How to survive long days as a teacher

Hi everyone 👋 it has been awhile, but I’m trying my best to be consistent in blogging. To be honest, I feel like I’ve already written about all I could possibly write about. And I have no more new ideas. I want to write more though, so I’m going to keep thinking of new blog post ideas. Today’s post is going to be about how to survive long days as a teacher. I’m going to be working for most of the day tomorrow and I thought it would be nice to share how I prepare/survive for these long days. Let’s get right to it.

I feel like I am the queen of coffee lately. I can’t go a day without it and I’m beginning to think that I wouldn’t be able to achieve all of my goals for the day without the help of coffee. That’s just my honest opinion about myself. I’m an addict. I use the McDonald’s app to get $1 coffees in the morning, and I also have Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts reward apps. If I’m really struggling by the end of the day, I’ll drink a second coffee. I’m not ashamed. If you ever wonder how I manage to work, study, and go to the gym every day… the answer is caffeine.

Another thing I try to do is to stack all of my lessons back to back to one another. I used to love down time, but I’ve changed. I’m now more interested in getting as much done in a day. If I have too many breaks in between lessons, I feel like my day is too long. This is an advantage for someone who manages their own schedule. I like to feel the pressure of going to the next lesson. And that makes my days go dramatically way faster.

I use Spotify and pandora during my drives. I don’t think I could be as productive as I am without the help of Spotify. I listen to stations that are test related. And I listen to Pandora when I’m tired. Music makes the time go by faster.

The last thing I do is just trying to relax. I’m not a strict teacher. I tried to be as laid back as I can because I don’t want to be bored during the lesson either. If I know I have a lot of lessons, I will create a game or include something fun to do. I’ll do this for Tuesday’s, Wednesday’s, and Saturday’s. It makes the lesson time go by faster and in return, my students also get to have fun learning.

Resources for the new teacher

I remember my first days of being a new teacher. I didn’t own any extra books. I only had one pencil and one pen. And nothing else really. It was tough. I made my own calendar by drawing lines. I mostly didn’t know what to do or how to organize anything. I was completely new to being a teacher. And I didn’t receive any supplies from anybody. I had to purchase all of my own supplies and come up with all of my own techniques. Now, on the internet, people are sharing their teaching methods everywhere and it is much easier. Back then, it wasn’t as easy.

I learned a lot of my techniques through joining a Facebook group tailored specifically for piano teachers. Whenever I had a problem, I asked other teachers. And this helped a lot. They talked me through many of the initial problems new teachers go through. I feel like I am stronger now because of the support from that group. I’m still a member of that group and I’ve began helping other new teachers. I’m the mentor and it feels great to help other teachers. The advice is free. And they are always willing to help.

I found that there are some apps that you can use on your phone to make teaching easier. In my first couple of years, I was obsessed with using apps and I’ve began to drift away from them. I still use a metronome and tuning app though. Those are my favorites. I would stay away from all other apps because they can be distracting for students. I prefer to have my students learn from a book rather than staring at a screen. In addition to using apps, I’ve found that google is a great resource for looking up musical terms. I have my own pocket dictionary of musical terms that includes all composers, but google is a great resource in the beginning of your teaching career also.

If you have a smartphone, I suggest using text messages to communicate with piano families. It’s much more convenient and you can access it wherever you go. Use technology to your advantage and always look for new ways to maximize your time.

Supplies and books were always a huge obstacle for me. I was always short in supplies until I started making more money. I used secondhand items until I could afford my own. When I discovered the dollar store, everything changed. It’s much cheaper and I would strictly shop from there for supplies. I’ve found that buying supplies from amazon in big bulks is helpful too. My students are always using all of my supplies, so I need a lot for my backup. I shop at my local music store for books because I get a teacher discount, but amazon is great for buying books too. I would go to music stores and ask for their teacher discounts. I’ve found that students can also use my discount because their under my teacher account.

I joined the teachers music association two years ago and it is one of the best decisions I’ve made. They put your name on the teacher directory so other schools can find you if they need a teacher. They provide free resources and books. I went to a music book sale and bought a lot of books because they offered it. And they donated me more books too. I can also offer my students more extra curricular activities. I’ve found it to be a very valuable resource. And I met other teachers too.

I used Facebook neighborhood groups to advertise for my lessons. And the amount of calls I got was way more than other forms of advertisements. Facebook is an amazing resource for advertising and you can also create your own Facebook page for your music studio.

If you want to give your students a great experience, that’s really great. It’s expensive though. And we don’t always have the money for it. I’ve found ways to make small gifts in cheap ways by looking online. And I make my own music flash cards with plain notecards. There are many great resources and things you can do for your students that are cost effective. You just have to be creative.

YouTube is a great resource for learning about teaching. I learned more about teaching techniques and materials by watching YouTube videos. And I also have my students listen to their piano songs on YouTube before learning it. It’s a great free resource to have on the go.

If you don’t know, Spotify offers free podcasts to listen to. And if you have a gmail account, you can access word document and excel sheets for free. I’ve made lecture slides for my students through google drive. And I’ve also printed free domain music sheets online. If you’re using your books for private use, you can photocopy your music sheets for students. I would stockpile all of my good music and my books for reuse for all of my students. Having multiple students use a performance book or a sightreading book can dramatically cut costs.

If you’re anything like me, you need lots of coffee. I’ve found that Starbucks offers an account to earn free drinks and food. I use that frequently to earn stars. I also have a Dunkin’ Donuts card to earn points. If you have the McDonald’s app, the large coffees are only $1 and you can earn free coffee there too. I use the curbside pickup to save time. And the breakfast sandwiches are a penny too. I always grab food there early before my lessons or during my breaks. If you’re looking for lunch, download the Sonics app and you get access to happy hour 24/7. All drinks are half off and they offer deals on there too. If you have a smoothie king account, they offer a rewards system. If you want $2 extra when you sign up, you can use my referral link here. If you exercise at a gym, they might offer extra discounts for smoothies at tropical smoothie. All of us teachers are always looking for good drinks and food. I hope that helps.

Once you get started teaching, you’ll get better at being a teacher. And many things will become reflexive the more you do it. There are so many resources available and I hope you take advantage of it all. Keep researching and working hard!

Seven Quick and Easy Tips for New Teachers

If you’re a new teacher, you know the anxiety of starting your teaching career. What do you buy? What do you absolutely need? What is the budget like? I want to give you some quick advice if you’re a new teacher. We all need some help once in awhile:

1. Don’t buy a lot of supplies. You won’t need them all your first year, and you’ll end up stockpiling junk later on.

2. You don’t have to participate in all of the holidays and birthdays. It’s okay to relax your first year and not celebrate holidays like Easter. It’s not necessary. And you’ll need to save money later on anyways.

3. Don’t buy too many rewards/incentives! I’m still using up my stickers I bought three years ago. Buy them as you go and I suggest going to the dollar store to buy them. It’s much cheaper there.

4. You’ll figure out things as you go. Take a deep breath and find solace in the fact that we all have to start somewhere. Teaching is a learning process. You’ll get better at it as you go.

5. Don’t copy other peoples’ ideas. Create your own instead. Think about the best ideas that fit your personality and do it. It’s easy to get caught up in other teachers’ stuff, but it’s easy to just focus on yourself. If you are unique, your students will value you more. They won’t be able to find another teacher like you!

6. Know that you’ll have tough students pretty often. And learn not to take it personally. Be firm, but try not to be mean. It’s important to not let them overstep your authority.

7. Enjoy teaching. It’s easy to get caught up in the technicalities and the curriculum. Remember that your students are young pupils that are in their adolescence. Being too strict can be more harmful than beneficial. Let them laugh and share a joke or two!

A day in the life of a piano teacher 🍎 🍏

I find myself really busy all the time. There are a million things on my todo list and honestly, there’s not enough time in the day to get everything done. For me, I always make sure that all of my students are progressing. And that takes a lot of attention and decision making every day.

Today, I started out with a doctors appointment. I cleaned out my teaching bag yesterday night so I have a clean start for this new week. I also answered some text messages from parents. I almost always get texts every day from parents either to reschedule or cancel a lesson. Before lessons, I spend time answering all these texts for the day. I then start packing my teaching bag. I carry a lot of materials with me when I go to teach. It’s a big deal to really stock up on materials because my students use it up very fast. After that, I usually almost always bring a big bottle of water and a coffee for the day. Then, I’m out the door.

For me, I use google calendar for all of my scheduling. I know I’ve written a separate blog post about google calendar before, but if you guys want me to write another one, I can explain more about how I use it. Google calendar is my lifeline. It’s where I store ALL of my information on lessons and addresses. I also store personal events and reminders for every aspect of my life on there. It’s kind of like a planner, but more catered to my style of planning. I also share my calendar with my boyfriend so he can see what I have to do for the day. He also shares his calendar with me. I glance at my calendar for the day and I see how my day is going to be.

I travel to each of my students’ homes to teach. It’s convenient for me because I don’t want to teach from my own home. And they like the convenience of it. Each student has lesson books and technical exercise books I’ve chosen for them. We go through the lesson by me watching them play. And I give feedback. At times, I’ll have to teach a concept and they just listen. I have four lessons today. That’s quite a large load for me on a typical day. I average about 4-5 lessons a day.

I don’t know how today’s going to go because I haven’t started my lessons yet. But I hope it’s going to be a good day 🤞 I hope everyone is having a good Monday!

Organizing Your Lesson Plans

I think that every teacher can agree that we just know what to work on with a student. I know their strengths, their weaknesses, and their level of patience for difficult material. And it’s with that knowledge that I organize their lesson. I basically organize it to fit their needs and their skill set. For example, if they are horrible sight readers, you can bet that I will be making them sight read music every lesson. If they’re not good at reading notes, we will spend a lot of time with flashcards and playing music that has difficult to read notes. In this sense, I often feel like I’m throwing them into the deep end. I want to see them struggle. And that is not to punish them for their weaknesses, but it is to make their weaknesses into their strengths. I want them to be better. And the best way is to tackle their weaknesses.

Another way I organize the lesson is by always following a simple format:

1. Technic exercise(s)/Sight reading

2. Note reading or workpage

3. Lesson Book songs

This is probably one of the best formats for following when conducting lessons. The sight reading or technic exercise will warm up their hands in order to get them in the mindset of playing. I don’t always want to jump into their songs because their hands are simply not ready to play yet. Simple exercises can also substitute for warm ups.

Note reading is absolutely necessary. It is a skill that has to be trained constantly. Students should be able to recognize a note on the staff within half a second. And if they can’t read music, they will not be able to play music. The workpage can also be an alternative to this. You can use this to teach them new concepts or work on previous concepts.

All in all, lesson planning can difficult initially. I think it has a lot to do with what you are capable of. It’s definitely not easy. For me, since I have been teaching for awhile, I am able to come up with lesson plans on the fly. But for many new teachers, it will take a couple of practices.

Lastly, I must stress the importance of organization. You have to be organized! All of your materials must be easy to find. I’m not always organized, but I strive to be. Don’t take extra time to find things during the lesson time. And you should have your students organize their things also. I use an accordion folder to organize all my papers.

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Good luck with your lessons! I hope this helps you in some way 🙂 Let’s all strive to be the best teachers we can.

How are my incentive programs going??

Incentive programs:

When you use incentives (candy, prizes, or small promises) to motivate your students to accomplish goals

Hi! Yes, I’m back again writing another blog post. And I have no shame posting multiple blog posts in a day. It’s my blog and I do what I want! In my opinion, incentive programs are definitely worth using. Some teachers are against it like, “they’re too expensive…” or “the motivation should be the music” or “I’m a good teacher and I don’t need that, haven’t used that ever in my 100 years of teaching.”

That’s good for you guys. There’s no right way of teaching, but each teacher has the freedom to customize their studio the way they want. As long as you are keeping up with everything each week, you do you!

For me, I use three different incentives. And I never really explain what they are unless I’m talking to my teaching friends. The reason I’m using three incentive programs is because it’s summer time. And I want to reward those students who are still taking lessons consistently over the summer 🙂 Summer should be fun also, so I like to spice it up and give them more fun things to do.

1. Star Page

The Great Sight-Reading Challenge2-The Plucky PianistaSight-Reading Challenge.jpg

The one I use above to the right is the first star page I give to my students. It has less stars so it’s easier for them to complete. Students earn a star when they work on a song, complete a song in the book, or work on a work page. They use a marker to color in a star. Once they color all the stars, they earn a prize! And it’s usually a very nice surprise when I come to their next lesson with their prize. It’s not too difficult for them to complete even the one on the left. I like it because they have to work hard for it and learn to try the songs that they don’t like. But I also like it because it takes them about 2-3 months to complete it. I don’t want to be spending money every single week giving out prizes consecutively. Here are what my prize bags look like. I’ve given out more prizes than this but I didn’t take a picture every single time. Oops!

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I like to decorate these a lot because it makes them look even more special! This incentive is very effective. If I had to choose, I would implement this one first and keep it. Students are also mucho motivated by this. Don’t tell them what surprise they’re getting! Leave them in suspense.

2. Small motivational erasers

smiles-wedge-erasersThese are not the exact ones I use. I didn’t take a picture of the ones I use, but these will do. I give one to each student per lesson. There are a lot of designs in mine, so I tell them that they can collect a new one each time. I haven’t shown them what they all look like, so it’s also a surprise to see what they are getting each week. This is a small token of my appreciation for them. They are helping me out by giving me business, and I really appreciate that. It’s something small, I get about 10 erasers for $1, but it has a huge meaning behind it. This incentive has been very effective so far. Students love it!

3. Gumball Machine
clipart-gumball-machine-picturesque-bubble-gum-learnfree-me-remarkable-emptyThis is my last incentive I recently added. I can’t take all the credit for this one because I got the idea from a teacher friend. Students will color one gumball each time as a practice chart. I am the judge on whether or not they practiced enough. The song has to be played better than last week. There are 100 gumballs, so this one also takes awhile to complete. As a joke, I like to tell them that the prize is… 5 cents! Haha it’s not, but it’s still funny to see their reactions. I know that this one is going to be difficult to implement, but it’s so new that I don’t have any results to share yet.

 

If you guys have any other ideas on incentives, please let me know 🙂 If you liked my ideas, please like and share this blog post!

Cheers!

☀ ~ Summer Lessons ~ ☀

This is quite the controversial topic amongst piano teachers. From the many posts that I have seen from fellow colleagues, they are all aggravated by students leaving for summer vacation and putting their lessons on hold. To put it simply, they’re losing income for 2-3 months that they need to pay bills with. And that is important. It’s difficult. My solution to combating that problem is to offer summer lessons. And summer lessons can be advertised as versatile and flexible. Students can choose lesson times that are earlier in the afternoon. To be honest, I never really had students take a break for the summer before. And this is the first year where I’ve encountered this. It’s not really as devastating as other teachers are saying it is. I think students deserve a break and time to spend with their family. There are many students, however, that are staying in for the summer. And they continue with lessons as normal. That’s great also! Us, as teachers, have to learn to have empathy. This is not me bad mouthing my colleagues, but I want parents and teachers to see both sides of the argument. I love summer time! It’s probably one of the most relaxing times of the year and going on vacation is so much fun. I’m going on my vacation in five days, and I’m beyond excited for it. In summary, try to remember that a bad situation can be turned into a positive one. Learn to turn negatives into positives. And you’ll feel much happier.

Happy Summer Vacationing!

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Life as a Teacher

“A good teacher is like a candle, it consumes itself to light the way for others”

I think it’s easy to say that teachers have it easy… they’re not really doing any difficult work. That’s the misconception though! We spend almost all of our time preparing for the day. I have to stock up on materials, make sure I have everything ready, buy all the books, plan out the schedules, make sure each student is on track, and more. So it’s not easy. It’s hard… really difficult, but worth it.

I was always working for someone. My job as a scribe was horrible to say the least. I didn’t get a lunch break even though I worked 10 hours straight. What does a scribe do? They work on completing medical charts for doctors and PA’s. I was also constantly told that I was not doing a good job. I mean, yeah, it was my first week on the job so I’m guessing I’ll make some mistakes! After about 3 weeks working there as a part time, they were still saying that I was making mistakes. There was so much to learn! I’m thinking it takes three months for someone to learn how to be good at their job. It wasn’t enough for them, so I quit. And that was my first job experience.

The longest job i’ve had is teaching. I think it’s the longest because I work for myself. I’m able to set my own hours and I am completely in charge of everything. There’s no one telling me what to do or how to do it. And that is a game changer. So, I spend most of my time planning out schedules and collecting teaching materials. At times, I have to practice teaching while I’m driving. Some concepts are difficult to explain, so I have to think about how to teach them. I love my job. And I bet you can tell by now! Being a teacher is the most rewarding job i’ve ever had.

Struggles that many teachers face

I don’t think that a lot of people will know how hard it is to be a teacher. It’s not just showing up for work and teaching from the book. And I know that many teachers face some of these things alone. We tend to not show any kind of emotion, either angry or sad, in front of our students. Today, I want to open up and share some of the moments that made my heart break or the moments that made me so happy. Obviously, for the privacy of the people in these stories, I’m going leave out their names and specifics. I’ve taught A LOT of students, so the chances of figuring out who is who is very slim anyways. Although I have many stories, I’ll share a couple different stories 🙂

1. The first day I taught this pupil, they decided to bang the keys and basically show me that they were not going to listen to a word I said. I actually went out to buy this pupil lessons books with my own money. The first lesson was not good, so I was really hoping that the second lesson would be better. It went horribly. I finished the lesson well with the pupil, and their mom was very upset. First of all, she was upset that I ended the lesson two minutes early… which is kind of ludicrous because two minutes is not much time to teach anything new anyways. And she said that she wanted to pull the student out of lessons to another teacher. I was glad that I wasn’t teaching that student anymore, but the mom went on to treat the other teacher badly. Word of advice: treat your teachers with respect. They are people too.

2. I was on my way to this pupil’s home after I tried to confirm with them that their lesson is today. This pupil started becoming very disrespectful after I had helped them purchase their lesson books, but I told them that they would have to pay me back. First of all, these are not MY books. These are YOUR books. I was driving in the heavy rain over to this pupil’s house and they didn’t even answer the door. I decided in that moment to keep calling because I thought something was wrong. The pupil answered the door, and said that they had plans so they couldn’t have lessons that day. They didn’t call me or try to tell me this in advance after I drove 40 minutes out to teach them. They also said that they were stopping lessons for good. I cried.

3. This parent decided that their child wasn’t learning enough from lessons, but wasn’t interested in enforcing them to practice. The parent thought that it was my duty to enforce practice time…which it isn’t. By this time, the parent had began to resent me very much and I couldn’t justify the resentment because I was giving them discounted lessons. I invested so much time and effort to try teaching their child. They were also late on payments and consistently questioned my teaching. I heard that they went with a different teacher later on, but the lessons were 10x as expensive. Good luck to them, but I feel bad for that teacher.

4. I had just had a horrible night and I really didn’t feel like going to teach. My eyes were puffy from crying. It was one of those days when I really felt like staying at home. I cried on the way to this pupil’s house and in the car when I arrived there. Once I started the lesson, I immediately felt better. And it was in that moment that I knew that teaching was something I could do for the rest of my life. It brings so much joy to my life and I knew I was lucky to be doing it.

5. I could tell that this pupil wasn’t interested in the piano when they avoided practicing at all costs. I can’t force a student to practice, but I can try to encourage them to do so. There were times when they would tell me that they didn’t want to play a certain song. And I would say that they had no choice. I’m the teacher and I don’t bend the rules. This student tried so hard to avoid playing at all! They would knock my hand away when I tried to show them how to play a certain passage. I never felt so disrespected from a student before.

6. There was a student that would not say anything the entire time they were in lessons. Now, I’m okay with those that are shy, but this was not being shy. I later became concerned when the parent started pulling the student out of lessons for certain weeks. It later became clear that the student and I were not compatible, so they wanted to stop lessons. That’s okay. However, the parent started ghosting me for no reason. I would try to reach them to set up a time when they could pick up their books and the parent just disappeared. After that, they still owed me payments for some of the lessons… they never ended up picking up the books or paying for the missing lessons. They just disappeared. And I don’t understand that. It’s not embarrassing or whatever. You don’t have to act weird about it. Why couldn’t there be a civil way to handle it?