Updated: Jun 14, 2022
During my low-energy days, I am positive I am not the first to type in Google “How to balance piano teaching and family life.”
I have to admit. Some days, it is overwhelming, especially when you’ve had an exhausting day educating different personalities of children that may or may not be at their best that week. To have to give that same patience and attention to my own children after work was not easy.
As my youngest child was 3 years old when I started teaching, a parent did casually mention to me once, “I don’t know how you do it!”
… which then, made me question, “Do I know what I’m doing?”
It took me awhile to answer this, and it was necessary to check-in with myself for my mental health's sake and for my family's well-being. The answer was finally a "yes", but it came with some rules and change in mindset that I had to adapt and adhere to.
While everyone’s situation may be different, here are three solutions I have found that helped me balanced out my family and work life a little better:
Determine Your Cut-off Time for the Day
The most challenging part I found when I started up my private teaching business, was when my children are home after school. The slight pang of guilt does creep in occasionally for me. The truth of the fact is, I’m now spending that time with other children instead of them.
This reality struck me hard, and while I would love to fill up my teaching slots everyday … I had to accept the fact that something's got to give - either the additional income, or time with my family.
Therefore, I made the decision to not teach full-time. Due to the fact 90% of my clients are after-school children, I had to be careful not to let my teaching schedule take away supper time with family, and putting my kids to bed. I manage only a couple of teaching hours in the late afternoons and I am done, at the latest by 6.15 PM.
With this schedule, I can still manage house chores, prepare and cook meals earlier in the day when my own kids are in school.
After teaching, it is just a quick re-heat and a nice sit down to eat and connect with my family. It isn’t perfect, but it is organized enough that it is doable. I’m still able to pick my kids up from school, come home and work a little on my passion, and have time for family after.
I've also come to realize that I cannot, and should not try to please everyone so they can reschedule as they like. To maximize attendance at lessons, I've discovered it was best to plan my teaching schedule using the academic public school calendars, which brings me to my next tip ...
Utilize Long Weekends to Schedule in Breaks
We private music teachers are no different than public school teachers, the gymnastics coach, or the 9-5 worker, and we should not be. We need breaks. To be honest, our students and their families need breaks as well.
Any family is going to choose camping or a road trip to visit grandma over extra-curricular lessons, especially if it is on a long weekend where parents have the opportunity with day offs from work.
I've realized by accepting this and scheduling appropriate amount of breaks, I am a happier teacher. I plan out which weeks I will be teaching for the academic year from September to June, using the local school academic calendar.
I do this every year in August, simply printing it out, highlighting and counting out the intended teaching weeks, and planning out any breaks or group lessons I can do prior to a long weekend.
As soon as I set out the schedule this way for returning families to sign up, no one wanted a Friday or Saturday lesson. This for me, was a game changer, as I realized many families travel on the Friday to another city/town either for sports tournaments or competitions.
The dynamics was clear, and so I tried to fit in a little more teaching time from Monday to Thursday, and then have a longer regular break from Friday to Sunday each week (and if it's a long weekend, the Monday as well!). This made it very easy to work out tuition payment structure as well.
Now, with statutory holidays usually falling on a Monday for us in Canada, I ensure that my Monday students always meet their total paid lessons. Therefore, I usually end each academic term on the following Monday of the last week of lessons.
In essence, following the local school calendar is always a safe bet because families usually don't have children skip school unless really necessary, so you'd be assured of good attendance at piano lessons, which in turn minimizes rescheduling conflicts.
Of course, nothing is ever a 100% full proof, which brings me to my last key point ...
Have a Firm Policy and Enforce it
If there was one most practical thing I learnt in my pedagogy training, it was business management. This became especially useful, when I had to structure my policies.
“Do you want to be just that neighbourhood piano teacher, or do you want to be something more?”
My pedagogy teacher would always ask. He was very unique and started the first lesson on this subject. He made sure I understood what I want to do is a service to the community, and there are laws to follow, because it is considered a business, even if it is from home.
Like any successful business, the best thing to do is to observe other businesses. When my kids attended dance, swim and gymnastics: all these after-school programs had a common payment structure and attendance policy. This is where careful reading and understanding of those fine print policies, was indeed very helpful.
As a customer, it opened up my eyes to how I would want to run my business. It was clear to me that my piano teaching business shouldn’t be any different. This meant that I will have rules for missed lessons, no-shows, and payments.
Having a written policy, be it on a printed, e-document or a website link, is crucial. Proper forms for registration and acknowledgement of policies provides a subtle understanding that we mean business.
In fact, I have realized, having all of this in place right at the start was beneficial as parents became very respectful and accountable for their children's start and end lesson times, as well as no-fuss, and no late payments. Having a policy can seem daunting to manage but it ultimately protects YOU.
Of course, enforcing a firm policy means we have to do our part of the work as well. Keeping organized and doing my part to be punctual with lesson times is my responsibility. I ensure I provide my clients the best value they can get out of their experience.
Reality sucks, especially when the child has to miss a lesson, but look closely - nowhere else gives a refundable or replacement class for reality situations like this.
As educators, we will adjust the lesson plan to ensure the student catches up with missed lessons, after all as private teachers we are already personalizing to each student's needs.
That's still providing value, and families who can see it whole as educational value, will understand. The ones who fight it, and constantly harasses you to give in, well then you must consider if it's worth your time to keep them as customers.
By having a clear structure on how you want to run your business is important.
As private teachers, our family, home and work occur at the same location, and it is sometimes challenging to distinguish the line. Having goals, and limits, even when it comes to answering messages/calls and e-mails is a good habit to instill to keep your work and family life balanced.
Lastly, always remember there is no need to shy away from communicating what your expectations are to your families.
Your clients should treat and respect you as a business entity. Your time that you have allocated to work should be respected and it is not replaceable at the expense of others convenience. If families are serious about their child gaining education from you, they will include it as an integral part of their lives.
If you‘ve liked reading this article, or have any other tips to share from your own experiences, feel free to express in the comments below.