10 Ways to Act Like a Professional [Music Instructor]

Something sort of perversely funny struck me the last time I was teaching Creating a Profitable, No Burnout Music Teaching Studio.  One item on the long list of reasons why music is valuable was “creates self confidence and self esteem.”  And yet here I was talking to a group of talented music teachers who struggled to see themselves as professionals and to have confidence in charging a living wage for themselves.   To me, the biggest piece of feeling like a professional means you must believe in your own worth.

But maybe you don’t quite feel like that valuable professional yet.  No worries!  If you act professional, people will treat you like a professional.  (And you probably already ARE acting professional in many ways!) If you aren’t feeling very professional, acting professional and being treated as a professional will help you get there!

Here are 10 things you can do to act professional—if you do it often enough, it will become real!

Respond promptly.

To emails, voicemails, texts, any kind of communication.  Even if you don’t have an answer or you can’t respond fully until Sunday.  Even if the email says, “Thanks for the email! I’m crazy busy until Sunday but then I will respond in detail!” Getting back to someone right away let’s someone know you’ve heard them, even if you can’t deal with their request immediately.  This is critically important when you have complaints or other difficult situations!

Be reliable.

If you say you are going to teach a music lesson at a certain time on a certain day of the week, do it.  Constant rescheduling (while it may be convenient for you), can create real headaches for your families.  Frequent lesson shifting makes you seem flighty—not a good way to be perceived as professional.  If your families get frustrated enough, they may seek a more reliable music instructor.  Also, if you are consistent with your lesson schedule, it’s much easier to NOT reschedule, make up, or credit lessons missed by students.

Be Prepared.

Have a lesson plan for each music lesson you teach.  Even if it’s 4 words on a sticky-note on your wall (this is roughly what mine are).  It’s even OK if you often completely throw out your lesson plan and wing it.  Being prepared shows your students that you have a long term plan for their learning.

Be Punctual.

Being on time is probably a bigger deal in the music performance world than in the music teaching world (or the office world, for that matter).  But, starting and ending your lessons on time not only shows your professionalism, it protects you from “Schedule Drift” (when all your lessons start drifting away from their designated times because one lesson went late).  It also protects you from those students who are habitually late and then expect extra time at the end of the lesson—If the music lesson starts and ends on time no matter what, there is no room for argument!

Put it in Writing (for your studio).

Yes, I’m talking about studio policies. When you have policies in writing for your music teaching studio, which you explain when a family enrolls, it gives you a heck of a lot of credibility.  It says, “This is how I do things.  Period.”  It gives you confidence to run things the way you want to. It sets expectations and lets everyone know they are being treated fairly. You can also refer to them in the future to clarify things for anyone who may have forgotten!

Put it in Writing (for your students).

Take notes on your music lessons with students, and give notes to your music students.  You want to know what you did last week so that you can pick up where you left off each week. (See above about having a long term plan for a student’s learning!)  Also, having notes helps your students follow your instructions at home!

Dress for Success. 

No, I don’t mean wear a power suit.  But, it is important to look tidy and groomed for your lessons.  Think about what you’re wearing when you put it on in the morning.  What does this say about me to my students? Personally, I wear bright colors when teaching because I teach in groups.  I figure that if I’m the brightest thing in the room, they’ll look at me! Other teachers I know wear drab, conservative clothes because they don’t want to shift any focus away from the student.

How you say it matters.

This is a pretty nebulous one, but very important. It’s hard to explain, and it takes time and experience to learn to do this well. When you are faced with a situation where you are challenged, flustered, or otherwise put on the spot by a music student or a music parent, how do you handle it? Does your frustration come out in your words, voice tone, or body language?  A professional handles such things with grace and aplomb, with politeness and caring.

Don’t take it personally.

When a music student quits, it’s easy to have hurt feelings. But, unless the family has given you specific feedback that your behavior or your teaching led them to quit, it’s not personal!  They have to make business decisions for their family too! If you can let students go gracefully with love in your heart, they will be more likely to recommend you to others in the future!

Love in your heart, Confidence in yourself.

When you speak from a place of love with confidence in your abilities it is easier to set those turbulent emotions aside and be the professional music instructor you know you are.  To take a quote completely out of context: “Love is patient, love is kind.  Love is never envious or boastful or rude.”  Or to take another quote, even MORE out of context: “Be the change you want to see in the world!”

What are other ways that you could act professional? I’d love to read your comments. 

4 thoughts on “10 Ways to Act Like a Professional [Music Instructor]”

  1. Hello! Great Info! I Have A Few Questions About Charging A Prorated Monthly Fee. How Do You Collect $ $ The Weeks Off (Let’s say Summer Months)? I Love The Idea Because I Struggle Financially Through The Summer. Also How Do You Handle Snow Days Or When Student Cancels?

    PS I Do Not Have A Studio. I TraveL Home To Home. Do You Really Charge $40/ Lesson? I’m Way Low & I Travel To Their Homes.

    I Appreciate YouR Time

    1. Hi Demetra!
      I teach year round, which makes it completely logical to continue billing through the summer months, and my monthly fees are prorated so that I still get time of AND income. I take a total of 7 weeks off/year. For some more detail on how I do it, check out my August 18 post: http://myobmusicteacher.com/2014/08/18/how-to-take-vacation-and-retain-students/
      If you are committed to NOT teaching in the summer, there are many ways you could mitigate the financial struggle of the summer. For instance, requiring payment in June to reserve the lesson time in September, having special summer sessions with fewer lessons for a lower price, doing summer camps, etc.
      For snow/sick days, I do monthly all-studio make up lessons during the schoolyear, and I don’t make up any lessons 1:1.
      These are both topics we cover in my class Creating a Profitable, No-Burnout, Music Teaching Studio – I’m not running one in September, but if you’re on the mailing list, you’ll know when I do the next one!
      $40 was just for illustration and ease of math, but my rate is not too far off that. I charge $144/month for my shared Simply Music Lessons which amounts to roughly $37/lesson.
      Be sure to sign up for your free 15 min consultation!

  2. All great points, and useful guidelines for people in any industry. Often it comes down to respect for yourself, for others, and for the situation at hand.

    I especially love the “respond promptly.” That’s my favorite thing!

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