How To Set Up Your Own Teaching Practice (I)

In our second class of piano pedagogy course (Level 1), I talk about how to set up one’s own teaching practice.

A lot of the times we can be overwhelmed by teaching on our own. When you teach for someone else, like a piano company or a school, you do not have to worry about things like provision of a room with a piano, billing, scheduling, recruiting students etc. But on the other hand, managing everything on your own can be quite fulfilling as you can control every step of the process, who, where and when to teach. There is a lot more freedom when you teach on your own.

I think the first thing everyone is concerned about is: recruiting new students. How do we recruit students?

Sometimes it is word of mouth, getting referral from your existing/old students. But, what if you don’t have students from the start?

When I first started teaching in Hong Kong, I had no clue how to get students as well. Back then there was no Facebook or Twitter. And I don’t think it was that popular people searched online to find teachers. So I posted some ads in the classified area in the supermarket (you know there was/still is probably a box where people put their ads in the supermarket next to the reception area?). I did get some responses from there. To be honest I did not know where to start. Then I started teaching in the university. With all the performing jobs, I did not teach that many students on the side. And frankly I was not that into teaching then. Later, I started my first studio, sharing it with another friend in singing. I started creating a logo and a name for the studio, and made a flyer for people to read about what course we had to offer and our bio. Most of my students were referred by my friends and students. And there were not too many of them. A year later I moved to another location and set up another studio, teaching music and English (my studio partner was a native English teacher). I created another name and another logo. It was a better location on the Hong Kong Island. I did something very traditional like paying someone to stand on the street and deliver the flyers to the passers by. I also created a very simple website myself (please remember I was a complete computer idiot) and put up our bio and course information there. I got a few very nice students. Two of them are still with me to this day.

Two years later I moved to yet another location. I was working towards my PhD and teaching at the university. I did not teach that many private students with all these research and lecture/tutorial teaching as well as performance opportunities outside. At the same time, I did not know if teaching privately was what I really wanted. Another reason was that I simply had no clue how to set up my own practice! Without much time on hand focusing on setting my own practice, there would be no practice and not enough students to sustain the business. Eventually, I decided teaching on my own was truly my calling, as revealed when writing my thesis on piano teaching in Hong Kong. I found instead of writing about it, I rather do it! So I quit everything (!), kept my own piano students, and started writing fervently and diligently every single day at every waking hour (besides teaching hours). I stopped playing performances and focused solely on writing, recording, and doing everything related to the website. That time I did not know it would work. As I always said, my original intention of setting up this site was simply to share my knowledge and experience on music with you all. But after the first couple fervent months, I started receiving emails. I got a lot of responses and comments enquiring about lessons. I took in the first student, and I recalled at the beginning, I had to travel to their home as she was quite young. I did that with her for a year until I could not spend time to travel anymore as I had many students to attend to at my studio. This student is still with me to date and her sister also became my student in the next two years. They are great kids with love for playing and creating music. They love coming into classes and performing on stage. Gradually I took in quite a number of students, thanks to the magic of internet. I wrote a lot of materials on my site. I also sent flyers to nearby homes and got some students by this method.

So what do I tell you in this lesson? How do you promote yourself as a teacher?
First, find out what kind of teacher you are. What is your teaching philosophy? What do you want to teach to your students? What can you offer?

Writing down your teaching philosophy is really the first thing you have to do. Ask yourself, why do you want to teach? Is it only because of the money? Why do you not do something else to make money? What is it in the teaching that you find satisfying or appealing that you choose it as your profession? Jot down some keywords that resonate in you. For me, it is my love for music/piano/knowledge, my passion for sharing knowledge with others, my desire for helping others to help solve their problems and achieve their goals, the genuine/beautiful connection and communication with others who also love music/piano, all these things that drive me every single day to do what I do since day one and to date.This is something I feel really strongly about. The passing of knowledge. It is truly powerful.

What do you want to teach to your students – it can be something very practical, like teaching them to play the piano well, get good grades in exams. For me, I start with instilling love for music, gaining great understanding for music, building solid foundation in technique etc.

What can you offer – that would be what courses you can teach, for example, piano, theory, aural training, then maybe keyboard harmony, improvisation, songwriting etc.

Second, set your fees. If you have just started teaching, let me remind you gently that you should not set a fee way too high even if you have a great background and degree. Doing well in study and performance does not equal to teaching well. It is experience that leads someone into a fine teacher. You want to gain as much teaching experience as you can to build your reputation as a knowledgable and well respected teacher who can successfully produce good students. Now, what does that mean by “successful” and “good”? That is left for you to define. It can be students who score great results in exams and competitions, or students who enjoy playing and love music. It is all up to you to decide. But you have to decide something. You have to know what you want and what your goals are. Otherwise, you will not get the students you want to teach, and it is both frustrating for you as a teacher and him/her as a student/parent.

How to set up your own teaching studio (I) (中文版) – (This is in Chinese, I shall make one in English soonest)

About our piano pedagogy training course 鋼琴教師訓練課程 (Level I) – (again this is in Chinese)

(to be continued…)

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