Updated: May 18, 2019

Happy Teachers Day Malaysia!

Teaching is one of the most rewarding professions, and it's a wonderful experience as well as a privilege to be able to contribute to shaping someone else's life, whether you work with young children or adult students. I'm so passionate about teaching and it makes me excited every time I talk about my experiences. 

On the other hand, it can also be a stressful job because time can be so scarce, and you're constantly trying to keep up with the demands of planning lessons or tailoring programmes for each of your classes or students while responding to different levels of expectations. 

Today I wanted to share some ideas on self-care for teachers to celebrate Teacher's Day! This will be Part 1 where I cover some points on how to look after yourself as a teacher and Part 2 will cover ideas on little things you can incorporate into your lessons that might enhance you and your students' musical experiences in the long term. 

Disclaimer: I'll be writing from the point of view of a one-on-one studio teacher, so some of these may not apply or be possible for teachers who work in other settings.

1. Slow down

If you are struggling to bring a positive attitude into the teaching room, maybe it's time to slow down. You might have pushed yourself to reach certain deadlines or benchmarks and feel personally responsible for every student's result. A student's progress, while influenced by how a teacher shapes their learning, is dependent on so many factors that you can't control every aspect of it. If you are already doing your best, you may need to detach yourself from the situation. It might be a good idea to make space in your yearly schedule to allow for unexpected absences, or the student (or yourself) not having the best day. Try to avoid programming a year's calendar expecting the student to come to every lesson in tip-top shape. They have lives of their own and different paces of learning. Focus on allowing your students to learn organically at their pace, rather than by constant proactive (or possibly over-enthusiastic?) input from the teacher.

2. Don't take it personally

As a studio teacher, we can be quite isolated. Individual teachers are often left to their own devices, so we may rarely receive positive reinforcement from anyone. Unless your students and their parents actively tell you that they enjoy learning with you, sometimes you can't tell if you're doing a good job. We might also have a full schedule that prevents us from seeing other teachers and sharing stories or concerns. If you can make time to see your fellow teacher friends, though, that's great - sometimes only another teacher would relate to what we go through!

Sometimes, unexpectedly, we may be hit with negative feedback that just really takes the wind out of our sails. Teachers usually strive to do their best so this can feel quite devastating, especially when you don’t see it coming. The scenario can replay in your mind over and over. It's even worse if you found out from someone else about a negative rumour going around!

We can’t change what others say to us or about us, but we can change how we react to it. If there was any constructive criticism in it, you can take that as a learning experience and move on. Try to avoid being triggered and reacting defensively. If someone says hurtful things, don’t let that question your professional ability or self-worth. The problem is with them and not you. If you indeed did make a mistake, don't beat yourself up about it! We all make mistakes and that's okay.

3. Avoid gossip

While you may be an individual teacher and work alone most of the time, the world is a very small place. Protect your mental health by avoiding gossip and making a point to walk away from situations where there might be others doing it. It feeds negativity and is not a healthy thing to do. If you make a stand of not participating in this negative behaviour, you would stop being a magnet for it in the long run. Besides, in this case, ignorance is bliss!

4. Switch off

Teaching can be an all-consuming job, we can be so passionate about it or believe that this is our calling in life. While it’s great to have a job that we love so much, it also can mean that you think about your students ALL THE TIME. If you run a private studio from home, especially, it can be difficult to switch off from work. Try to come up with a routine that helps you switch off. At the end of the day, you might need to make a habit of sitting down with a cup of tea, or taking a walk, or putting on a relaxing essential oil, or take a few minutes to journal the events of the day and write down everything in your head that you might need to remember before your students come back for their next lesson. You might need to mute notifications of work-related texts on your phone. Once that’s done, make a point to switch to ‘home’ mode and remember there is a life outside teaching! If you need a holiday, take it!

5. Don’t compare

It’s so easy to compare our work (or our students!) to those of other teachers. Embrace that each student is different and the journey will vary for everyone. We as teachers also work with a different set of values and goals so there is no point in comparing.

When we look at our students on the whole, we might sometimes feel that we are more successful with certain students while we struggle to motivate others. We are all human; while we would like to build rapport with all our students, sometimes our personalities may just clash. Protect yourself by knowing this may happen sometime in the span of our (hopefully) long careers; address it diplomatically, before it becomes toxic to the parties involved. Keep your communication open in the student-parent-teacher triangle to maintain a healthy relationship.

6. Plan ahead

Scheduling can be one of the most stressful things to deal with when running a studio. While students have their own lives and varying schedules, teachers also may be under stress to secure a living, collecting fees on time, deciding whether to replace missed classes, to planning a break in your yearly schedule. If you have control over how you schedule your lessons, decide how many weeks you would like to be teaching per year, remembering that we all need a break.

Freelancing can mean that we can potentially work for all 52 weeks of the year if we wanted to, but we do NOT need to be teaching until we drop. If you intend to enter students into competitions or exams, find out the dates at your earliest opportunity and schedule your terms surrounding those. Planning at least 6 months to a year in advance will give you a sense of security in your time and finances.

7. Set boundaries

If you freelance as a private teacher, it can often be difficult to set policies for your studio, because a private teacher has to deal with all manner of business-to-personal matters. Try to be upfront about your boundaries, and have policies on fees, last minute cancellations, what to do if the student is sick (are they still allowed to come to class with a flu and infect everyone in your family?). Prepare what you’d say if the student requests to come for an extra lesson on your day off. (You are perfectly entitled to say that you don’t work on that day and don’t feel guilty!)

It’s also a good idea to let the student/parent know at your first meeting what your expectations are if they want to learn with you, and if you do this at the start, it is also easier to initiate a conversation if things aren’t working out and you’d like to stop teaching them. The clearer you set your boundaries from the beginning, you will save yourself the stress of having to deal with these type of issues.

Finally, be kind to yourself

Remember, happy teachers make happy students!

Protect yourself so that your teaching life is sustainable over a long period of time and you can enjoy working with these healthy habits.

In Part 2, I will write about quick ideas to incorporate into your individual lessons to enhance the learning/teaching experience.

Happy teaching!



#teaching #pianoteacher #musicteacher #teachersday

Updated: May 15, 2019

Hi Friends! Do you like practising? This is a golden question for all musicians and students. Because I've been playing the piano since I was very young, I've come to accept that it's just something that needs to be done. I wouldn't say that it's particularly enjoyable because it can be a tedious process, but self-discipline kicks in and I don't even attach an emotion to this endless task - that being said, once I sit down and do some solid work, I feel GREAT! We all feel good after putting in some hard work. It's just like a run that you don't want to go for but you feel great once you're out running. If you are going to practise, though, you'd want to make sure that you have an effective approach. It's true that it has become a struggle to find practice time in our modern, fast-paced world. How do we practise efficiently so that we utilise what limited time we have to maximum benefit? Here are five essential tips! 

1. Know WHAT you're practising. Having a clear intention of what you're going to work on helps you be mindful of your approach. After you've decided on the piece you're going to practise, also try to set a GOAL for the practice session. What are you trying to improve today and in this session? Do you want to play more fluently, hands together? If you've just had a lesson with your teacher, try to remember what you worked on in your lesson and what your teacher has asked you to do. Do you have a warm up routine? Scales? Exercises? Studies? Set a clear intention for your practice session. Or are you doing maintenance work on your technique? 

Try not to simply repeat a passage or exercise for the sake of playing 5 times or 10 times. Your goal needs to be specific. Eg: I will pay special attention to my staccatos, or to the balance between the hands, or the shape of my phrases, etc. 2. CREATE a positive learning environment. When you're practising, try to devote all your focus on what you are doing - remember: it's quality over quantity! Pick the right time, too - if your mind keeps wandering, maybe you need to take a break, or maybe it's before a meal and you're too hungry. It also helps to have a quiet environment for you to really focus on your practice. Turn off the TV or music around you, turn your phone on silent mode, take distractions away from the piano, and try to minimise conversation with other people (including texting!) while practising.

3. Break it down - ANALYSE. Is there a particular passage in your piece that you struggle with? Try to pick the exact problem spot - circle it with a pencil (or mark it with a small post-it note!), and try to think about WHY it's difficult. Is there an unexpected leap? A black note? A chord? Are the two hands doing different things at once? Is there a difficult note to read? Is there an ornament? Asking yourself these kind of questions helps you realise what you need to think of when you're approaching that spot as you play. Try to isolate the spot and practise it several times. Often it's enough to know what the challenge is and where it is in the piece, and your mind will trigger correctly if you take note of it mindfully. 

4. RECORD your own practice. Once you have spent some time practising, now it's time to record and listen to your progress! You can use your phone (or ask a family member to do this for you) to record an audio or a video, and make sure to listen back! It's one of the greatest ways to see if you're on the right track. You may find your own playing different to how you think you sounded. This is also a great way to train your ear to listen critically and become your own teacher in the long run.

5. Practice SLOWLY. Practice slowly. This is one of the most important things to do as a musician. Even if you know a piece really well, it is a good idea to practise slowly, and do this frequently (even better with a metronome used effectively!). Listen to the sound you're producing, and make sure that all the details are still in place. The common tip with metronomes is to start very slowly, and increase gradually. Be mindful of how your mind (and hands) react to the metronome speed. If you feel scrambly at any time and not in full control, or it's not possible to play accurately at the chosen speed, the tempo is already too fast for now. Only increase to the tempo you can handle comfortably, and each day this threshold will increase. And of course, you don't have to play the entire piece in one sitting. Pick a small portion (2 phrases, for example) and just get to work! 

BONUS TIP Now to put it altogether ... you need ENDURANCE! Playing the piano is more than just training the fingers to react quickly and produce notes. You also need to train the ability to focus consistently throughout a piece, and pieces also naturally become longer as you become more advanced. Even if you are a fast reader, or you have an efficient practice method that saves you time, endurance is one aspect of playing the piano that can't be achieved in a small amount of time. If you only practise in short bursts, you wouldn't be able to build the stamina to last through a piece with 5 or 10 pages, or even more - just as you wouldn't only train 100m sprints in order to prepare for a full marathon. This stamina won't come overnight, but is one of the most important assets for a musician. This is something that one of my mentors said to me which has stuck, on why it is important to practise correctly: Practice makes PERMANENT. How true this is! I hope this has been helpful - please let me know if you have tips to share in the comments!

Happy practising! Misa


#practisetips #teaching #students

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