Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Balancing Parenthood and Piano Teaching

If your child is as (ahem) excitable as mine was, you will probably have no trouble with the question of whether to engage child care while you teach piano. My daughter was about 3 when this picture was taken. I definitely needed some help! Before I hired a sitter, though, I went back and forth. I had an idyllic image of sitting at the piano with my students while my baby played peacefully at our feet. Yeah, right. It was more like "while my baby crawled toward the light socket with an evil gleam in her eye."

When I was pregnant, I remember asking a fellow piano teacher how she handled child care and teaching. She told me that I should train my child, as she did, to nap during teaching time. She firmly believed that since her baby had adapted to that schedule, anyone else should be able to do the same. She directed me to a book that said I should put the baby in the crib at exactly the same time every day, draw the drapes, leave the room for a specified period of time, and return to open the drapes and wake the baby at exactly the same time every day. There might be crying for a few days, but the baby would adjust. Um, right. It turns out that my baby had never read that book! Unless I wanted to teach for 2-3 hours accompanied by constant screaming, I'd have to find another solution!

I know there will be some that make a different choice, but for me, engaging child care while I taught was the best option when the munchkin was 4 years old and younger. I continued to try to work out babysitters even when she was in kindergarten. There have never been grandparents on hand to help, and hubby works long, unpredictable hours. As for me, I'm not much of a multi-tasker but tend to become intensely focused on what I'm doing to the exclusion of all else. If I'm working with a student, I can easily lose track of where my child is and what she's doing. Besides my own child's safety, I was concerned about offering full value for the fee I charge. I felt I should honor my clients' time at least as well as I expected them to honor mine. With a child 3 or younger, moods, tantrums, and boo-boos are all par for the course and can take a significant portion of time away from a 45-minute lesson.

You may reach a different decision than I did, but I hope these thoughts will be helpful if you're weighing this decision for yourself.

Questions to consider

If your baby/toddler/preschooler is allowed to be playing nearby while you teach, will you also allow parents to bring a baby/toddler/preschool sibling into the studio while you teach? Your own child may have a perfect disposition and never cry or cause a disruption (this was definitely not true of MY child!), but you may be giving unwitting permission for a parent to bring in a less tranquil child who will be disruptive. If your toddler throws a tantrum, or gets hurt, or engages in some other behavior that shortens your lesson time with the student, will you discount for a portion of that lesson or offer them an extra one to compensate? If not, is this compatible with a studio policy that does not extend lesson time for student lateness or offer makeup lessons for absences?

Possible solutions if Grandma or the other parent isn't available

1. Neighbor as nanny

When my child was a baby, I was very fortunate to have a neighbor who babysat for me. I'd put the munchkin down for a nap, and about 30 minutes later, my first student would arrive. I'd keep the phone on the piano, and at the first sound of baby awakenings on the monitor, I'd call my neighbor. She'd come right in my front door and go get the baby and take her next door until I finished.

2. Students as sitters
Later on, I worked out a deal with some of my older students. I'd schedule them for the first lesson of the day, and then they'd stay and watch my munchkin while I taught my other students. This was never a bartering deal; I paid them outright for babysitting. Bartering for lesson time would have required us to consider a bunch of variables like what to do if they couldn't babysit that week but still had all of their lessons, etc.

3. Discount for distraction
When my daughter was 4 years old and younger, if I could not work out child care during my teaching time, I did discount lessons because distractions were inevitable. I think that my approach to the situation has helped to establish my professionalism with my parents and has resulted in their mutual respect for the lesson.

Now that my munchkin is in 1st grade, I'm no longer using babysitters during my afternoon teaching hours. This has been a transition year, and while it hasn't been perfect, the interruptions are usually minor and brief. It helps that we have some established ground rules about what activities are acceptable while I'm teaching.

Now that she's older, I'm discovering that there is a new challenge to face. How do I make it possible for my child to participate in extra-curricular activities (tennis, ballet, etc.) while I'm teaching piano all afternoon after school? Paying a babysitter may soon be replaced with paying a driver!

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