Teacher burnout is real. Because we passionate about our jobs, we want our students to do their best. And, that can mean putting in more time or energy than we even have to give on a weekly basis.
In January, we come back energized (hopefully) from winter break. Lessons need to be high energy so students get back into routine quickly. In June, the lure of summer keeps us going. We want to finish out with a bang & maybe even get going on next year’s plans. The life of a studio owner! But, I wouldn’t change it for anything!
So, how do we avoid burnout in an industry notorious for teacher burnout?
Self care vs. teacher burnout
When the twins were first born, I tried to do it all. Recover from a C-Section with minimal pain medication. Take care of everything before I ate. Get chores done while the babies slept considering they didn’t actually let me take a daytime nap until they were almost a year old. (I am very familiar with that moment between almost asleep & asleep. Sigh.) And as you can well imagine, it went badly. Thankfully, a home nurse set me straight in her no-nonsense way before I burnt-out any more than I already had.
“You aren’t any good to any one else if you don’t take care of yourself.”
As teachers & studio owners, it’s easy to put everyone else first. It almost seems like part of the job description. But the irony is that when we take care of ourselves first … that’s when the teaching magic happens.
Having a strong immune system along with creating a healthy schedule & routine make it possible to avoid teacher burnout. But, we can go even further than this by adding activities that invigorate our students AND our teaching.
5 Ideas to invigorate your studio
The best ways to avoid teacher burnout are reduce the stress of running a business & add teaching activities that bring back your joy! Below are 5 ideas to take you from “Sigh. I have to teach in an hour.” to “I can hardly wait to see my students & explore music with them!”
Reduce business stress
Oh, the things I have tried in order to organize my books & sheet music digitally … & the things I have tried in order to track what my students have played. Spreadsheets (both on paper & digital), Evernote (note for each student & song), Google Drive (annual plan with space for songs students have mastered) … & at this point, just listing the song as mastered in Planboard (my online app for planning lessons/providing practice pages). None has worked in the long term though some have been more easily managed within lesson time than others.
What I have finally created are repertoire lists with corresponding YouTube playlists for my students. My students love the choice they get & I love that they are covering all the concepts needed. Once I reorganized my repertoire bookshelves to match up with the levels in my repertoire lists, the process of finding music became so much easier.
Exam boards & method books as a guide
While I don’t typically have students that sit exams in my studio, I like knowing what options are out there. Between various method books & exam levels, I have used them as a framework for what I would like my students to accomplish each year. After all, they have done the research … & I can reap the benefits of that. While I grew up in the Royal Conservatory of Music system, recent changes have meant that I am more open to other boards.
The Ultimate Guide to Piano Exam Syllabuses is a great podcast overview with a corresponding article (if you prefer to read), it has also gone into my Evernote for future reference when I have a student that is interested in a Rock, Pop, or Jazz exam.
While method books can be fairly easy to determine which levels correlate, (thank you Piano Adventures!) sheet music & non-method repertoire books can be a whole different ball of yarn. Thankfully, Carol Matz share her “How to Interpret Educational Piano-Music Levels” PDF. This guide has been invaluable as I created my repertoire levels & took care of the very large pile of books (including books from at least 10 different method book series) that needed a home.
Add excitement to your teaching day
Who wants to dread or, at best, feel ambivalence about their teaching day? No, thank you.
We have a morning & after school routine at our home. Many mornings, I’ll ask the boys what is coming up at school that day. After a few months of this, my boys began asking, “So, mommy. What do you need to get done today?” And after school, we check in to see how the day went. Did we accomplish what we wanted? Did something really exciting happen? I’m hoping that the excitement I have each day will inspire my kids to choose careers that bring them joy & make the world a better place.
Rather than risk teacher burnout, add some of these activities to your studio!
Explore Mastered Music In Different Ways
I always love reading new ideas that I can quickly implement that day into my teaching.
Shelly Davis has shared how she gets students to get SMART with their music in her studio & I love the simplicity of it! In Get SMART with your Music…..Again, Shelly had student examples of how her students changed one (or more) of the following:
I highly recommend listening to the Piano Parent podcast to hear how Shelly’s students took these ideas & made them their own!
Teach using whole-body movement
Rather than trying to get students to sit still, I began to create warm-ups & activities that let my students move around. Why fight them when it just isn’t necessary? Burnout isn’t just for teachers. It’s for students as well. And after a long day at school sitting in a desk, is it really any wonder that our students need a chance to move around?
For our rhythm warm-ups, we have used whole-body actions & movements to physically ‘feel’ the rhythm & pulse before we ever sit at the piano.
For our singing chord warm-ups, we sang away from the bench & used hand movements to ‘feel’ the intervals between the notes.
Whether it’s recital season or not, ensuring all your students are ready for the recital can feel like one of “the 12 labors of Hercules‘ . Thankfully, Julie Knerr graciously shared 20 Ways to Practice For a Recital in meaningful ways. You can email the ideas to parents & students can either print them off to track them straight on the page or they can choose to fill them in digitally with Notability or Markup.
Saying NO to teacher burnout
Let’s make teacher burnout a thing of the past. Just because our profession has a reputation doesn’t mean we have to uphold it!
What ideas or activities are keeping your motivated & excited to teach each day?
[NOTE: This is a rewrite of an article from May 12, 2017. It has all the great ideas from before, plus more!]