Yesterday evening I attended a training session for district treasurers sponsored by the Ontario Senior Secondary Teachers’ Association, the union that I belong to as a faculty member of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. I have a set of new duties starting in the coming weeks, as I’ve recently agreed to take on the responsibility of being the treasurer of the RCM Faculty Association.
One of the things I’ve noticed in the finest teachers I’ve observed over the years is that they never stand still at their comfort level, but branch out into new and interesting directions even after many years in the studio. Often the new skills that they acquire are only peripherally related to their field of study, but are a way forward into an ever-expanding toolbox of extended teacher skills.
Here is a partial list of the types of skills that teachers may wish to acquire over the course of a career:
- Pursue further degrees in one’s chosen field. There are only limited opportunities for music teachers with a Bachelor of Music degree. Taking a few years off to move on to the next level of academic endeavor (whether at the Masters or Doctoral level) can be a long-term investment in future professional and financial success.
- Receive certification in a specific field. Many teachers energize their work through studies in specific teaching methods, such as Suzuki, Dalcroze, Feldenkrais, Kodály, NLP, and Alexander Technique. Depending on the discipline involved, teaching with certification in these types of methods may involve either a strict approach or the use of the discipline to further inform one’s preexisting teaching methods.
- Continue studies on your instrument. Becoming a music teacher is by no means the end of one’s journey as a performer. One of the best ways to move your own abilities forward is to continue studying with someone better and more experienced than you. Once you get over the initial awkwardness of becoming a professional studying with another professional, you’ll find that this is an extremely rewarding method of keeping your performing chops fresh.
- Learn a new style on your instrument. Why be versed in only one musical style with the possibilities to be discovered in today’s varied cultural landscape? Often the questions you have in one musical style can be answered in another, whether it be in the field of Cuban piano, Flamenco guitar, African drumming, Carnatic violin, or Klezmer clarinet playing.
- Learn a new instrument. If you’re a professional in one instrument, it takes a tremendous leap of faith and courage to learn another one as an adult, but the long-term rewards can completely renew your growth as a musician. I know a prominent piano teacher in Toronto who finally acted upon her lifelong desire to study voice. After a long and arduous 10-year journey, she is now singing professionally, in addition to enjoying a completely re-energized career as a respected piano teacher.
- Learn leadership skills. The connecting threads for groups of music teachers include festivals, associations, boards, executive committees, unions, conferences, publications, concert series, and symposia. They all need people to maintain existing systems, and there can be considerable demand for those interested in either volunteering or working for these types of organizations. Fitting into these organizations or creating new ones require the acquisition of skills specific to particular positions. Bookkeeping, concert promotion, web design, blog writing, Robert’s Rules of Order, music composition, database management, and marketing are only some of the skill-sets that many teachers choose to learn on their way to becoming not just teachers (“content delivery” in modern management parlance) but content creators and thought leaders.
Once you’re over the trepidation of the initial steps, the art of the skill upgrade can be a ticket to expanding your range of work, income, and outlook. Four years ago, I took a tremendous leap of faith by starting The Collaborative Piano Blog, a venture that eventually led to many opportunities I would have never had been able to experience otherwise.
And if you’ll excuse me, I really need to go learn how to use QuickBooks.
What are some of your most important skill upgrades?