My normal teaching week is pretty hectic; I drive about 180 miles to four different schools and teach approximately 100 pupils, I also have a handful of private clients. My average teaching day usually starts with getting into my car at 6.30am and ends some days, with my return to home at 9.30pm. I dash between schools delivering a mixture of individual, paired and whole class teaching for fife, flute, clarinet and saxophone.
In reality I spend so much time driving to and from schools, that by the time the evening comes around I have little energy to work on building an online presence, developing my website or develop a social media strategy. When you’re entrenched in this working cycle it is difficult to see how you would do it differently. I am too occupied with getting to school, battling the traffic, finding parking, lugging all my stuff around and then delivering the lessons (which is the fun and rewarding part) to worry about what is on my social media feed. Even with a fairly well-developed knowledge of technology I have had reservations about developing my online channels: ‘trolls’, criticism, maintaining your presence with new and exciting content, school/parent permissions etc. Additionally, there are lots of amazing flute players and tutors out there who are already online and have a great set up.
However, being a teacher makes you an adaptable person. You are ready to learn new skills and modify your lesson delivery given the age and personalities of students you are teaching. I always try to get to my students’ level, to understand what makes them tick musically. I happily transcribe pop songs and spend hours of unpaid time working on songs that I know will really engage the young learner. I use a lot of technology in lessons, from backing tracks, to speed-shifter apps, metronomes online etc. But actually, seeing my face on a video with a pupil scared me.
Covid-19 has made us all adapt and adapt fast. I have accepted the fact that my teaching will be online for the foreseeable future and I had to face my fears and anxiety and just do it - because if I didn’t I three major things could happen:
- I could lose all the teaching that I have spent years building
- I could deprive my pupils of their music time, at a time when it is crucial for them to relax and to be creative
- I would have no income at all.
After just two weeks of this new system I feel like I am a becoming a better tutor. I take more time to listen, I make more time to explain things and the student spends more time playing to me as opposed to me playing with them. This new way of teaching can only make me more engaging and adaptable.
By going online, I have discovered that I have:
- been more prepared and more relaxed
- grown in confidence as a tutor
- been able to facilitate the lessons very well and explain things in more detail
How I do it
After each video call, I email the pupil with a summary of the lesson and outline their practice requirements. This gives me a good plenary but also highlights to the pupil what I expect from them. The pupil also annotates their own music. This is a huge plus. Tutors can often put in breath marks and dynamics, but I suspect that the pupil doesn’t read much on the page other than the notes. Now, they take ownership of what they write.
Another huge advantage is access to resources. All of my resources are near me in my study! I don’t have to scrabble around looking for music, I have it readily accessible. I can send across any information the pupil needs via our online portal (Teams) and they get it instantly. This saves me a huge amount of time.
My students and their families have appreciated the fact that I have made contact and done my utmost to connect with them. After all, it is about the relationship you have developed and fostered that is so important.
The biggest aspect that I miss is not being able to play together in lessons. Perhaps when we return to some normalcy, I may suggest having regular online lessons, interspersed with a face-to-face lesson to explore duets and help with other aspects you can’t do online.
If you have any fears or doubts about online tutoring, that is normal. But I encourage you to embrace it, face your fears and be the best tutor and role model that you can be!