read their music. If possible, invest in a floor lamp that you can move around the studio and invite your students to place it where it's most helpful for reading their music.
This is the element of studio ambiance that teachers tend to have the least control over. You might be lucky enough to have an entire classroom to use, or you might be stuck in a tiny practice room. You might be extra lucky and have a dedicated studio space of your own that no one else uses!
Regardless of room size, the first priority is to create a setup that allows your student to play their instrument without feeling cramped. If you use a shared space, this might mean that you need to arrive early and reorganize the room a little. Don't be afraid to move desks out of the way, push that grand piano into the corner of the room, or exile all those chairs to the edges of your teaching space. It's worth it to avoid turning out students with cramped, furtive playing posture.
Studios need stuff! A basic studio starter kit should include:
Beyond the basics, I like to have:
If you're just starting out, you probably won't be able to make your studio space exactly like you want it. That's just part of the process. Start with one thing on this list, and once that's squared away, move on to the next. Teaching is a living thing, and it evolves. So will your studio.
I spent about a full day last week tinkering with a new look for the website; I wanted something that was more readable and bolder than the last template I used. I also put the finishing touches on the individual pages that I've created for my students. Now they have a unified place to go for lesson notes, scheduling, and bill payment, which makes it more convenient and also reduces the likelihood of important information getting buried in email in-boxes.
I'm curious to know what you think! Do you like the changes? Are there any others you would make? Share your suggestions in the comments, and if I use one, I'll send you a coupon code for a free download of my book, The Conservatory Boot Camp Workbook. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!
This almost seems too obvious to say, but it's essential to make your students feel comfortable in your teaching space. Part of this involves knowing where to draw the line when it comes to talking about your personal life.
It's great to share stories about your past experiences with auditions, teachers, and lessons. These are usually helpful for your students. What isn't helpful is sharing things like money troubles, relationship issues, or personal grievances of any kind. If your student feels like you already have too much on your plate, they'll be less likely to come to you with questions about what they're studying with you.
Sometimes this will be a tricky road to navigate, especially with older students. I've found that being proactive about what's going to happen in any given lesson heads off any uncomfortable interactions; if there's no downtime, there's simply no time to start discussing your personal lives. If you need to write out lesson plans to keep yourself on track, so be it. I did that for the first couple years that I taught private lessons and it was immensely helpful.
On the off chance that one of my students does ask me a question about how things are going, I always answer with something positive. This is usually true, but even when it's stretching the truth, it doesn't really matter. My students pay me for my time and expertise, and it would be a misuse of the time they've paid for to spend it venting about whatever challenge I might be facing.
Being true to yourself, your personality, and your teaching style while maintaining a healthy distance between your students and your personal life isn't an easy balance to attain. When you first start teaching, you'll probably slip up. Either you'll find yourself sharing a little too much and not covering the lesson material you want to discuss, or you'll put up too much of a wall and make your students feel like you're disengaged.
These are normal mistakes.
As long as you learn from them and do your best not to repeat them, you're still a good teacher.