The time has come where you feel like you (kind of) know what you are doing. Or someone has approached you and asked for lessons. Or your teacher has suggested you take on some beginners they can’t fit in. Either way, congratulations- you are about to start teaching the harp!
Quite possibly, you’re feeling a bit of a mix of emotions at the moment- excited, nervous, and perhaps a little confused and overwhelmed about exactly how to start. So here are some top tips to help you with your new career.
Whether you are teaching from home or from a school, one of life’s certainties is paperwork. This can vary wildly from place to place, so I can’t give you a cut and dried checklist here. But some things to look out for include-
- Council/local government restrictions (particularly if you are teaching at home)
- Child safety checks/mandatory reporting training
- Tax reporting
- External signage
I’m assuming for now that you will be doing the bulk of your teaching from home. It’s how a lot of teachers ply their trade, and there are lots of great benefits to having a home based studio. But where you have been practicing is not necessarily the best place to teach. (I still remember the very awkward lesson I once had with a teacher who kept her harp in the bedroom. Definitely NOT recommended!)
How easy is it to find your place? Is the street and the house number clearly marked? What about access, especially for someone with mobility issues (pedal harpists innately understand good access!)
If possible, try to have your teaching space close to the front door, and keep it reserved for professional use. Not always easy, but it is a much better look to not have to lead the student past a kitchen full of dirty dishes, and takes any pressure off you to have those dishes done before said student arrives. It also makes the whole ‘working from home’ thing easier to manage as you have a space where the feeling is professional, and a separate one for you and any hangers on to relax in.
Remember that from time to time a student may need to use the bathroom, or at the very least wash their sticky hands before playing your precious strings. Having a bathroom and toilet space available and in a vague state of cleanliness is always a good idea.
What’s it really like to walk into your home? The reality is that most of us don’t actually know. We are just used to it, or are part of a problem that we don’t even know is there. So ask a friend or family member to give some feedback.
I once visited a teacher’s home studio which was fine except for one major problem. The entire house stank of cat urine. By the end of the half hour lesson I was observing, I was feeling nauseated and couldn’t wait to get out. I went straight home, had a long shower and washed all my clothes! If I had been a new student having a trial lesson, I would never have been back. But the teacher in question was completely used to that smell, and probably didn’t even notice it any more. So ask someone what your place smells like. And brew fresh coffee a lot.
To help with that professional look, try not to let clutter build up in the studio (I’m pleading guilty to this one straight up). Keep things clean and dusted, and add some artwork or house plants to give some character. A welcoming and creative space will make your students want to come back, and will motivate you to spend time working there.
Once you have your first student on the books, do your research to discover where they are up to in their musical journey. Pick out some music that will be appropriate for the level they are at, and make some lesson plans to help give structure. When you are first starting out, a lesson plan can really help to guide you, as much as the student, through what at times can seem either like an interminable half hour, or a blink of the eye where you didn’t get nearly enough done. Be prepared for the student to move faster or slower- that’s the one of the creative parts of teaching! (You can read more about lessons plans here and here)
You might also want to do some research into the latest and greatest books on music theory, as well as the fantastical world of music apps. Things have changed a lot over the years when it comes to theory, sight reading and aural training. If the only reason you are using a book is because your teacher used it as did their teacher before them, then it might be time to bring something from the present day into the equation.
5. Business management
To look professional these days isn’t actually all that hard. There are many free or reasonably priced online tools to help you with booking lesson times, creating invoices, and writing lesson notes. Check out some options before opening up shop. (You can read about what I use here)
Take the time to do a little research into what fellow teachers in the area are charging. Settle on your rate before talking to your first potential student. I’ve met a number of teachers who are new to the game and cannot give a prompt and definitive answer as to how much they are going to charge. It is one question you can guarantee a new student will ask. Have that answer ready, and stick to it. Don’t suddenly charge up when you discover the student lives in a well to do area (I’ve heard of it happening) and don’t feel pressured to reduce your rate if a prospective student or parent mentions that X down the road is cheaper than you. You are a professional, and this is your rate.
Putting a few things in place before welcoming your first student can make all the difference in how you present as a professional, and will go a long way toward reducing any anxiety you may feel as you start this journey. Good luck- and don’t forget to be a creative harp teacher!