Friday, March 06, 2009

Why Does Somebody Always Have to Inconvenienced?

I am a piano teacher. Currently, I teach 16 students (14 during the days and 2 in the evening every other week) and because of our local school schedule, I usually teach from 3:30 to 5:30 (give or take 30 minutes) Monday through Thursday. I have Fridays off, but this is so I can keep my sanity (plus the school gets out early on Friday, so it's nice to have some flexibility to take the kids places for the afternoon).

I have had a schedule similar to this for almost 6 years --even when we lived in California. I love to teach piano lessons! It has always felt like "me" time, and the best part is watching a child progress from week to week (you know --students who actually practice). I'm a no-nonsense teachers with a fabulous sense of humor, so all of my parents and students actually like me, I think. But I'm firm. I don't put up with excuses or "I couldn't because my mom..." because I used to be a student like them, and I'm not stupid. I refuse to put up with crap, and many times my students have received some good lectures (followed by compliments and my fabulous sense of humor). And yes, I have made some students cry --but it's always the guilty ones. Go figure.

Anyway, suffice it to say I love to teach and I've been doing it for a while (6 years can be "a while", right?). But something happened last week that rocked my world --and it was the smallest of small situations:
The woman who took #2 to theater classes decided that she needed to stop doing all carpools for the after-school-activities because it was negatively affecting her daughters.

At first, I was miffed. I teach 4 piano students on theater class day, and I didn't understand why she wouldn't just take my kid (who lives around the corner). I called a friend and asked her to drive #2 to the next theater class, and she said something to me that just clicked: Maybe the neighbor was doing something inconvenient for other people because her children were in need. This thought forced to the forefront my concerns about teaching piano lessons --my kids don't really like it.
They never have, really.
Before I go on, I want to emphasize that I think it's okay for kids to have inconvenience and see that mom has things she needs to do --and they will survive. I do not need to be at their beck and call --in fact, I usually make them figure out a lot of things for themselves. I'm a huge advocate of teaching my kids independence (but not to extremes!) and I've never been a helicopter mama (hovering). So, it's not bad that my kids are playing in the play room with the babysitter while I teach piano lessons upstairs. They survive --and I'm here if they need them.
But they still don't like it.

So, here are my children who have never liked me teaching piano lessons every single day, and I can't even drive one of them to theater class which is only 10 minutes away (if that). And then I thought: I should just stop.
[Another disclaimer: I'm not saying anything about working mothers. This is about me and my situation. If you work and you love it, awesome! If you work and you hate it, I'm sorry! But the truth is that I'm a SAHM, and so I have choices I can/should/get to make. Right? Right. Thanks.]

The hardest part, right now, is that the money coming in from piano lessons helps pay our grocery and other bills, and so I feel some pressure to continue teaching because of that. The other hard part is what I said earlier --I love teaching.

So, what do I do? How do I adjust what I'm doing to benefit my happiness as well as my kids? For the longest time I waffle between just wanting to quit outright to teaching forever. But I realized something else:
My daughter leaves for school around 8:15AM. She comes home from school right as I start teaching --I don't see her until dinner. And then less than 2 hours later, she's in bed. Next year, this will be 2 of my kids. The next year, it will be 3 of them. This gives me about one hour in the morning and two hours at night.
Who knew I would miss my kids so much?

Brandon has a solution that might work: Just lessen the students. Work 2 days a week instead of 4. Pick 8 students who actually practice and show up for lessons, so it will be rewarding and worth it --but I won't feel overwhelmed and our kids will have a more accessible mother.
I love this idea. I could even start a wait list if I wanted --and maybe provide suggestions for other teachers (except I don't know many).
But the question is, when do I do it?

When I told the friend (from above) about this, I said:
If I reduce my students now, the parents aren't going to be very happy, and I really don't want to give them a tough situation. I'd feel like I'm screwing them over, you know?
Friend: So, you'd rather screw over your kids than screw over the parents?
me: Well, when you put it like that...

So, dear reader, here is my question and where I need some advice: Do I plug along and wait until the baby is born, and then reduce my student count drastically in September? (I'll probably take all of July/August off.)
Or do I figure out a way to drastically reduce my student count now? (I would do it in a very polite and kind way, of course.)

If you were me, what would you do? Please advise!


The Hopkins said...

I've taught piano for 20 years. At one point I taught 20 students. That was way too much. Two days a week became my limit.

When my kids were young I told my students/parents that I'm a mom first. My kids could always come and talk to me or ask me questions during lessons. If students wanted to take lessons from me it was with the understanding that I might have to jump up and change a diaper or help a child. Consequently I charged less than other teachers.

Those after school hours are the most important so if you can - cut back - you can teach all day and night when the kids are grown - it happens fast...

Annette Lyon said...

That's a tough one. I'm suddenly really glad that my "thing" can be done when the kids are at school.

I know this would be hard, but could you teach a student before school in the mornings?

Or you could cut back on the number of days but add one or two students to each day so you're not cutting them in half.

I'm assuming you have 4 students per day--could you teach 2 days a week but have 5 or 6 on one day?

If you added one before school too, that would be 6 or 7 students two days a week, and then the income wouldn't be cut drastically.

Just spitballing here . . .

By the way, you sound like my kind of piano teacher. Ours is similar, and I know of families who have quit because she doesn't take crap--she's too "hard" on them (when they don't practice--give me a break). And yes, she's made one of my kids cry. But he totally deserved it. My kids can play piano much better than most kids their age, and it's thanks to her. And she's nice and funny too.

Grandma Rozla said...

That is a hard one, but coming from one whose kids are all grown up, they grow up so fast and leave your nest even faster and then you will have all the time your heart desires to teach piano. I say start cutting back now, give your babies more of your time now when it is important to them. The older they get the more they will be able to do for themselves and the less of you they will want at times.

I try to live by the motto "Just for today" so just for today what is it that your kids need - just for today are you missing important moments with your kids for someone else's? What you are doing is a great thing - but just for today is being the mom first a greater thing?

Good luck friend! Love ya lots!

JustRandi said...

Set a date, send out a letter, and be done.
If my piano teacher were to do that, I would want at least 2 weeks to try to find someone else. And I'd probably ask her for names of other teachers.

I think people completely understand.

Tammy said...

I know it is a very tough decision, but i think to lessen your load would be wonderful. I am looking forward to when we sell our property and I can go back to being a stay-at-home mom and be there when the kids get home. I miss the terribly so this is a great opoortunity for you to leesen your own load. I think hubby hit the nial on the head. You'll still get the satisfaction of teaching and watching your students blossom and at the same'll put your children higher on your list. Good luck with your decision. I know it is a tough one!!!

Julie said...

For my nickel's worth, I'd say do it now (as in: in the next month). I say that because when you have the new baby, your time is going to be devoted to him/her for a good little while, so your older kids are going to suffer a bit for that. SO, if you have the chance to give them a lot of extra love and attention now -- before the baby is born -- I say DO IT.
Of course, I would never say that unless you asked what I thought. But you did, so there you go.
And I think parents completely understand.

Julie P said...

Ditto ditto ditto to Julie above. It's always hard making decisions where you feel like you're disappointing and upsetting people, but you need to take care of YOU and YOUR littles first.

(the word verification is POTTEE - seriously)

Clint, Rachel, and Hailee said...

Don't do it all at once. Gradually "get rid of" one or two a month then by the time your baby is born, you will be down to the number that you want. Like my mom said, think about "just for today:

flip flop mama said...

Before I even got to the part about Brandon's idea, I thought that you need to cut some students. I like JustRandi's idea. I think parents understand that our lives don't revolve around their kids lessons. You need to be a mother first and if you let parents know in advance I'm sure they would be understanding. Good luck

Leslie said...

I'm the kind of person who would just want to get it done now. I would give parents some time to find new teachers & if you are having trouble coming up with suggestions for them, call the music dept. at BYU and ask if they have students who are looking for students, or other resources...they should be able to give you some good help!

And...I just have to say...I think it's great thing to take back some of your time to focus on your kiddos. I totally hear you though on the reasons it's hard to do!!!

earlfam said...

I'm in a hurry so I couldn't read all of the other comments. I hope I'm not being repetitive.

Honestly and sincerely, you need to pray about it. You're right that every situation is different and there are arguments for and against and there are a lot of different opinions. It's good to collect all of those and think them through. But in the end you're going to find the answer on your knees and you will know that it is right.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'd say try to give people a little warning so they can start looking for new teachers, but ultimately you have to do what's best for your family. I'm sure your students' families will understand. They might be a little annoyed by the inconvenience or bummed because you are such an awesome teacher, but they'll understand.

Amber said...

Yep. Look out for your kiddos. Pick a day. Maybe say you'll teach until school's out for the summer. That gives a good breaking point. Tell your kiddos that you will be done with piano when they are done with school- make a countdown calender or something. Then when school starts again you can decide what you are going to do. Let the parents know that you will only be taking a limited few back in the Fall and that they need to talk to you if they would like you to keep teaching thier child.
Good luck Cheryl, make a decision and add it in your prayers. See how you feel. :)

Amanda D said...

I would set a date, say the end of the school year and then cut it in half. Have a concert (I can't think of the word, sorry) and call it good. That way you have the summer with your kiddos. Good luck!

m_and_m said...

Who knew I would miss my kids so much?

All I can say is that they do grow up fast.

But I think you brought up something important...there is no one right answer. I can't help but wonder if you have a middle ground in there somewhere.

But then again, with baby coming, it might just be a good time to try stepping back and see how it feels.

Or step back a little and see how that feels. If you feel relief, you may consider stepping back more?

I dunno...just throwing out possibilities to mull over.

I had an experience like this last fall. I was in a choir that I loved, but kept feeling the nagging feeling that my kids just needed me home. It was so easy to think, "Oh, it's only once a week. Oh, hubby is home."

But the nagging wouldn't go away. I finally made the decision to not do the choir. I gave up something I loved, and it felt right.

And yet, other things I love have kept their place in my life.

The balancing act is never easy.

But God can help you figure it out. Follow your gut, even if it's hard.

(This becomes more difficult, imo, becuase it's helping your fam finances...there are just too many factors here for anyone but God to really know about, ya know?)

Cardalls said...

I think this is a decision that you, Brandon and the Lord have to make together. It involves the entire family. However I agree with the other readers who say your kids are only young once and you don't want to have any regrets! You will do the right thing.

Kelly said...

This happened to us. The piano teacher needed more family time. She sent out a letter saying at the end of the following month she would no longer be teaching, and she included other teacher's names with the letter as a courtesy. We found another teacher, I never associated being inconvenienced finding a new teacher with THAT LADY was inconveniencing ME!

How to reduce students is harder. Who to choose? Once again, tell the parents you are downsizing for the sake of your family and ask them to re register, first come first serve or something. Those who are really, really devoted to sticking with you as their teacher will be lined up, and those who always forget their paperwork...won't.

For the very short term, I have an idea. Ask the mother of the student during Theater time to drive your daughter the 10 minutes, during her child's lesson. Give her a discount on her lesson. We did that once, I took my piano teacher's kids to their music lesson, I was usually sitting in the car waiting for my kid anyway and I got a $10 discount on piano!

Good luck! No matter what, who is going to argue with you needing more time for your children?

Anonymous said...

I just stopped teaching and had the exact same feelings that you are having. I knew it was right to stop though...I was giving all my time and attention in the afternoons to other people's kids and was neglecting my own. Right after I quit teaching my husband lost his job. Ouch! I'm still happy I stopped, even though I enjoyed teaching (and the money that came along with it helped). My relationship with my kids, particularly my second oldest, has improved a lot. I helped the parents of my students find new teachers and gave them advance notice. Yes, they were probably inconvenienced, but they were all nice about it and totally understood! Sorry, I don't know if my story helps, but it's nice to know that others are dealing with the same issues :) Do what's right for YOU!

Rochelleht said...

Go to the end of the school year. Our teacher doesn't even do lessons in the summer.

Anonymous said...

If it were me--anticipating the arrival of a new baby--I would start reducing my student count right away, or rather, notify my students' families right away that I will be reducing my student count in the near future. I would give them at least a month's notice, though. (Going to the end of the school year would be nice for them, but the decision shouldn't be primarily about the convenience of others. It's your life, right? You want to teach 'til school's out, awesome. If not, they'll get over it.)

Since you've already decided that you want to teach less in order to give your kids more of your attention, you may as well make the change sooner than later. As someone-else-sorry-I-don't-remember-who already said, you're going to have a new baby who will be taking more of your time, so why not give more of your time to your older kids now?

Sara said...

wow, you've gotten a lot of feedback already.

from the few i've read, it looks like others are agreeing with me. do it now/asap.

i have felt the similar struggle with my etsy shop. i have to always remind myself that I'M in charge and there's no shame in telling someone NO. most people are very understanding, especially if it's about FAMILY.

Kerri said...

I taught piano for 17 years. It was how I saw myself, as a musician and a teacher. But there came a time when it became increasingly clear that I was putting other peoples' children in front of my own. Those after school hours become more and more precious, and this year my oldest started junior high. My first two weren't practicing well because I was at the piano with other peoples' children. Our home was more stressful than it needed to be. I couldn't really help with homework. Other people had to take my children everywhere they needed to be.

After much prayer and fasting, my husband & I decided it was time to put our family first. I let everyone know last spring that I would not be teaching after the summer. I tried to find the right teachers to match personalities, which was tricky, but I needed to feel like I wasn't dumping my students with nowhere to go. I thought about just keeping some students, but I felt like after 17 years, I'd like to try not teaching.

This was MY experience, and it doesn't mean that your choice should be the same. Listen to the spirit and know that there are times and seasons for all things.

Oh, and the fun thing? I've started practicing again in earnest and am getting ready for my first solo recital in years. The Lord opens doors when others shut.

Cheryl said...

You guys are the greatest. Thank you so much for all of your advice and experience --it was awesome and has really helped me mull over what I would like to do.

Thank you so much!

Louise said...

okay, this is random. I am Brandon's old seminary teacher. I got to your site through Carrie's.

I had this same problem when I was about your age. Only it was teaching painting--which I loved.

When my oldest complained, I quit cold turkey. The money really didn't make that much difference. I loved spending more time with my kids. But that, too was only temporary, as a call to teach early morning seminary came right on the heels of me quitting teaching.

My love for teaching painting faded into a greater love for the beautiful people that touched my life forever--deeply.

And if you have a chance to be Brandon's wife. . . and the mother or his children. . . girl. . .focus on that with all your heart. You'll be glad for all eternity. They'll be plenty of time for piano when you're kids are older, gone, and you're alone all day.

The Conductor said...

From all the fantastic advice you've already gotten, you probably don't need more! But since I, too, taught piano for a while, I felt drawn to comment here. You have many wise friends, Cheryl -- I love that they all place utmost importance on the family and they know the decision must be made with your husband and on your knees.

My only other piece of advice was something I tried when I had 22 students and a waiting list about half that long. Like you, we needed the additional income I was bringing in. But unlike you, I didn't ever really LOVE teaching, and I only had two kids at the time so I didn't necessarily need those after-school hours with them...

Anyway, I decided if I added anyone else, I would just tell them the fee was $20 higher a month than what the rest were paying. I was shocked to find out the next two people in line were actually willing to pay that!

You probably can't do something that drastic to your current students, but maybe increasing the tuition (a little) for those you do keep can cover for the ones you lose... ?? Just an idea. Good luck Cheryl! I'm sure you will do what's best.

Alison Wonderland said...

I think I'd wait until after the baby's born just for convienience all around. (It just seems like the most natural time.) But of course, ultimately it's your call.