Are you a teacher who is ready to move on?
‘”Anyone can teach the piano in the UK.”
When I tell people this they are amazed: “What? Anyone?”
Then I have to go through the explanation that piano teaching is unregulated, teachers don’t need to have any qualifications and people are often asked to teach by friends and family because it is known they can play.
How does that make you feel? To be honest it makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. I often myself justifying myself and my job and explaining that my teaching doesn’t follow the traditional route of tutor book and exams.
What this open access has led to is an underlying sense of fear and exposure. It’s that feeling of being an imposter, that we might be ‘found out’.
As piano teachers we often work in isolation and don’t have much contact with others in our area – they are the ‘competition’ after all. What’s more they might be better players or teachers than us. Thinking like this leads us to feeling very vulnerable and inward-looking. We continue to teach in the way we have always done because it seems to work.
We have a long tradition of piano teaching in the UK. Its roots are very hard to break away from. 
Does it have to continue like that? No, I don’t believe it does. The rather grim scenario I have painted above has certainly been true in the past but in this decade the situation has started to change for the better.
A recent survey of piano teachers by Finchcocks Piano Courses showed that 63% of respondents were moving on and had undertaken some formal professional development. This completely correlates with my own research from 2010 where 80% of teachers thought that ongoing professional development was important . So it appears that in 2018 an increasing number of us are venturing out of our isolated teaching studios and actively seeking out courses and other opportunities.
This is such good news for all us but has its challenges. The Finchcocks survey highlighted that 37% of piano teachers struggle to find the right professional development.
There are three recurring problems for teachers who want to move on with their teaching skills; time, distance and money. Here’s what a couple of teachers had to say about the situation when I asked them:
‘I would love to attend more. It’s a case of too little time and too little money’.
‘I would do more Prof Dev but living in Cumbria means travel is a large factor’ .
With most teachers working part-time  it is understandable why these concerns prevent more from attending courses, despite a desire to do so.
OLD HABITS DIE HARD
With many teachers keen to attend courses, at least in principle, it’s worth thinking about the benefits that different courses bring. Lots of teachers attend one-day courses to get fresh teaching ideas, meet up with old friends, make new ones, continue to learn and gain in confidence.
However the problem with one-day courses is just that. It is a day that is full of inspiration and everyone leaves buzzing with new ideas for our teaching. The following couple of weeks are great with pupils really noticing a different approach. A month later and the effects are starting to wear off and old habits are beginning to re-assert themselves.
Research shows that professional change is at its most powerful when it is on-going over a period of time. Teachers who have undertaken long-term professional development show a significantly more independent, questioning and reflective profile than others . The changes in their teaching have come about through thinking and reflecting on their work and also sharing and discussing the results with others in a similar place.
COLLABORATION BRINGS STRENGTH
Working together with others strenghtens us both collectively and individually. The teacher who is stuck can’t ask anyone for help and thinks teaching is easy but doesn’t understand why pupils don’t get stuff. They feel somewhat vulnerable and wonder if they are missing out on something – somewhere.
In contrast the collaborative teacher has a supportive network of fellow teachers and knows that teaching is hard and that they will never stop learning. Sharing problems gives them an increasing confidence and certainty about what they are trying to achieve. They find themselves pushing on further and further with their teaching skills.
Being part of a collaborative culture is vital to us all if the profession is one that continues to move into the future rather than be stuck in the past.
- For more on the genesis of this tradition read The Social History of Piano Teaching.
- The Piano Survey 2010 showed that 80% of respondents (n=428) strongly agreed or agreed with the statement I consider my professional development to be important to my teaching. [Cathcart 2013]
- Cathcart 2013: Respondent: 268, Respondent: 548
- In the Piano Survey 2010 69% of piano teachers worked part-time although it was their main source of income. The Finchcocks Survey states that ‘most teachers teach between 10 and 20 students on a weekly basis’.
- Cathcart 2013
This blog post was written by Dr. Sally Cathcart, Co-Founder and Director of The Curious Piano Teachers