(This post was written from the private lesson point of view. However, I was also a band director for years and my this post is from the band director point of view about how to get more out of your private lesson teachers.)
1. Hire the right people.
Make your selection process as extensive as possible. I’d suggest a 3 part interview –
1) Verbal interview (with references given & checked)
2) Have them play for you. It doesn’t need to be the hardest solo ever written, but at least something as difficult as your top high school players would play.
3) Watch the teachers teach a short (10 minute) lesson to a younger student and an older student.
2. Pay them well.
On paper, their fee may seem high, but remember they are having to cover their own health insurance, taxes and retirement savings. There is also very little job security and when students are sick or classes get canceled lesson teachers don’t get paid.
Also, don’t make them ask for a raise. Lesson teachers realize that parents are making a financial investment and hate to ask for more, but they have to make a living. Just as you expect a cost of living raise without having to go ask your boss every year, they should be on a schedule for pay increases as appropriate.
3. Communicate with them.
Especially about schedule changes! Email them to let them know when things are going on at your school that might possibly affect them. And let them know as early as possible. You may not think it’s a big deal to let them know 5 days ahead instead of 3, but with how much we have to juggle schedules it makes a difference.
This is a little blunt but I’m saying it anyway…Nothing makes a lesson teacher feel disrespected and unappreciated like showing up to teach and being told the school changed the schedule and no one thought to let them know. It is really unacceptable to allow this to happen.
4. Show them respect.
Not just politeness, but true respect. Mention to the students that are in lessons, “Wow, you’re getting so much better. You must be working hard in your lessons. Ms. Smith is such a good teacher.” Don’t ever talk badly about them such as “Why would they have you use that fingering. That doesn’t make sense.” Instead say, “Oh – I prefer you use this fingering because… I’ll have to ask Ms. Smith why she uses that – I’m sure there’s a reason. Finger it my way for now and I’ll talk with Ms. Smith to be sure we’re telling you the same thing.” Then when you talk to her be open to her reasoning. And you might learn something new. (Especially if you’ve hired the right people – trust them.)
5. Show them appreciation.
Over the years I have taught lessons, there have been some schools where I know I’m truly appreciated and the band directors see me as part of the team. They realize how much I contribute to the development of the students year after year and they tell me and show me.
Here are some simple ways directors show appreciation:
- They greet me with a smile when I come in
- They say goodbye and thank you when I leave
- If they (or I) have a question, they talk with me even if they are busy
- They compliment me on how students are playing
- They tell me how much students like their lessons
- This is on top of all the other suggestions in this article
Now these may seem like no-brainers, but I have also taught at schools over the years where this was not the case. There are times I felt like a second class citizen in their band hall and didn’t feel like I was valued. The kids made it worth it to still go to these schools, but if you really want to retain your teachers, show them appreciation.
6. Recruit for them – especially for schedule openings.
The key to this is to really help when they have specific openings. Of course you should strongly recommend your students take lessons. If you believe in the value of lessons, then that is a given. But knowing when the teachers have openings that need to be filled is critical. For example, the district I’m in has all the top bands at the middle schools meeting at the same times and all the top bands high school meeting at the same times. So I’m always overbooked during those hours of the day.
However, during other hours of the day (when 2nd and 3rd bands are meeting) I have blocks of time available. Ideally, a lesson teacher can teach at your school for 2-3 hours at a time instead of 1-2 lessons here and there. Drive time causes teachers to lose money because they are driving instead of teaching and spending money on transportation. Email your lesson teachers (communication!) about 2 weeks into each semester and ask them if they have spaces they need filled and which class periods those are.
7. Invite your lesson teachers to guest teach sectionals or master classes.
This allows the students to get to know them, gives you a chance to really talk them up to the students and lets you learn from them. It makes them feel more like part of the team at your school. Pay them well for this – they often have to rearrange their schedule to make this work, so they should be paid more than their normal fee if at all possible.
8. Ask their advice (but don’t monopolize their time).
If you have a question about a fingering, ask them! If you need a recommendation for a beginner level solo, ask them! They will be glad to help and feel respected that you asked. Just be careful not to monopolize their time with lots of questions when they need to get to their next lesson. If you have lots of questions, set up a meeting and pay them as a consultant.
Help students & parents understand that lessons are a year long commitment.
Almost every year I’m overbooked in the fall (and have a waiting list) and by the spring I have random openings. Some of this is due to the fact that I allow seniors to discontinue lessons after their last solo contest if they are not going to major in music. But it’s hard financially to have students quitting in the middle of the year, especially with no notice. Be sure when you present lessons to students they understand that it’s a year long commitment (assuming that is how your district is set up). If you do have a student quit partway through the year, you should offer to help the teacher fill that spot with a new student. As I mentioned before, private lesson teachers have very little income security and this is one small way to help with that problem.
Tamarie Sayger has taught private clarinet lessons for 14 years and enjoys teaching students from beginner level through high school. She was also a band director for 5 years. When she’s not teaching clarinets the difference between B flat and B natural, she is blessed to spend time with her husband, BJ, and their two children.
Other posts in this series:
“Don’t Have a Private Lesson Program? 11 Ideas for You!”
7 Benefits of Private Lessons
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