Are You a Workaholic Piano Teacher?

As I reflect on changes I would like to make in the new year (aka New years resolutions), I’d like to share something I’ve noticed about piano teachers. At the risk of ruffling a few feathers, I’m just going to say it:

Piano teachers tend to be workaholics.

Perhaps that’s too much of a generalization and perhaps I think this because I tend to be one myself. But I think it’s safe to say that anyone who works from home has a tendency to be a workaholic. It’s just difficult to separate ourselves from our work when we work from home. Take a moment to do some inventory:

  • Do you frequently find yourself thinking about piano related things on the days you are not teaching?
  • Do you teach more than 5 days a week?
  • Do you have any large blocks of time during the week in which you are not thinking of music related matters?
  • Do you have any free evenings when you can go out with friends who are not self-employed?
  • Does your family complain that you work too much?

Let’s face it, piano teaching is a 2nd shift job. Working 2nd shift tends to kills our social life which research is finding that we desperately need to stay healthy! When our social life is dead, we tend to become isolated and find it difficult to find ways of “sharpening our saw” by being around others. While this certainly affects us negatively in the short term, there are long term implications of this as well. According to a University of California study, isolated individuals have a 45 percent greater risk of dying earlier compared to individuals who feel connected with others. (A Longer Life is Lived with Company)

Recently, I asked on the ComposeCreate facebook page regarding the Christmas break, “Do you find it easy to really ‘take a break’ during the time off or do you find yourself prepping for the next semester of lessons?” I was pleased that many people mentioned that they would be taking time off, but many gave the caveat that they were also going to be planning, catching up, or organizing for the new year. Now there is nothing wrong with doing this and I will even be doing a bit of catch up myself,  but I do notice that we tend to use much of our time off to catch up and plan rather than to take a break and re-energize for both our personal and professional life.

Perhaps it’s just me. If that’s the case, that at least the following list will help me in the next year as I seek to purposely relax, re-energize, enjoy my family, sharpen my saw, and do nothing so as to be a better teacher for my students. But if you too find yourself struggling with workaholism, then I hope this is a helpful list of things you can do to purposefully give yourself strategic breaks in the new year:

Ways to fight against Piano Teacher Workaholism:

  • Schedule real breaks.
    It’s been helpful to me to schedule several two week breaks during the year in which I do no piano related activities. This means I have to plan ahead, do my catch up the week before, and plan for the next semester in advance, but I’ve found it to be well worth thereal break I can give myself when I do these things.
  • Establish office/email hours. 
    It used to be enough to schedule office hours, but since smartphones have enabled email to follow us wherever we go, scheduling a specific time to return emails from piano families is important. It has also been effective for me to schedule certain times in which Iwon’t answer email (like weekends and evenings).
  • Sharpen my saw. 
    I have had a most delightful time inviting colleagues into my house for coffee or lunch in the last year. Though I “didn’t have the time” for this, I found that I could always squeeze more out of my time than I thought possible. Given the great ideas and encouragement I received from these gatherings, I now label these meetings as  “important” since we can usually make time for what is important.
  • Find a hobby. 
    I’ve always been a little sad that since music is my job, it doesn’t always function as the break that a different hobby would give me. Recently though, I did find a new hobby and it’s been great in helping me take a break from music related matters.
  • Say no to makeup lessons. 
    There’s an in depth article about the whys and hows of this here: To Give or Not to Give Makeup Lessons. Suffice it to say, I have so much more time and happiness in my life since I don’t freely give away my personal time for unpaid work time. My family is happier with me too!
  • Unplug completely several times in the year.
    Last year, my family and I took a long vacation. It was amazing to me to note that, though I wanted to unplug, it took me four whole days to come to the point where I was not regularly checking my smartphone for texts or emails. When I finally got to the place where I stopped checking my phone, I was able to relax completely. It was definitely what I needed. Certainly, “out of office” auto-replies in this context are helpful so that I don’t feel that I need to respond.  
  • Regularly remind myself about what is important. 
    As I finish this article, in the wake of the shootings in Connecticut, I am reminded that those piano teaching issues that face us all are not nearly as important spending time with those I love. I need to remind myself of this regularly by asking, “How important is this issue in the grand scheme of things?”

How do you guard against working too much? I’d love to hear your ideas!

 

Wendy Stevens is a composer, piano teacher, and blogger on creativity and piano teaching.  She received her Bachelor of Music in Piano Pedagogy and her Masters of Music in Theory and Composition from Wichita State University. Wendy is a member of MTNA, KMTA, and her local association WMMTA. She is a nationally certified teacher of music and is also a member of ASCAP.

Wendy enjoys composing and giving presentations on creativity, composition, business issues and technology. Wendy’s own compositions are published with Concordia Publishing House, Augsburg Fortress, and Hal Leonard. She maintains a website to assist music teachers and encourage creativity in students here: ComposeCreate.com.