New to teaching private lessons? Here are 12 pieces of advice from the pros

We asked our most experienced teachers,

“If you had one piece of advice for a new private teacher or tutor, what would it be?”

We received tips from teachers all over the country. Read on for advice from your peers on communicating with students, planning your lessons, and much more.

1. Communicate

James: “Be sure to communicate clearly and effectively. Always plan ahead for lessons and always have a ‘plan b’ for lessons. Be sure to develop your teaching ‘toolbox’ of ideas that are great to use for your ‘plan b.’”
Jefrey: “Listen to your students’ needs and desires, then proceed from there.”
Stacey: “Work hard on developing a mentoring relationship with your students. Ask about school, their friends, other activities, etc. They have lives besides what happens with their instrument or specific subject. It helps them know you care about them and are not just interested pleasing their parents/taking their money.”
Daniel: “Don’t ever assume that your student knows what to do; you need to find their level of understanding, if any, and start there. Otherwise you’ll lose them before they’ve learned one thing from you.”
Steve: “Find the real reason your student is taking lessons and capitalize on it, accentuating the positive if it’s self-directed and working around it if it’s forced.”

2. Stay enthusiastic

Glenn: “Lighten up; be flexible and fun, and figure out what you can give a student that the Internet can’t.”
Jason: “Remember to keep lessons fun, and set attainable goals for students, so they can achieve success and look forward to new challenges.”
Matt: “It is important that one begins to teach and relate information as early as possible; if you have not yet been a teacher, do not be surprised when you find that you know very little. Moreover, do not be surprised when your students begin to (often unwittingly) fill in these gaps for you. The most important thing you can share with your student is enthusiasm; enthusiasm begets curiosity, the most important component in learning.”
Shakeatha: Be professional, but remember to have fun. You once were sitting in the shoes of the student.”

3. Prepare for your first Lessons

Lar: “Find out what your students want to learn, rather than teach them what you think they need to learn.”
Mark: “Start off teaching them something they want to learn, and when they see they can do or play it, they are excited and want more. Slip in the theory as you go.”
Zarni: “Cater to what the student loves, to what makes them inspired to practice on their own. Educators too often have an idea of what they feel is valuable to teach but that might not be relevant to a particular student.”

4. Planning is everything

Thomas: “Design lesson plans in an organized manner. Consult Bloom’s Taxonomy – higher levels of thinking should be reached through the questions we ask throughout each lesson. This structure will ensure that the student is progressing, and will make it clear if you’ve not explained something clear enough.”

5. Get the right mindset

Raymond: “To someone who is thinking about becoming a teacher or is just starting out I would advise him/her to make teaching his/her passion, because the student does not really care how much the teacher knows, but he/she wants to know how much the teacher cares. If the teacher makes them do what they love, they will always love what they do!”
Allison: “Don’t take yourself too seriously. Have fun. Students look for a teacher and more importantly STAY with a teacher that is not only knowledgeable but also personable. ”
Jeff: “Keep your ego in check.The most counterproductive thing you can do with new students is to overwhelm them with a barrage of your best licks. It’s intimidating enough to learn a new skill of any kind but even more so with a teacher showing off his favorite Jeff Beck riffs. Curb the self-gratuitous behavior and concentrate on making the new student feel comfortable and confident.”
Phil: “Always remember that you are in the driver’s seat. Of course you want to cater to the unique needs of each student, but you always need to see the big picture and stick to your game plan. As soon as you start leaving it up to the student to guide the lesson your days with that student are numbered.”

Sylvia: “Don’t worry. Your teachers certainly weren’t perfect, and you’re not expected to be either. Things will work out, and the longer you teach, the more confidence you will have teaching.”

Travis: “If you’re dealing with younger children, exuding confidence, even if you don’t have any, goes a long way.”

6. Make time to organize

Diane: “Take a moment during the lesson and write down on a practice sheet what the student needs to work on during the week. Progress will be greater because the student will have a guide to help remind them and help to clarify what took place in the lesson. Make a copy, too, so you know what the student has worked on and go over some of it… they will know that you care and want to help them with their lessons.”

7. Remember patience

Andrew: “Be very (very, very) patient with beginner students, and always acknowledge even the smallest improvements.”
Helen: “Take your time, don’t give too much to learn at one lesson.”
Ric: “Be patient and encouraging. Remember that every student learns at their own pace, and you are responsible for teaching them at that pace. Admit your own mistakes; if you are starting to teach, then you are learning a new craft as well.”

8. Stick to your rules

Elizabeth: “Respect your own time and money. That means having clear policies about missed, cancelled, and rescheduled lessons. Your students will respect you more if you respect yourself.”
Katrina: “Do not cancel or reschedule lessons unless absolutely necessary, and always offer makeups as a first option for any missed lessons. I have had the most steady and focused students since I set my standards this way. Students need regular lessons to improve and parents need to believe that weekly lessons are crucial in order to make them consistently. Set the bar and they will thank you for it!”
  O. J.: “Be flexible in your pedagogy, firm with your policies, and know the difference between the two. New research is constantly being conducted on different teaching methods and techniques for just about every instrument you can imagine, so it’s important to stay abreast of what’s on the horizon. On the other hand, business is business. Human beings are instinctively opportunistic, which means that given the opportunity, they will take advantage of you. If you have a 24 hour cancellation policy, stick to it. If a student owes you money for unpaid lessons, you have the right to refuse to teach him.”
Sarah: “Don’t be afraid to reward for being on time and having their music with them each week. Reward for practicing by have monthly practices sheets… their success and growth is through their practicing at home. Monthly prizes or rewards are practice motivators.”

9. Keep everyone accountable

Allison: “Always have back-up plans and activities. Be ready to try new things and not married to one specific method. Also, always encourage and support your students.”
Melanie: “Spend time before each lesson working out an organized lesson plan. I practiced teaching on friends and family and that really helped me succeed and relax for my first few lessons taught.”
Natalie: “Make a point to reach out to both the student and the parent before the first session. Evaluate the main goal for the session, and send your new student some materials that will assist them prior to the session. This shows them that you are a prepared and organized teacher, and assures them you will be able to help them reach their educational goals.”

10. Respect your prices

Anne: “Don’t put yourself on sale. Charge a competitive and fair rate to everyone. Teaching music is a very valuable service and if you have to reduce your rate to get or keep students then you probably need further training and advice like that offered here before you’re ready to teach.”
Brian: “Be firm on your hourly rate! As the saying goes, ‘A closed mouth doesn’t get fed.’ You will never be paid what you are worth if you don’t ask for it.”

11. Always look for ways to improve

Cesaro: “Stick with it. A lot of private teachers give up when business starts to dip. Do whatever you have to do to keep momentum, because as soon as you stop and take a break it will take twice as long to get back to where you were.”
Hanan: “You just started on a new path. Although this is new to you there is no need to re-invent the wheel. Do what you do best and learn from others how to do the rest.”
Stacy: “Don’t forget that just like your students, you probably still have a lot to learn, too. As first-year teachers, we make lots of mistakes, but if you constantly reflect on your teaching and seek help, you can become a great instructor.”
Victoria: “Find a mentor. When I was first out of college, I was spread out. I had private students since high school, then I took part time teaching jobs and I also worked in music ministry. I found someone who taught me the ropes of private teaching. Someone who gave me good advice, listened to my problems, and cheered me on when things went well. I met my mentor through a local music teachers group and she continued to be my sounding board even after she retired.”

12. Create an awesome student experience 

Barbara: “I would say to concentrate on 2 things: 1) Making your students’ experience excellent and inviting, and 2) making your studio environment inviting and excellent for both you and the student.”
Blaise: “Don’t act like a teacher. Be a coach. Ask your students empowering questions and pay absolute attention to their answers.”
Donna: “Get to know your student well enough so that you can determine their learning style (visual, aural, kinesthetic). You will ‘reach’ them better.”
Douglas: “Make sure the student knows you care how well they are learning what you are teaching them.”
Kathryn: “Remember that the ability for a student to embrace studying is because they fall in love with the process and the experience they have while they are actively learning. It is your job to learn to stay in the moment with each student. Let go of worrying about the outcome. And let your students know they can let go of worrying about it, too. The minute they do, watch their work soar!”
Melody: “Being a good teacher is not about you – it is not about your education, your skills, your awards or how many standing ovations you’ve received. It is not about how ‘good’ you are at all. Being a good teacher is always about the student. What are your student’s needs? Aspirations? What are their challenges? Why have they decided to take lessons? And out of all the teachers they could have chosen, why have they chosen you? If you ever catch yourself thinking, ‘how am I doing?’ stop and instead consider, ‘how is my student doing?’ ”
Sarah: “Trust your intuition and be a good listener. No two students are the same, though their age and academic assignments may be identical.”
Scott: “Set goals with your student (no matter how small) so they can feel a sense of accomplishment.”
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