Teaching Piano in Schools
Some musical instrument teachers are employed by the local education department and work as peripatetic teachers. I decided not to do this, but instead, restricted myself to teaching in our local primary school.
If you decide to approach the school directly, you must first arrange to meet the head- teacher. In my case, the head-teacher at our local primary was extremely receptive to the idea of offering piano lessons to her pupils. These days, schools seem particularly keen to impress parents (not to mention Ofsted inspectors) and – as long as it doesn’t cause them or their staff extra work – they are generally very welcoming to a ‘guest’ teacher who provides an extra educational service.
The majority of parents are quite happy for their children to come out of classroom lessons for individual music tuition as this one-to-one teaching can be far more productive than the same time spent learning along with 30 or so others. (Also by arranging for their child to learn piano at school, they don’t have the inconvenience of transporting him to lessons).
The head-teacher may decide to restrict your teaching hours to avoid clashing with vital literacy or numeracy lessons and you may also find some parents request that their children are taught during the lunch hour.
It’s important that both child and parents know the day and time of the weekly lesson so that they remember to bring books and payment. (To be honest, I generally carry a spare set of books just in case as it’s amazing how many forget them).
Ask For a Copy of the Newsletter
It is also worth asking for a copy of the school’s weekly newsletter so you stay informed of school trips etc. and can re-schedule lessons accordingly. (Few children are so organised that they will tell you in advance if they’re going to be absent the following week).
Sometimes the teaching staff can be less receptive to the idea of piano lessons in school than you might expect and you could be seen as an ‘intruder’. Having taught at our local primary for several years, I now feel accepted but when I first started there was some bad feeling when a teacher caught me using the hall where she had planned a play rehearsal. Of course this wasn’t my fault – or hers – but it’s important to know when you start that the room allocated for piano lessons will not be needed for any other purpose.
I try to keep classroom interruptions to a minim by designing my time-table so that children from the same class are taught straight after one another: that way, as one goes back into class, the next one leaves. It’s important to show respect for the teachers’ – often very stressful – situation and make sure you communicate any changes in your timetable to them.
Organise a Concert
Piano teachers are sometimes asked to organise a concert in school or at least help prepare some pupils to perform in one: although this is something I have not experienced as yet.
Alternatively, you could suggest to either your pupils, or their teachers, that they are given the chance to perform in morning assembly. My sons recently performed a duet in their (secondary) school house assemblies which, I believe, was a great boost to their confidence.
In order to find pupils at the school, I ask for a paragraph to be put into the school newsletter around June each year. I explain that I teach pupils in years 3 and upwards – i.e. Key Stage 2, or what used to be known as ‘juniors’. (in other words they must be at least aged 7 but not still in the ‘infants’) so obviously I am hoping to recruit some current year 2s who will be moving up in September. I request that parents contact either myself or the school before the end of July if they are interested. I then write to these parents telling them a little about what to expect:
I include contact details at the bottom of the sheet. If, having read the letter, they decide to go ahead, I have a telephone discussion with one of the parents to find out more about the child and answer any other questions they may have and – if they decide to go ahead with lessons – I contact them again at the end of August before school starts to confirm the day and time of their child’s lesson.
My only experience of music-teaching in secondary schools is from ‘the other side’: both my sons learn a second instrument (the elder plays saxophone; the younger has guitar lessons) and are taught by peripatetic teachers employed by the LEA. The lessons are subsidised by the LEA and we pay termly. Of course the advantage of this for music teachers is that they earn a set amount and do not suffer a reduction in income if pupils are ill or forget to attend lessons (as a surprisingly large number seem to do).
The other connection I have with secondary schools is through the pupils I teach at home who are studying for their music GCSE. My role here is to support what the pupil is learning at school and in some cases it’s a good time for him to start working towards his grade 5 theory examination as much of the knowledge needed for this is required for the GCSE exam and vice versa.