by Kylie Stultz-Dessent
While many of us have learned how to teach a private lesson through our own personal experience and classes in music school, the logistical side of running and maintaining a private studio is something that is often overlooked. Music and teaching are two of my greatest passions in life and I always look forward to private lessons with my clarinet students. When I first started teaching, it was easy to manage and remember the 4-5 lessons I taught each week. However, once my studio started growing, I quickly learned that I needed to create a system to keep myself organized.
One of the first things I did to help manage my growing student load was implement a studio policy. My policy lists lesson objectives, rates and payment procedures, required materials, practice expectations, clarinet resources, and a cancellation policy. It is a simple way to communicate my expectations with students and parents. At the start of an academic year, I give all of my students a copy of my policy to review with their parents. There is a detachable section they are required to fill out, sign, and return to me the following week. It’s as easy as that and it can save you from some headaches down the road!
Another important side of studio teaching is keeping track of payments for yourself and your taxes! I can’t tell you how many times I have found money in the back pocket of my jeans and thought, “Umm, where did this come from?” In order to solve this problem, I created a simple payment chart that includes whether the student paid by cash or check and the date the payment was received. This chart goes with me to every lesson and I update the chart as soon as I am handed the payment.
I always give my students the option to pay by the month for lessons. Many parents prefer to pay this way for lessons because they find it easier to write one check a month and they don’t have to worry about remembering each week. One plus side to encouraging your students to pay monthly is that they are less likely to cancel a lesson if they have already paid for it!
I also like to send out a monthly email with reminders and announcements to all of my students and their parents. It is a newsletter format that includes information about all-state band, solo and ensemble, and lesson dates and payments. I always include a paragraph at the end of the email that highlights the recent accomplishments of members of the studio. This is a nice way to touch base with parents if I don’t always have the chance to see them during the week.
All of my students are required to keep a lesson journal in a spiral notebook. Each lesson is dated in the journal and every week we write down their assignments and practice goals. I encourage my students to journal their practice time in the space below or write down any questions they encounter while practicing. This has been a valuable tool for me to keep track of my students’ progress throughout the year and it is a quick way for me to jog my memory about prior lessons.
Teaching has been one of the most rewarding sides of my career as a professional musician. I could write a thousand blog entries on the ways it has impacted my life for the better, but it is important to remember that it is also my business and my livelihood. The five tips and strategies I have listed have helped me immensely in my career as a private lesson teacher, but in no way encompass all there is to know about running a private studio. These are just a few things that can point a new teacher in the right direction and make a hectic freelance career a little less hectic! :)