My “New Year’s” Resolution
For many teachers, September feels more the like the “new year” than January 1st. I love all the school supply sales and the sense of new beginnings. This time of the year, I like to also take time to reflect on how I can improve and streamline my teaching. My goal this year is very simple: to stay on time. This seems like a no-brainer, just end each lesson on time. But on days where I have 8 students back-to-back with no break, it can be a bit more difficult to start and end everyone on time. Throw into the mix students who are slow to put instruments away or parents with all those important beginning-of-semester questions and you can see why staying on time can be a challenge.
Creating a Game Plan
To make sure I stay on schedule, I wanted to get a more clear idea of how I wanted to structure each lesson, especially those shorter 30 minute lessons. I sketched out a pie chart in my bullet journal of how an ideal 30 minute lesson would go, assuming the student is playing twinkles or above in Book 1. Just an aside: I normally ask my Book 2 students to move up to a 45-minute lesson to accommodate more note reading and technique work, so the chart below would look a bit different for a more advanced student with a too-short lesson time.
Let’s say I have a mid to late-Book 1 student whose lesson is from 4:00-4:30 on Thursday. Their lesson might be broken up like this:
I’m not rigid about this schedule, because sometimes a student needs extra help with note reading or there is a recital coming up and we are working on the polished piece more, but having the visual chart gives me a good guideline so I can tell if we are spending too much time on one area of the lesson.
A Little Help from Technology
I thought I would put my iPhone to work in helping me to stay on time. I’ve used my phone for alarms before, but did you know you can set multiple alarms? I always get to my teaching space a little before my first lesson so I can set up the room and get organized. Now I also use this time to set my alarms. I simply look at my schedule for the day, and set an alarm to go off 5 minutes before the end of each student’s lesson. Since many students have the same lesson time on a different day (for example, on student has 6:30-7:00 on Monday, while another has 6:30-7:00 on Wednesday), I don’t delete the alarms, and just have to toggle the appropriate alarm based on the day. There are many nice, unobtrusive alarm sounds available for smartphones, although at Stevens Point this year, I was amused to hear one master class teacher uses the “mission impossible” theme. By using the timer, I also don’t need to worry as much about checking the clock, and am able to be more fully present to what is happening in the lesson.
A Little Help from My Studio Families
My studio parents are eager to help their children and want to get the most out of their scheduled lesson time, and I want to take time to answer their questions. The problem is that often those questions come up at the end of the lesson and start to encroach upon another student’s lesson time. I’m making an extra effort this semester to ask for help in staying on time. A first part of this equation is I’m reminding students to unpack their instrument in the hallway and be ready to go right when their lesson time begins. This not only ensures that we use all their lesson time for instruction (and not unpacking), but the act of getting ready in the hallway helps my younger students transition their minds and bodies from school or other activities to being ready to learn and participate in the lesson.
Because the timer goes off at 5 minutes before the end of the lesson, I am making an effort to use the end of the lesson time to answer questions and discuss home practice with the parent. With older students, I may use this time more for note reading and music theory, but for younger students I really want to make sure the parent feels empowered to help with home practice. If there is a more serious issue that will take more than 5 minutes to discuss, I ask if we can follow up either via phone or email, or have a special conference during the following week’s lesson.
In the past, I have had students who were habitually 5 minutes late, and with an already short 30-minute lesson slot, I often wanted to go overtime a few minutes just to make sure we covered everything. However, not only does this create a snowballing effect (Sam is late, so then I go over 5 minutes, which makes Lydia’s lesson later, etc, etc.), but it doesn’t actually address the problem. Punctuality is an important life skill that I want to teach my older students and by enforcing a strict end time, there are consequences for tardiness. If I do have a perpetually tardy family, using the alarm system and staying on time will enable me to have an honest conversation about whether they need a different lesson time. Most importantly, by beginning and ending each lesson promptly, I am creating a studio culture which respects my students’ time and conveys and professional, focused attitude towards music lessons. I want my students and their parents to feel that I care about them and am fully present during our time together and am hoping to create a better studio environment by focusing on the simple act of starting and ending on time.
What are your tricks for staying on time, as a teacher or parent?