In this week’s blog post, Gill Shaw – a member of The Community of The Curious Piano Teachers – provides a different perspective to the ‘in or out’ question: Are piano lessons better in or out of school?
Click here to read last week’s blog post Piano lessons in or out of school (Part 1) where Liz Giannopoulos shared her perspective.
WHERE the lesson takes place is only one factor amongst many to consider when choosing the right piano/instrumental tutor.
As a teacher, and as a parent looking for a teacher, what I’m most interested in is whether the teacher is a good fit (in terms of teaching philosophy and how they relate to the child) and their professional code of practice. For me, the latter is defined by the following characteristics:
- Relevant professional qualifications, ideally with teaching experience
- Recognition of the importance of an underlying curriculum
- A current DBS certificate and periodic child protection training
- Lesson delivery which is organised and focused
- A programme of wider opportunities in place to develop sociable and well-rounded musicians
- A commitment to ensure that parents are involved and aware of expectations and progress
- Membership of a professional body with a percentage of income allocated to professional development, training and resources
- Policies and strategies in place to ensure value for money within a workable business model
None of these are unique to teachers in a particular setting.
One of the reasons I love teaching in school is that while there may be a different set of challenges to teaching at home, there are also significant advantages.
Even in the most active and inclusive music departments, there is usually limited opportunity for pianists to take part in suitable ensembles. The chance to collaborate with others is an incredibly important part of our growth into well-rounded musicians. As piano teachers, we have a responsibility to make this opportunity available to our students, regardless of our teaching location.
Working in a school with my students, their friends and invariably their friends’ instrumental teachers on hand, opportunities for collaboration and ensemble work are wide and varied. A school-based practice gives me the significant advantage of being able to offer students regular invitations to all the opportunities a good quality teaching studio would offer (such as informal recitals – either as performer or audience member – workshops, group sessions, end-of-term celebrations and special events) within the normal school day. In our case, this happens in addition to more formal recitals and an exciting and inclusive extra-curricular programme run by the school.
QUALITY OF PROVISION
Staff working in schools will be employed by, or under contract with, the school or music service. An interview process will have taken place, qualifications and experience will have been noted and DBS certificates must be checked annually. (Our school requires staff to hold a portable DBS to meet this requirement). There are safeguarding policies and in most cases, some level of professional development. This is not an automatic guarantee that they are the best teacher for your child, but it’s a very good start knowing that the basics are in place and that there is accountability.
It is a significant advantage to be part of a team of colleagues, sharing resources and ideas and accessing additional training and development. Another big plus point for me is the diverse mix of musicians I am surrounded by, and learn from, every single working day.
Different teachers will tackle this one in different ways. My own approach includes the use of Evernote to share our weekly practice plan with parents (emailed home at the end of each lesson). I love this for the streamlined ability to attach media files and progress tracking, but before that a notebook and email served roughly the same purpose. Reports are sent home termly, my website covers information relevant to all students and there is regular contact with parents by email. It’s great to put faces to names and plenty of opportunity for this (such as parent attendance at recitals and assemblies and an open invitation to attend lessons) but overall, communication is both effective and efficient, without using up valuable lesson time.
The most important factor here is that there are open lines of communication between parent, student and teacher, in whatever form that takes. As a parent I would want to be able to contact my child’s instrumental teacher directly and I would expect a good teacher to encourage this.
TIMETABLING (aka Value for Money!)
It is very important to me that my students are reliable attendees and that they are getting the most out of each termly block of lessons. The timetable is organised according to school policy and this is communicated clearly to students and parents. My students know that I have high expectations of attendance and that absences are picked up by parents on the weekly notes.
With a bit of creativity, support can be put in place to help students who are forgetful, and younger students are collected for their lessons.
SO… IN OR OUT?
In short, as a parent faced with this decision: talk to teachers, talk to parents, to the Head of Music. Check teaching registers of the relevant professional organisations. Ask lots of questions, trust your intuition, consider what you most want your child to get out of their lessons and how you want the lessons to fit into your family schedule.
By taking the ‘In or Out’ question out of the spotlight, we can bring the focus back to high professional standards and quality of tuition, regardless of the setting.
Gill Shaw PGCE BMus(Hons) DipABRSM is a pianist, accompanist and piano teacher at an independent school in Nottingham and a professional member of EPTA. With over twenty years experience in music education, including 10 years as a secondary Head of Music, Gill is committed to delivering a high quality and engaging musical experience to students at all levels.