Chat – Managing Shared Lessons
Anneka What is your student base like?
sreingold I have 66 now
Anneka Wow! That is excellent
sreingold a few shared lessons, a few private; how many do you have?
Anneka I have been maintaining around 100 students
sreingold that’s my goal
Anneka All shared lessons: 8 adults, 5 kids. Before I also used to teach privately. There are several issues we could discuss in regard to having lots of students
sreingold whatever you can tell me would be great
Anneka One is : Managing the rest of your life, and not letting Simply Music become your total focus! We could also talk about attrition in shared lessons and dealing with that, or treating shared lessons as a team. Or generating shared lessons.
sreingold Tell me about attrition and also the team
Anneka Great subject
sreingold Generating shared lessons is good too. Can you do them all justice or should we stick to one thing?
Anneka You could let me do a big monologue thing, and then just interrupt if anything isn’t relevant to you, or if you have questions. Let’s start with generating shared lessons then.
Anneka If your aim is having 100 students, I strongly recommend having only shared lessons. At least, that is what I have found for myself. Working so hard maintaining the shared lessons, I can’t really afford to also teach privately. It also makes it easier to have shared lessons when private lessons are not an option. Is this something that interests you?
sreingold I‘m trying to do mostly shared lessons…right now i have only 4 or 5 private students from when i wasn’t generating big numbers to start shared lessons, and i charge double to discourage them.
Anneka Straight away during my intro I tell people I teach in shared lessons. I extoll in the virtues of learning in shared lessons. It’s fun.
sreingold I know how to talk about shared lessons, that isn’t a problem. The only reason i’ve started a few private recently is because of scheduling and experience level.
Anneka Apart from the bit that I really believe is valuable to emphasise the importance of the social aspect of musicianship – making music together. Piano is not a good instrument for this because it is so self sufficient: bass, harmony, melody, rhythm; all by yourself. If you just have a few private students that can be handy, because it allows you to learn things in a small setting.
SO back to generating shared lessons. I usually give a few time slots at the introduction session and ask people to fill in their preferences. I tell them that not all shared lessons might get going.
Regarding attrition, it is my experience, and from what I can gather also with other teachers, that the attrition of adults is way bigger than the attrition with kids. Commonly I might lose one kid after the summer holidays out of a shared lesson of ten who have been going for a year. However, I’ll have easily lost 1/3 of the adults by then.
As the second year progresses it’s not uncommon to have numbers down to half. I genuinely believe it’s not me or my teaching…..but that it’s just a thing about adults, education and the pressures of contemporary life.
Keeping up with a shared lesson is quite demanding for people; however, it’s also motivating. In short, I have found it very important to start off adult shared lessons simultaneously, so you can merge them at some stage. Have you found that?
sreingold yes. ..but it hasn’t always been possible
Anneka No, there are several other things that you can do. Sometimes you can ring students that have dropped out earlier and add them to a dwindling later class. Sometimes you can train up students who have had musical experience before and help them join in. Lastly, you can set yourself a “smallest number” amount that you would be prepared to teach as a shared lesson, and if numbers get smaller, pass them on to another teacher. Is that an option for you?
sreingold I like the idea of giving times at your intro session. i don’t do that but instead tell them to give me their times and then try to form shared lessons from that–it takes tons of time–i like your idea better, but I wonder if you have people saying they can’t come to any of those times.
Anneka Worst case scenario you pass them on to a private teacher
sreingold There is one more teacher in all of L.A., so yes i could do that she lives very near.
Anneka But often people firstly don’t want to quit their tennis lessons, but if they realise there is no other option they will
sreingold How often do you advertise for new shared lessons?
Anneka At the introduction session I have a box for alternative times if none of the times suit, and I ring those people up and find out if there is a way to deal with it
sreingold and how big is your smallest shared lesson? also how big is your largest?
Anneka I have one shared lesson of 4 little kids, that I do more as a favour to one of the mums who is a friend of mine. I have since then decided not to take on 6 -7 year olds anymore, because that shared lesson originally had 8 in them. I start all of my shared lessons with 10 -12. Currently, at the end of the year, I have several shared lessons with 9 – 11 left. But most are around 7 – 9.
sreingold Wow, that’s great. I only have room in my house for 6 max so they can dwindle quickly, unfortunately. So your minimum age is8?
Anneka Next year I’m merging shared lessons again, so I should be back to big shared lessons mostly. I use private venues, which also takes a lot of time setting up. I bring in my digital piano and keyboards.
sreingold I guess it’s worth it if you have so many students.
Anneka When I merge shared lessons, time slots come up for new shared lessons. I couldn’t get council permission to teach 6 people from home. It is great fun though having 10 people in a shared lesson
sreingold do you find you often have students eager to start but not a convenient time for them so they go elsewhere?
Anneka I find the energy is better. This year I haven’t taken on students half way through the year, so I think I lost a few. Sometimes I pass them on.
sreingold do they all have a keyboard?
Anneka No, I bring piano + 4 keyboards, which has them often working in shared lessons of 2 -3, which is better than if they all work by themselves.
sreingold are people working on keyboards with sound at same time?
sreingold That’s not distracting?
Anneka I use our school library, which has little booths. It’s fine for the purpose of them getting “it” in their hands
sreingold in shared lessons of 2 – 3 does one play while others watch and then switch?
Anneka yes, they also help each other out and “connect”. It’s a lovely aspect of the class…again, that part of musicianship, playing together, learning from each other, laughing over mistakes. I often encourage them to do songs as duets, either 4 or three hands, or sometimes just both doing the rh at the same time on a different octave. I also encourage them to catch up with each other.
sreingold what do you mean catch up?
Anneka Go to each others’ homes and make music together! whether that is singing with the accompaniments, or doing duets, like fluff pie / Chester, / Night Storm arrangement, Canon in D
sreingold we would say hook up with each other! catch up is to get to the same level!
sreingold it seems that there is little time at your lessons where everyone is arouind main piano. is this true?
Anneka No, there is quite a lot of time around the main piano. Firstly at the beginning, I ask 3 -4 people to play, then when we start on the new material. I only send them off to their keyboards when I’m confident that they know what to do there.
Anneka How do you find it to keep time for yourself, when you have so many students?
sreingold I work hands on about 15 hours a week i think. i haven’t checked lately, and the rest is administrative, which isn’t a lot except at the beginning when i’m forming shared lessons.
Anneka That’s impressive. I spend huge amounts of time with maintenance….ringing students who couldn’t make it, helping students that are falling behind for whatever reason, dealing with inquiries, updating my website, banking, and lastly: thinking about them….
sreingold well, now that you mention all of that i suppose i’m busier than i think
Anneka Are you good at switching off?
sreingold i guess so, when i’m not teaching i’m doing my own thing for the most part, but it is hard sometimes because i’m in my house where i teach. So often I find myself doing things business related when I should be taking time for myself.
Anneka It’s easy to discount that…Are you the primary income earner in your household?
sreingold the only
Anneka Same for me. But I do get a lot of support from my husband Clay…setting up, banking etc. I think not many SM teachers are in our situation
sreingold you mean being the sole support?
Anneka 98% have another source of income
sreingold well, it’s doable if one does shared lessons
Anna Yes, and it helps you really treating your job as a business
sreingold how much do you spend on advertising to generate those kinds of numbers–right now I’m at about $100 – $150 acquisition rate and would like to get that down.
Anneka Way less!
sreingold what do you mean about treating it like a business?
Anneka I make much use of free newspaper articles
sreingold i was asked today if i would discount the private rate (which is 2x the shared lesson) but i said no and she’s starting anyway.
How oftgen does one paper put in a free article?
Anneka I just organised a plug in our Gaz supply quarterly brochure, for the cost of some piano lesson prices. In our local paper there is a heading New Directions, that I have finished an article for for next year’s intake. I then also buy some advertising space.
sreingold do you write them or do the papers write things too?
Anneka I had the same paper do an “Anneka’s first birthday” article for nothing too. I write them, because I feel I know my subject matter much better. I once had an editor insisting that she would write it up, and it became very much like “blurb”. It didn’t stand out from the other articles.
sreingold do they specify numbers of words to you?
Anneka Yes, usually they do. Pictures are very important too. I have found that my best students are often Asian or teachers. I’m intending to look into advertising at the Chinese club, or in some teaching publication for that reason.
sreingold I advertise in some local school newsletters but haven’t found teachers responding. They may not be reading it though as it’s intended for parents.
Anneka I’m thinking not school newsletters, but education department publications.
sreingold what do you do if a shared lesson dwindles to one or two but they can’t come to the time slot of your other shared lessons…do they stop?
Anneka You sometimes can put them on hold, till the next shared lesson is at their level, even giving them material to work with , like accompaniment. For me it also depends a bit on how much I like this student. Again, you can always pass them on to the private teacher, or sometimes you can train them up a bit to join a more advanced shared lesson.
sreingold do you have a lot of word of mouth students?
Anneka yes, loads
sreingold I’m still working on that. i’ve been teaching 2 years–where were you with that at the 2 year point?
Anneka At 2 years I had 90 students. I also offer a free lesson to any student who gives me a referral
sreingold Me too, and i’ve had some but would like more
Anneka I write quarterly newsletters, in which I remind how wonderful it is to spread the word. How one day we will have a world where everybody knows they are musical, and people get together to play music again.
sreingold That’s a great idea–i really should do that. Were they all self-generated?
Anneka At the beginning of my third year I had 115, which has dwindled to 100 by now, the end of my third year. I have “bought” some students, but teachers are very hesitant to pass students on.
sreingold )wow, i’m impressed.
Anneka Yes, I’m quite proud….I’m sure you’ll do the same
sreingold I find myself in sept. adding 30 or so students after numbers have dropped in the summer
Anneka Yes, I did that in my second year
sreingold but then i stop advertising the big 1/2 page ads thinking that it’s getting to late in the school year to generate a big enough response
Anneka This year I was too run off my feet. Also, here there is a greater drop-out rate after Christmas holidays (summer) if they haven’t been going so long. It was my little treat to myself, not taking on shared lessons in September
sreingold Do you have the commitment conversation with people?
Anneka Yes, and I repeat it at different times. Then again, people will still do whatever they think is right for them.
sreingold that’s true i guess…do you find it helps with attrition?
Anneka What I think works well is ringing people up straight away if you have an inkling that there’s something up and discussing it
sreingold but i’ve begun having it and it seems to plant a seed sometimes in people who haven’t given it much thought. That’s good advice…I tend to wait until it’s too late, and then sometimes it just comes out of nowhere when they stop
Anneka My new argument in my arsenal is telling people that they can choose to stop; however, very few people end up coming back…they usually say that’s what they “intend to do”, and that if they just hang in there for the moment I will support them as much as I can, till things are back to normal again.
sreingold that’s really good advice too
Anneka Do you dwell upon it much when you lose students?
sreingold no, it helps to have big numbers
Anneka Good for you
sreingold but i did lose a few this summer that were new, and they didn’t like me, so that was hard for a day or two.
I can’t imagine that!
sreingold it was very weird; i don’t usually have that effect on people!
Anneka At this time of year, I already remind people that things get a bit crazy when Xmas is coming up and that I’ll be gentle on them. The Xmas carols are good for giving people something to do if they have the time and something to NOT DO, if they don’t….I remind them that they have the holidays to catch up on anything that isn’t strong yet
By the way, why did you say those people didn’t like you? DId they tell you that?
sreingold they told me i used the word “wrong” with their kids (I never say that and must have been unusually stressed that day–i’m usually v. patient, etc.); they thought i would be better with adults. Also, the phone rang (i didn’t answer it) and my kids walked through the room….too many bad things all at once.
Anneka Sounds like it wasn’t meant to be….However, I bet you that it was more about them, than all those things you just mentioned
sreingold that’s what Neil said!
Anneka He’s great!
sreingold you can’t have everyone like you all the time and yes, he is great!
Anneka I have to go again!
sreingold thank you so much for talking to me
Anneka It’s very nice chatting with you