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[META]Policy Works for Teachers So Teachers Can Work for Students

I charge $210/month and teach 31 lessons during the school year, September to May. Sometimes people tell me that’s more than other people charge, and that I take too many days off. Sometimes I teach multiple students during the same lesson. They all pay the same rate as an individual lesson. How is that fair?

My view is that teachers are routinely underpaid and overworked, and my policy addresses this in a way that allows me to provide the best possible service in an affordable way to my students. For me the gold standard is this: am I running my business in a way that would allow one of my students to have a happy life if they chose this profession in adulthood?

I will attempt to address questions here that I would have for a music teacher if I was thinking about signing up for lessons.

Q: Why do you charge $210/month? Isn’t that a lot?

A: It’s not exorbitant, and it represents the value of a good music education.

Being a good teacher is expensive. I spend hundreds of dollars every year (thousands often) doing professional development. You want me to do this. Lessons that only work for a few students or none at all are common in our field and aren’t worth much. I’ve invested heavily in learning to provide lessons that are effective for every individual student. I believe that’s important in order for music to survive and for our community to thrive.

A good teacher (in fact, any human being) deserves a retirement. Deserves a good place to live. Needs a functional automobile. Needs health insurance. Needs groceries. The number of months I (or you) should be struggling to buy groceries is zero.

I have to account for teaching many fewer lessons in the Summertime when students are often away. If I’m not saving every month, my business can’t make it through the Summer. If my business doesn’t make it through the Summer, I can’t provide the valuable service of helping people learn music.

Q: Why do you teach 31 lessons during the school year? Doesn’t that give you 8 days off, almost 1 day off per month for a given day of the week?

A: Yes it does. And here’s why that’s important.

Having a predictable and consistent work schedule is an important part of a good job (and I do believe music teaching should be a GOOD JOB.)

Teaching is intense and requires a great deal of preparation time outside of the actual lesson. When teachers don’t get breaks, quality of instruction suffers.

My schedule allows me to accommodate Monday students, with all of the Monday federal holidays, in a way that’s fair across the whole studio.

A good job has to accommodate sick days, and bad weather days. Building days off into the schedule is the best way to account for the reality that I will get sick sometimes, and we will have snow days. When these things happen, we just reschedule the missed lesson into one of the previously scheduled days off.

Lesson days off are often compensated for in other ways. Like performance classes that I don’t charge for. Or when a student stays late or comes early for their lesson and gets extra time. 

A good teacher needs to practice their instrument, too. If our performance skills are stagnating, our teaching skills are likely stagnating, too. Practicing requires blocks of time, time that I can’t be teaching.

Q: Why do you charge the same rate when there are two students in a lesson? Shouldn’t they pay half as much?

A: No, because that doesn’t take into account the increased preparation time and skill required to teach groups effectively.

Parents pay me to take responsibility for their child’s music learning. That responsibility doesn’t diminish whether there is one or two or three kids in the lesson.

Keeping my rate tied to students’ learning, and not to my hour, incentivizes me to teach effectively and leads to better music outcomes for the community. Kids learn better in groups, not worse. Why should parents pay less for that, considering teaching is almost universally undervalued in the marketplace? Teaching groups with the same per child fee is the best way for me to keep customers’ costs down while addressing the profession’s chronic undervaluing.

Bottom line:

If I had my way we wouldn’t be living in a capitalist society. Capitalism makes things adversarial when they shouldn’t be. I hope I’ve provided here a reasonable defense of why music teachers do things the way we do. We just want to provide students with a fun and effective music learning experience. 

The policy is the one place we have to clearly set out our needs. Everything else is devoted to our students’ needs.

I hope this has been helpful. And I hope you will bear these ideas in mind whether you sign up for music lessons with me or anyone else. Thanks for reading!

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