Teaching 101: Understanding Yourself

Fill your days with students who give you energy and feed your spirit.

What can you do before you even start teaching to understand your own needs so that you can better meet the needs of your students?

Do you have children of your own? How does that affect your current patience with the children of others?

What kind of student do you find most interesting? Preferences aren’t the same as value judgements. You have to make choices, so make ones that help you be the best teacher you can be.

Do you most enjoy teaching students who are:

  • Quirky
  • Talented
  • Compliant
  • Quiet

Take the Find Your Niche Questionnaire now to help you imagine and achieve the best possible studio FOR YOU!


Imagine it’s the middle of a long afternoon of teaching. Say that your fourth or fifth student just came in the door. You’re already feeling exhausted impatient. Has this ever happened to you? Because it’s happened to me!

Before you even plan your teaching for the year, think about what your own needs are. Consider the needs of those that you love — your family. Consider those in scheduling your students and the kinds of students that you take.

Let’s start by thinking about your personal life. Do you have kids of your own. Before I had my own children I was fascinated with the children of other people — especially little ones. They were so cute and adorable.

Then, when I had my own kids, I was not very patient with little children. If the kids were about the same age as my own kids, I found it really hard to keep my cool. I’d kinda used up all of my “kid patience” before they even came in the door. I knew after they left I was going to need more kid patience for my own kids after that.

Now my kids are grown and I’m really enjoying teaching little kids again! Once my kids were not quite so young it was fine to teach little children. But during that time when my children were young, I steered my teaching business as much as possible toward adults. That way, I wouldn’t lose patience with the kids that I did teach.

I can tell you a story about my own poor judgment. I was teaching a little girl I’ll call Arianna. She came on Tuesdays at about 4:00 in the afternoon back-to-back with her sister. Her sister usually had the first lesson and then Arianna had the second. After Arianna I taught the daughter of my best friend. Now, I knew I was in the best mood after Arianna had left. She never practiced, she wasn’t a good choice for me because she didn’t want to be there. I knew that her father and mother had decided she had to take piano lessons until she was the age 14. She didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to teach her, either. But I hadn’t thought about the impact that was having on me and how I was behaving towards my other students.

One day, after her daughter’s lesson, my friend came up to me and said, “You gotta stop teaching Arianna because she’s putting you in the worst mood!”

Wow. I hadn’t thought about that as a business decision. I hadn’t thought about the fact that if I was teaching people that weren’t a good fit for me, who didn’t want to be there, or that I didn’t want to be teaching for whatever reason, it was going to impact my business. It was also going to impact my other students. It wasn’t fair to anybody in that equation.

After my friend told me that, I called up Arianna’s mother and told her I was no longer going to be able to teach Arianna. It was interesting. She just said, “Okay.” She knew that it was a bad fit, too. I just need to learn to speak up.

When you’re thinking about who you’re going to teach, you want to fill your day with students who give you life and nurture your spirit. I used to feel bad about not liking teaching certain kinds of students, but then I realized I don’t have an infinite amount of time. I’m going to be having one-on-one relationships with each one of the students. They deserve to be with someone who really wants to spend time with them.

I realized also that my preference is just a preference. There are lots of fabulous people that weren’t good fits for me. Once I ealized that, that was perfectly fine that I didn’t prefer to teach a certain kind of student, or a certain kind of music, or whatever it was hat were my preferences, they were just preferences. There wasn’t judgment there. There were probably many teachers who would be thrilled to have students that I wasn’t thrilled to have. Once I figured out that I could just be the best teacher that I could be, it helped me make better decisions.

One thing that I like to do is to remember that we don’t need to all be alike and we shouldn’t be. We need to be the different people we are! So when I answer the question, “What kind of student is great for me?” Here’s my answer: I like to teach students who really want to be there! Who want to come and study with me and who are motivated to work hard at least at their lesson (if not always in between.) And within some limits, I enjoy a challenge, so teaching children who are outside the realms of the very typical students. These are good choices for me. Sometimes they’re outside the realm because they’re super talented, and they fly through the world and keeping them contained in some way is the challenge. Sometimes it’s because they have physical or emotional or musical challenges and I find that really interesting. I have a young student right now who came to me with a great desire to learn. A great love of music. She doesn’t have great hands and had an incredibly poor sense of rhythm. I have to say that in many ways I’m more proud of her development, she’s now in high school. She’s playing some Handel right now and she’s playing really tight fabulous rhythm. Her determination to become a stable wonderful pianist has been a source of great joy for me. I found that particular challenge interesting and I met her where she was.

My long- term relationship working with challenging students have come to full circle with her and it’s one of the great joys of my life.

Some people want really compliant students students who don’t ask questions students. Students who don’t ask them why or who don’t respond a lot. For me, that’s a poor choice. Maybe that’s the kind of student you like and you need to figure that out. Try to get more whatever it is that makes you happiest.

The thing to remember is that it’s important that you understand that your studio this year doesn’t have to stay the same each year. Every day that goes by you make choices about who you’re teaching. Every time you get a phone call or email from someone who is thinking about studying with you, you’re making choices about how you’re gonna shape your studio moving forward. And you can move towards a different schedule or a different clientele by acknowledging that you need to do that. You’re planning for it! For instance during for some period of time it might be really advantageous for you to teach all day Saturday. Or even on Sundays. I have I have friends who teach all day Saturday and all day Sunday and then they don’t just much during the week. That’s never been the a better schedule for me but there been times when I taught that big chunk of Saturday morning because that was a great way for me to get a lot of students back-to-back when they could come. There’s an upside to teaching Saturday mornings because students aren’t as tired. As you’re trying to incorporate teaching if you have a family, one thing that I did was was keep at least one afternoon free a week to do parenting things. There were some things that you just simply couldn’t delegate and you couldn’t put on other days so I needed at least one day a week to book dentist appointment and other things my kids needed. Unless you can get an entire studio of home schooled students, or if your super lucky and can find a private teaching job at some sort of private school that incorporates classess during the day, you’re gonna have to teach after school. Think about how you can make that work the best for you. Realize you have choices you can always say no.

You do not have to take on everybody else’s problems and everybody else’s scheduling. You can figure out what’s going to work for you and say no if it doesn’t work for you. Think about the stresses that you have in your life and what kinds of personal resources you have that are already maxed out. And that can really make a difference in your ability to teach well.

Now is the perfect time to take the Find Your Niche survey. This particular questionnaire is designed to help you think about your studio and how you might want to organize it. What kinds of students you love to teach, and what decisions you’ll need to make to be successful and happy as a piano teacher. Good luck!