Stereotypes and Expectations

There is a stereotype, an expectation, regarding mothers:  the best mother is overworked, under-appreciated, running on empty, comes crawling on all fours because she’s so exhausted, but of course she loves her children, so who is she to say no to their wishes and demands.  A mother who seems well-rested and happy cannot possibly be doing a good job because if she were she’d come crawling on all fours da-da-da.

Sounds sarcastic, seems exaggerated, but is true.  Look around: there’s a certain glamour to being overworked.  Find a well-rested and happy mother and the rumors start:  how does she do it?  Oh.  She’s got help.  Well, if *I* had help I wouldn’t be so exhausted all the time either.  (So, why don’t you get help?)

Private piano teachers aren’t much different, except you need to add “under-paid” to the equation.  There is a certain glamour to being exhausted because you teach so much, to being under-paid (and of course struggling with parents who either don’t pay or who pay late etc.) – the starving artist still seems to have a certain appeal; to not having time “for anything!” – especially for attending performances it seems.  I do not care to remember how many times I have attended a concert or a masterclass, here in town (= no traveling required!) and I was the only teacher from our organization there.

Much of the work of a piano teacher lies outside of the actual piano lesson.  College professors who teach 18 contact hours are considered full-time.  Outside of the actual lesson/class but within the normal 40-hour week there’s preparation time, evaluation time, professional development time, etc.  College professors are expected to do and publish research, attend meetings, etc., all within the normal 40-hour week.

I once had a colleague who told me, regarding a somewhat complicated student who was looking for a different teacher, “I can’t teach him anymore. I would have to prepare the lessons, and I don’t have time for that.”

Say what??

Whenever someone asks me, “so, how many students do you have?” I have to say that I don’t count them.  How do you count the student who comes on average every other week because his work schedule is so busy?  Half a student?  I do know that on average, I teach about 22 contact hours each week but that’s only the private lessons.  On top of that are additional contact hours in the form of irregularly scheduled performance classes, extra lessons to prepare for competitions etc.

However you count it, it is too much.  Part of the problem is that there is not enough time, quality time, to do all the preparing, evaluating, watching and editing and uploading student videos, professional development, etc.  The other problem is that when I get sick – and I seem to get sick more often these days – it is a nightmare to find times to make up a day’s worth of lessons.  Or:  competitions and auditions routinely happen on weekends – I normally teach six students on Saturdays, so when I am at a competition I can’t at the same time teach lessons = need to find time to make those up as well.  I have dedicated make-up lesson days on my calendar and I offer make-up and extra lessons on no-school days but those days are filling up awfully fast.

There have been days lately where I teach from 10:15 a.m. til 7:15 p.m. (with a lunch break).  My lessons are very focused, my students usually have 100% of my attention 100% of the lesson time – I feel bad when I have to take 5 minutes from a 45-minute lesson to use the bathroom (because I teach for such long stretches at a time).  I don’t want the quality of the lessons to diminish just because I am exhausted.

A colleague of mine routinely has to cancel lessons because of illness due to working too much.

In a way, this reminds me of the no-pain-no-gain attitude.  There are fortunately fewer and fewer teachers who disregard their students’ physical (and emotional) discomfort caused by an unhealthy approach to playing the piano, and more and more teachers who pay particularly close attention to injury-free technique and an overall healthy attitude toward playing, practicing, performing, competing, etc.

So, if we are so conscious regarding our students’ well-being, why do we seem so willing to ignore our own? Why do teachers glorify the problems that stem from teaching too many hours, from accepting students who drain the teacher’s energy because they are not a good match, personality-wise?  Why do teachers accept tuition that is too low, given their education, expertise, and experience – and then complain that they don’t have enough money?   Because unless it hurts it’s no good?

All in all not a healthy situation.

I don’t want to be one of those teachers who proudly complain that they are overworked, consider themselves under-paid, who come crawling on all fours because they are so exhausted.  And who get sick because they don’t have the time to take care of themselves.

I see no glamour in that.  I only see that my teaching would suffer.

So.  I have looked at my students and at my teaching schedule, and I have started to think which of my students might do as well, or better, with a different teacher – at least temporarily, if not permanently.  The challenge is how to explain to the parents/students that this is not a weeding-out process, trying to get rid of unwanted students, but an attempt to find what is best for both the students and me.

Of course, this 40-hour work week is my personal choice – it allows time for my family which is important to me.  If someone else chooses to work 60 or more hours, that’s perfectly ok but, I think, only if it can be done without detrimental effects on their health, and, please, without taking pride in getting sick from working “so much”.