It’s useful to remember that as a music teacher you are your own business, especially when it comes to picking up new students.
Of course teaching is far more than just a transfer of skills, requiring passion, patience, perseverance etc. etc. But it is a commercial transaction, and the economics must work out. An agreement to teach a student is an agreement to make a substantial investment of time and energy, and this investment must be worthwhile. Below are a couple of points to consider before taking on a new pupil.
Can the prospective student come for a lesson during your normal teaching hours? If you’re thinking of agreeing to teach a student at their house (for which you’ll need to charge an accordingly higher rate), then check the address and establish that a mutually convenient time will be possible. It’s no good if your student-to-be lives a two-hour drive away and has to work nightshifts seven days a week. Think about the value of each student. It won’t be worth it if getting to them costs you more than you’ll get out of it.
Are they at the right level?
Making sure you are teaching students at the appropriate level is fundamental. The key to this is having an understanding of your approach. Some people can work their teaching style at any level, from beginner to post-graduate. Others are specialists in particular fields or focus on teaching particular levels or age groups. It’s important to recognise this. A PHD student researching Palestrinian counterpoint may not necessarily be best suited to teaching grade 1 music theory. And it goes without saying that you shouldn’t attempt to teach someone in an area outside your skillset.
What are their objectives?
This third point is an important one, and it’s where many student/ teacher relationships go awry. Why do they want lessons? Do they just want to tinker through duets after a hard day at the office, or do they aspire to be the next Maxim Vengerov?
You must establish this before agreeing to teach a student. Ask yourself what expectations you have as a teacher. If turning up to a lesson without having last week’s pieces from memory sends you into an apoplectic rage, then a student who has less time to commit isn’t for you. It is very important to make sure your objectives are aligned, otherwise you’ll cause maximum frustration for both parties in the long-run.
Remember that your student is an asset. He/she is a source of income, and will be ‘teaching capital’ in the long-term if looked after well. But it’s essential to invest wisely. When that offer of a new student comes through, resist the temptation to say yes immediately before you’ve established a few more details. Don’t be afraid to take their number and say ‘I’ll call back’.
Although a good teacher will be looking for potential rather than product in a prospective pupil, it’s important to be discriminatory about who you take on. After all, a teacher can only be as good as their students.