The Skills I Never Thought I Would Need to Learn

The last 2 weeks have been a blur of coding, hosting issues & catch-up on my ever growing to-do list.  Turns out that having computer issues does NOT mean everything else miraculously gets done.  Sigh.

Back in university, I remember a well-meaning, math-loving professor attempting to teach a bunch of arts-based education students how to determine the mean, median & mode to the thousandth decimal for data sets using nothing but a pencil, paper & our brains.  He was especially fond of using the Socratic method of teaching (poor, poor man to be stuck with our class).  Granted he tried to teach us even more than this, but this particular set of lessons stood out for me.    After an especially frustrating class, I asked him WHY we needed to learn to do this with paper.  Schools have programs that provide this data for us automatically & in a pinch using Excel with a simple code provides the same data.  He said it would be on the test (it wasn’t), he said we would need data to the thousandth decimal place (I have NEVER needed that level of specificity), & that we would need to know this type of information to analyze how we did assessing students (true, though not to the minute detail he expected).  While I am thankful for the skills he taught me in assessing students (i.e. writing good test & assignment questions, analyzing WHY students did not do well on a particular concept, etc.), I sincerely hope that forevermore after this professor was given the science-based students so he could really shine.

But, this memory did get me thinking about what I had envisioned whilst in university. While it is true that I have have always been able to use school programs or Excel for my data analysis, it turns out there are many skill sets I had never dreamed I would need to learn.

The skills I never dreamed I would need to learn

Teaching/Planning:

  • Arts & Crafts:  I remember a friend asking why I didn’t want to teach elementary school.  I laughed & said that I had zero interest cutting, pasting, & doing craft-like prep.
    • Fast forward to now … I own a laminator, 2 paper cutters, as well as multiple types of glue, paper, & tape.  Most of my students are elementary-aged & we use games throughout the year (all of which need to be printed/cut/laminated/cut/labeled).  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
  • Planning in reality vs. during university:  While I am thankful I learnt how to plan lessons & units during my education degree, it wasn’t until I was in the field that I truly learnt what planning meant.  Moving from “This is what I envision the lesson to look like.” to “Oh, no.  My students don’t get it, the activity is a complete bust, & I need a plan B now!“, was an interesting transition.  Some days, months, years more successful than others.
    • Fast forward to now …  I may be planning with no distractions or I may have one of my boys sitting on my lap for snuggles while I stretch my arms around so I can get that last bit of typing in place before saving.
  • Pursuing Ideas:  At the beginning of my teaching career, one of my principals pulled me in her office & said, “Rosemarie, I want you to be an okay teacher.  Not great.  Choose ONE idea, work with it & see how it goes.  You are burning yourself out.”  Once I got over the shock of being told to be an okay teacher, I tried to be more focused on which ideas I pursued.
    • Fast forward to now … While I still love reading about & trying new ideas, I have (ever so slowly) gotten better about choosing which ideas to pursue.  What has worked the best for me is letting the ideas ‘marinade’ in my head before trying them out.  The bigger the idea, the longer the ‘marinade’ time (sometimes up to a year).  It has been hugely helpful in determining whether a new direction is something that is right for me, for my students, & for my studio.

Client Relationships:

  • Focusing on a win-win:  I have always taught in private schools which was a huge benefit when I started my studio.  In university, I don’t remember ever having a class on how to work with parents.  I DO remember being told by a principal that if I ever needed to tell a parent something was wrong, I better make sure that I had done EVERYTHING in my power to solve the problem first.  It may seem harsh, but she was right & it saved me several times from angry parents.
    • Fast forward to now … Now, instead of just biting my tongue, I try to see things from my clients’ point of view.  Why do they see it that way?  How can we come up with a solution that works for both of us?  I enforce my studio policies, but always try to ensure that my clients feel heard & have a solution that can work (even if it isn’t what they originally wanted).
  • How to choose clients:  Yes!  I choose my clients.  When I first started out, I took anyone that was interested so I could build my business.  I found out quickly that not all clients are created equal.  I left teaching full-time so I could actually spend time with my family while the boys were young.  Since I had no interest in going back to the 60-hour (or more) work weeks from teaching full-time, I knew that I would need to be smarter about the clients I chose.
    • Fast forward to now … My time is valuable & I have no desire to keep a client that will be unreasonable or overly demanding.  I would rather focus on quality for everyone.  So, I have a specific order of events before I enroll a new client.
      1. Email/phone calls to answer questions & get a general feel.  Warning signs include really pushing for policy changes, overly focused on the tuition & how to reduce the payments.
      2. Invite person to be placed on wait list.  If they do not bother to fill out the form, they will not be enrolled.
      3. When a spot opens up, set up a meet ‘n greet.  How do the parents interact with the kids & me?  How do the kids behave in their portion of the meet ‘n greet?  Do I have concerns that this will be a difficult relationship?  If I do, I either recommend finding another teacher (focus on the benefit for them) or, if necessary, cancel the contract.  By this point though, I should know the parents quite well & probably will have no issues.

Business:

  • Bookkeeping & business taxes:  I had never imagined I would own my own business, so it was a huge learning curve when I began.  There were many, many phone calls & late night research sessions to keep afloat.
    • Fast forward to now … While I still loath bookkeeping, I have come to appreciate its importance.  Each year, I try to find ways of keeping up a little better, but it is really slow growth in this area.
  • Web Design & Coding:  My first web site design took months & lots of ranting, tears, & threats (mostly to my computer).  Not only was I learning a completely new computer program, but I also discovered I needed to learn some basic HTML in order to get close to the look I wanted.
    • Fast forward to now … I have redesigned my studio website almost every year & have gotten quicker & better each year.  HTML has gotten easier to recognize & now I am in the beginning stages of attempting to understand CSS.  Eventually, I will be looking at PHP.  What are all those acronyms?  Different types of code used to show different things which ensures your site looks exactly how you want.
  • Web & Email Hosting:  I had no clue that so much could go wrong in this category!  In the last 2 weeks, I  have learnt more about DNS settings, including CNAME, A, & MX records than one piano teacher should ever need to know.  However, just to ensure that this is somewhere out on the web (you are welcome in advance)…

When your web & email hosting are on the same server, it is best to make all necessary changes to the EMAIL side of things FIRST, then take care of the web site changes.  Otherwise, you may be without email for a long time.

  • Social Media & Blogging:  While I had a studio Facebook page right off the bat, it hasn’t been until this year that I have made a concerted effort to regularly post to the page.  This blog is also new to this year & has been invaluable for me to reflect on what is happening in my business & life.  But, it has brought a whole new set of skills to learn: how to schedule posts, determining content, finding public-domain images, etc.
  • Graphic Image Manipulations:  A what & a what now?  I never would have imaged that I would learn how to change images by re-sizing, adding layers, changing colours, removing backgrounds, & so much more.  That is why I stuck to books after all!  But, over the years I have learnt how to use GIMP & PowerPoint to get the images I want.  While I still have a lot to learn (especially in GIMP), it has been amazing to see how much better & more efficient I have gotten over the years.

Just the tip of the iceberg …

This list does not even begin to encompass the piano specific skills I have needed to learn over the years.  But, I am interested in hearing from you about the skills you have learnt that have led to who you are as a teacher & entrepreneur.  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.  Have a great weekend!

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