Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Look After Yourself!

Whether you have your own teaching studio or work for an organization, there is a temptation to schedule lessons back to back. If you have a lot of students in a row, this can be a recipe for burnout.

I know, I’ve done it — figuring I can get through a lot of lessons on a single day with no breaks. Sometimes, it’s just hard to say no when there’s an opening for a lesson and somebody wants it.

But you do need to look after yourself, for the sake of not only your own mental and physical health, but also for the sake of your students.

I don’t need experts to tell me this, because I’ve found out the hard way, but the experts do say that it’s important to your metabolism that you eat every three of four hours. If you go too long between meals, your metabolism starts to shut down, and then when you eat a big meal, your body doesn’t know what to do with all the extra calories. Best to keep the fire going, keep feeding that stove, and eating on a regular basis, even if not as much at a time.

Whether you’re at home or teaching at a school, be sure to have quality snacks and drinks with you for time between lessons, and be sure to actually eat something significant (not necessarily a lot) every 3-4 hours. For this you’ll need to schedule time. Set that time aside by blocking out a “lesson time” for yourself in your Music Teacher’s Helper calendar. A half hour is nice but it could theoretically be 15 minutes if you have food and drink ready — and if you can finish the previous lesson on time.

When I tried this, I discovered that I maintained a much higher level of energy than when I tried to plow through lesson after lesson. I knew I could handle “plowing” through lessons — I have my Daily Summary from MTH and enough experience to really focus on and help my students — but when I’m reasonably fed and watered, I have energy to spare for humor, new ideas, and a varied approach.

You might choose to offer 55 minute lessons and finish on time so you can take a breath, and get a moment to yourself for a drink or snack, or even to enter lesson notes online into MTH and reconciling a lesson; or to write those notes with a pen or pencil (remember those?) in a notebook so you can transfer it to your online lesson notes later.

It’s not a crime to schedule 45-minutes on the hour and allow 15 minutes between lessons! I know, it’s hard to think you’re deliberately spending an hour and only getting paid for 45 minutes, but it might mean that you can have a bit, drink more water, feel better, enter lesson notes you won’t have to do later, and generally have a more energetic and calm presence for your teaching time.

You might mix and match, and schedule a few back to back 30 minute lessons, but allow 15 before a longer lesson, or just leave a space of a half-hour for your own sake.

As to snacks, remember that there are really tasty snacks out there that won’t leave you feeling bloated, jittery, or on a sugar-high (i.e. maybe avoid doughnuts and coffee!). You just need to be a little creative and do a little research and trial-and-error.

For your breaks, you may even want to bring a novel to read, or a magazine that has nothing to do with music, just to give your mind and spirit a break for short periods of time. Facebook, texting, etc., probably will only add anxiety and not provide a break to your over-multi-tasking modern mind!

So plan for some mental breaks, quality snacks and periodic meals, and be sure you drink enough water. It’s amazing what a difference these things can make in turning a heavy teaching day into a fun and productive one. And don’t forget — one of the easiest and most effective mental and physical breaks is to simply take a 15-minute walk.

For both you and your students, look after yourself!

About the Author

Ed Pearlman
Ed Pearlman has focused on performing, teaching, and judging fiddle music for over 30 years, offering performances and workshops throughout the USA and in Canada and Scotland. His original training was with members of the Chicago and Boston Symphonies, and he played with orchestras and chamber groups at Yale and in Boston. He currently teaches privately in Maine and at workshops around the countr... [Read more]

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