8 Ways to Get More from your Private Lesson Staff this Year

1. Share your expectations
Let your private lesson teachers know your overall expectations for private lessons as far as professionalism, dress code, relationships with students and relationships with directors. This is especially important for very young teachers.

Give them a list of district or campus policies for teaching systems – Do you have students tap their feet, count rhythms, use pulsing? Do you use a specific counting , note naming or fingering naming system? Do you use a digital assessment system? (If you don’t have these in place, ask the teacher for suggestions. For example, I have a very simple but detailed fingering naming system I use for clarinet and since I have taught the majority of clarinet student in my district, many campuses have just adopted my system.)

Give them the district or campus goals and objectives for the instrument they teach. An example would be for students play an F scale 1 octave in beginning band at a tempo of 90, two octaves with arpeggios 2nd year at a tempo of 110, add thirds the 3rd year, extended scale 4th year etc. Sharing with them specific objectives allows them to merge your goals in with their personal lesson goals for the students and the kids feel like they all their teachers have the same priorities for them.

2. Insist on communication
This should be a 2-way street. Be sure that they realize that just as the teacher expects you to communicate with them, they should reciprocate. If they have to be out, they need to either let you know or let the student/parents know ASAP depending on your policy. With cell phones I am often able to just text students/parent directly for last minute illness, but if you want to be notified every time, let them know your preference. 

Weeks that have holidays or standardized testing are especially difficult for lesson teachers to juggle students. I always try to email parents ahead of time, but depending on when I’m notified it’s not always possible. Lesson teachers should make every effort to keep students and parents in the loop.  With middle schoolers, I communicate more with parents, and with high schoolers, I communicate more with the students. If you have a certain preference on this type of thing, be sure the lesson teachers have clear guidelines and that they are realistic to execute.

3. Be sure the billing policies are clear (to teachers and parents) and easy to execute.

4. Let teachers pull groups of students if it’s in the kids’ best interest.
Normally private lessons are just that – private, 1 on 1 lessons. However, sometimes it is beneficial for me to pull a small group of students together.

For example, the first day I introduce region music I might pull all 7th graders together one day and then all 8th graders together the next day and keep each group the entire class period. I tend to go over the same things the first week on new music, so they get more out of a 1 hour group lesson than a 30 minute individual time.

I also often take a group out the week of an audition. I’m not going to be having them change much the day before a try-out, so I’ll pull them all together for the entire class and do a mock audition/master class. I feel like preparing the kids for the nervousness that goes along with performing is crucial and the students benefit  greatly from a run through.

I pull ensembles before solo/ensemble and before my studio recitals to allow them to work on the ensemble as a group. Normally this is not a whole period – this is more like 10 minutes for a few different weeks. I rotate which student’s lesson time I use to be sure it is equitable.

This may sound like something you would be willing to do as a band director in theory. However, at one of my middle schools this year I taught all but 1 of his clarinets. So when I pulled them for a mock audition, he would be missing almost his entire clarinet section the whole period. Now, this director is obviously a HUGE supporter of private lessons (that’s why so many of his students are in lessons) so he was fine with it. I try not to do this the week of a band concert or contest or anything. Just let the teachers know if you are ok with this kind of thing (or even suggest/encourage it if you want) or if it’s going to drive you crazy.

5. Teachers should recruit when they have openings. They need to drop by classes when possible. Yes, the director must follow up with kids to help get them enrolled, but having the lesson teacher come and talk with a class or even do a masterclass can raise the interest in lessons more than just handing out a lesson form.

6. Consider studio recitals
If your teachers are willing to do a studio or district recital once or twice a year, it’s a huge motivator for students, and a great experience for students and parents. When my daughter started taking piano lessons, I assumed she would have a piano recital. Then I realized that the parents of my students would probably really enjoy hearing their kids perform individually. They don’t usually get to hear their students perform at an audition or solo/ensemble contest. They hear them at band concerts, but that’s totally different.

I plan my studio recitals at times of the year when the students need a goal to work for. So if you’re going to suggest this to lesson teachers, look at a calendar with them and suggest times that would work well. You don’t want them trying to prepare your students for a recital the same month you’re trying to prepare them for a big audition or concert.

7. Teaching kids how to practice should be an emphasis in lessons.
Hopefully you are doing this with all your students as well, but private lesson create a unique opportunity to really work with kids on practice habits and practice techniques. Lesson teachers can also work with kids on setting specific, measurable goals and then guide them weekly on how to reach those goals.

8. Private lessons teachers can help with your retention.
Students are much less likely to quit band after a year of taking lessons.  The financial and time commitment to lessons means they are more invested in your program. Lesson teachers should be developing a relationship with the students so they will want to stay in lessons. I talk to the students a lot about “next year” and farther ahead. When lesson teachers have a long-term focus, the students tend to as well. Ask your private instructors to keep this in mind as they talk with students throughout the year.

Also, students in private lessons often see more success and less frustration as they improve on their instruments. This can help with retention as well.

A 1999 music education graduate of WTAMU, Tamarie Sayger held band director positions in Plano and Odessa, TX for 5 years. As a private clarinet instructor in Texas for 16 years, she has taught hundreds of students from grade 6-12 in classes, sectionals, and individual lessons. Mrs. Sayger has presented at district in-services and co-presented at the Texas Bandmasters Association convention. Her website, CrossingTheBreak.com, provides resources for clarinet teachers around the country.  Her podcast, Crossing The Break, can be found on iTunes.

Related Reading:
Don’t Have a Private Lesson Program? 11 Ideas for You!
8 Ways to Retain Great Private Lesson Teachers
7 Benefits of Private Lessons

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