Making a Living as a Guitar Teacher Part 3

Episode 5 – Two years down the line

Yep, in a few weeks I’ll have been teaching guitar in UK Schools for two full years. The six Schools grew to seven at the start of my second term, and by the end of my first full year I was teaching at 9 Schools (it’s now 10) and two specialist Music Schools.

Music Schools have a very different vibe; one where I teach requires its students to attend Music Theory and Aural classes as well as their instrument classes and has the option that the students can take part in an ensemble session. The other provides instrument tuition only.

So, what have I learned? Oh yes, this is a much an education for me as for my students, and you’ll find the same thing if you go teaching guitar.

I’ve learned that I should have done it years ago; I guess I just wasn’t ready to make the change before.

I’ve learned that the guy in my local guitar shop who said he filled up with private students within a few weeks of opening his shop was talking bull. I was more than a little surprised to find that I’d almost got to the end of my first full year teaching guitar in Schools, and nobody – repeat, nobody – had asked about private lessons. That’s changed now, of course, because some of my students went up to secondary school last September and suddenly I was getting phone calls about how their new guitar teacher was, what’s the word I’m looking for here…lacking.

I’ve learned that being in the right place at the right time is as important in music as it’s ever been. Being in the right place at the right time got me a week providing music for a local school’s production of the musical “13”³ which paid quite nicely thank you very much even after I’d allowed a discount in anticipation of getting first dibs on the next show. And, one week at music school, the drum teacher came up to me and said “We’ve got a Big Band…” and I’ll talk about that in a future article.

And I’ve learned to accept that the only time some of my students take their guitar out of its case is at the start of their lesson with me. It’ll happen to you too. Don’t beat yourself up over it.

Episode 6 – Some things to watch out for

Yes, sadly you have to deal with issues that are nothing to do with playing guitar; and you cannot promise your students that you’ll not say anything about it.

Don’t panic! You’re not required to solve all the world’s problems.

One young chap turned up one week. I asked him how he was (“Morning, dude, how are you?”) and he told me straight that his grandfather had died the previous week. I suggested we play some music and dedicate it to the old guy. “Good idea” he said. So we did.

And there are things which will make you laugh.

“This piece of music is by Anon, who has written more music and poetry than anyone else ever in the history of anything.” I said, introducing a new piece of music to a student. “Anon is a heffalump” she replied. I’m still trying to work out what to do with that gem of information.

And there are some things you cannot keep quiet.

If your student tells you she thinks she might be pregnant but her Dad will kill her so please don’t tell anyone, you have to pass that information on regardless. There is an appointed Child Safeguarding person at each School, and you need to talk to them about such stuff. If you’re teaching in an inner city School with a large immigrant population holding different cultural beliefs, she might be right when she says her Dad will kill her.

And, if a student tells you that they’re being bullied then you dare not keep it quiet. If you don’t pass the information on straight away, then the second it comes out (and it will come out, be in no doubt about that) the student’s parents will make it all your fault because “My kid told the School and they did nothing about it.” You’re not attached to the staff at the School, but the kids don’t really know how the niceties of your contracts work, and the parents don’t care; if you go into that School and teach, then you’re on the staff.

And, finally, enjoy it. I get to spend my entire working life with a guitar in my hand. It’s not work, not really.

This advice first appeared in Volume 4 # 6 of Guitar Noise News. Sign-up for our newsletter to receive more free tips like this by email.

© 2011, Alan Green

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