leaving an academy to teach at home

said: Apr 3, 2006
 55 posts

I have been teaching at a music academy for about five years. While I have enjoyed the comradare of being on a faculty, I do not seem to share the same views as my collegues regarding music lessons. I am the only Suzuki teacher on staff, and the school has never done anything to help promote the Suzuki program. Two months ago I was able to organize ECC in our city, but this was only possible because an outside source approached me about reviving Suzuki strings in our community. There have been some changes recently, with new owners, and I was hopeful for a fresh start, however, since the new owners took over the music store and academy, no one has been made accessible to the teachers in order to find out what kind of changes we can look forward to in the academy. I have pretty much decided to leave the academy at the end of June and begin teaching at home. (there are also personal, family reasons for this decision). I would like to “down-size” my student load, finding other teachers for my current students who have not interest in working, and make group classes more of a focus, especially for newer students. I currently have 37 students, and I do not want to have that many when I change over.

I guess I am looking for advise from anyone who may have made this transition either as a teacher, or a student, following a teacher. Did your students follow you? Did it take a long time to build your student base back up? Any suggestions for preparing my students that I will be leaving but may not be able to keep everyone? My first priority will be to my committed Suzuki students.

Thanks in advance. I’m a bit nervous about this whole thing and worried about offending people. I have also observed that the music store/academy does not have nice things to say about teachers who leave, and they are currently “the big” music store in town. They (speaking in general terms) promote their own teachers and cut up everyone else.

Mariam said: Apr 3, 2006
Mariam GregorianViolin
Ashburn, VA
34 posts

I now teach privately out of my home, but I used to teach at a community music school. My contract stipulated that I could not teach any students from the school for two years after the contract ended. Nevertheless, I have done well in recruiting new students, and I am much happier teaching privately. It sounds like you are doing the right thing by leaving. Just make sure you know exactly what your contract states with regard to taking students with you. Good luck!

said: Apr 3, 2006
 55 posts

Thanks for your response, Twinkletoes. I am wondering how or if you told your students you would be leaving? Did any of them want to come with you and how did they feel about not being allowed?

Some of my students I have had since I began teaching five years ago. I do not intend to just up and leave without telling them. I would have a hard time telling students that I am not allowed to teach them. I will check my contract, but students should be able to stay with a teacher if they chose to, especially if there is a history and a good relationship.

Lynn said: Apr 3, 2006
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

2 years ago I made the decision to leave a school that had a Suzuki prgram that they wereplanning to to expand into the curriculum. The school was not an easy place to work, even though I got along well with the Head, the other faculty and the kids. I am really bad at keeping my opinions to myself, and the Head had heard plenty of them by the time I made my exit, but we continue on good terms, and I think it was partly because my reasons for leaving ultimately had entirely to do with me and not at all with the difficulties of trying to work in his school.

When you publicize your intentions, the only reasons you’d want to articulate are the ones having to do with needing to reduce your student load/be at home more because of your family, etc. more control over the schedule—things like that that are not critical of the school—because of course you appreciate the ways you have benefited from being a part of their faculty. People’s lives and circumstances change—and now it is time for you to move on. If anyone is offended … well…I guess that’s one way to react!

There are any number of ways to downsize. Once you have answered the question of whether you can take any of your current students with you, you may find that some of your families who are content to coast along will opt themselves out more stringent expectations—saving you the unsavory task of actually wielding the blade. Of course “leading the witness”—as in “these will be the expectations and it seems that that is beyond your current level of interest…” is quite fair!

And I am soooo glad to be on my own!

said: Apr 3, 2006
 122 posts

I second checking your contract-if you’ve signed a non-compete clause (something to the effect that you won’t teach your students if you leave the school) you may be getting yourself in legal trouble. If not, you can take your students from the school.

Lucy’s reccomendation of being POSITIVE about the school you’re leaving is excellent.

This is also a time you can be more stringent about group classes and only take students on at your home studio who will participate in both private and group class. If you write a letter to all the parents letting them know of the change, you can put something positive in the letter about providing all your home students with the very best education you can give them, which will include both private and group classes.

Lucy-how did you let your students and the administration know you were leaving? How much notice did you give? Did the administration get mad?

“When love is deep, much can be accomplished.”
-Shinichi Suzuki

said: Apr 4, 2006
 26 posts

I’ve always been told that the mark of a good job is the potential for an individual to one day be “the executive”, and that is exactly what you now find yourself in a position to do! Congratulations at making the frightening decision to step out on your own.

When my teacher downsized for family reasons, she said I had reached a level of playing that required a teacher who really focused on advanced students (I was 14 and had been beyond the Suzuki books a year). She gave away her newest students & most advanced students. You can always telll the non-working students that their learning style requires a different teacher.

As for dealing with others’ bad attitudes, don’t give them anything true to criticise you over. Always say kind things to them and about them, even if you are in disagreement. Don’t lie, but always state your differences as opinions, and your departure as an adventure or grand experiment.

Begin to really emphasize personal character in lessons so your students will present themselves as great musicians & moral people in public. Your credibility as a Suzuki teacher automatically increases if people notice a pattern of musical excellence combined with moral excellence. If your students play in lots of public situations, you don’t need to worry about your reputation at this store.

Most of the time, the non-compete agreement only lasts as long as your work contract. For legality’s sake you might have to inform the students you want to keep that you plan to teach independently, but that you cannot provide them any other information until the term is over. “I will be in touch, though…<wink, wink>”

Mariam said: Apr 4, 2006
Mariam GregorianViolin
Ashburn, VA
34 posts

I decided that I would leave the school about a year before my contract ended, as I wanted to give my students plenty of notice. Most of them chose to leave the school when I did and join another studio, as my contract prohibited me from teaching them for two years. They are all doing very well in their new program, and I am glad about that! What I told the school was that I was building up my home studio, and it had gotten to the point that I just didn’t have time to teach in two programs (which was actually true!). I didn’t air out any of my grievances at that time, although I’m sure the director knew that I was leaving for other reasons as well. :roll: I just said that my dream had always been to teach out of my home so that when I had children of my own, I would be able to teach AND be a parent more efficiently…again, this is all true!

My understanding is that it is pretty standard for schools to have a clause in your contract prohibiting you from taking students with you. If that is not in your contract, then you are in luck…hopefully most of your students will come with you! However, if your contract doesn’t allow this, then I wouldn’t even consider taking any of them with you…even if you do think you can pull it off without them finding out. I heard of a teacher that tried to do this who got hit with a MAJOR lawsuit. It’s just not worth it.

Good luck, and enjoy the freedom of having your own program!

said: Apr 5, 2006
 55 posts

Thank you for all the feedback and encouragement. My husband and friends have actually been encouraging me to teach at home for a few years now and I have not been ready to take that step. This year however, has been the final straw, working in a place that could care less about me trying to develop a successful Suzuki program. When my administrator flat out refused to work with an outside source (because she didn’t like them) to bring ECC to my city, and then said some other pretty insulting things, I decided I could not teach Suzuki in a place like that. Since ECC I have had several inquiries from potential students, which makes me realize that the interest might be there if I go on my own. I will just have to advertise more.

Then, I thought with the new owners things might change and I might have more control/flexibility. My contract states I cannot teach anywhere else while at the academy, and some other opportunities have come up that I would like to explore. I would have like to discuss the whole situation with the new owners before making a final decision, but they have been completely inaccessible to the teachers. We are supposed to have a meeting at the end of the month. I am discouraged because I enjoy being at a school where there is lots of music and many teachers and people in general, but I am also becoming more excited about being independent. My home is not set up the best for a teaching studio, but my family wants me home, so they will adjust to the constant intrusion and hopefully my students will appreciate the music education in spite o the surroundings. We are planning some renovations to our rec room to turn it into a music studio. It will be cosy, but adequate.

said: Apr 6, 2006
 122 posts

Toven

My contract states I cannot teach anywhere else while at the academy, and some other opportunities have come up that I would like to explore. I would have like to discuss the whole situation with the new owners before making a final decision, but they have been completely inaccessible to the teachers.

Hmmm, as long as you haven’t signed a non-compete agreement you should be fine with talking to your Suzuki parents about studying with you at home after you hand in your resignation. Have you signed anything like “Teacher cannot teach students for a period of 1 year after leaving the Academy” or some statement similar to that? I’d consider reviewing the contract you’ve signed at the school with a lawyer. If paying a lawyer is too cost prohibitive you might want to check out PrePaid Legal: http://www.prepaidlegal.com It’s basically legal insurance for about $25 per month, and no I don’t sell it :)

You might want to consider beginning to advertise for new piano students at home. You might have a students opt to stay at the school after you leave.

“When love is deep, much can be accomplished.”
-Shinichi Suzuki

Grace said: Apr 7, 2006
 Violin
110 posts

Also, be prepared with a solid policy if you don’t have one already. When I was teaching at a music school, the school handled all scheduling, billing, cancellations, etc. So when I switched to home-teaching, I had the first few months of headache before I developed a good policy about these things! It’s better to just have the policy up front.

Other aspects of home teaching:

Make it clear where your students are allowed in your house so they don’t wander all over. I had one student’s little brothers absolutely TRASH some beautiful large lilies in my backyard because the mom let them run around in my yard unattended. Plus, it could have been a major liability if someone had gotten hurt on my property!

Some students (parents) may think they can just drop by “whenever” because you’re “just home” anyway… (example: I’ve had parents call me on their cell phone “we’re in the area, so could we just have our lesson now instead of coming back this afternoon?”) so be very careful about keeping your non-teaching hours off-limits.

said: Apr 7, 2006
 55 posts

Thanks for the reminder about policy. I already have a handbook that echos my academy’s former policies so I plan to just make a few minor, more personal changes. Can you believe the new owners of our academy’s cancellation policy states the student only has to give 24 hours notice? We used to require two weeks and so that is what I shall continue. I have also been used to three terms, so I think I will continue that, requiring payment of each term at the beginning. I think one big inconvenience for students staying with me will be payment. Currently they can have their payments through automatic withdrawl or on credit card and I will not be able to offer those options.

One other “problem” could be pets. I plan to put up a gate to keep my dog from greeting everyone as they enter the house, but my cats are used to going whereever they want in the house. I do not want to keep my studio door closed because the noise would be distracting.

said: Apr 8, 2006
 122 posts

Some families won’t care about the cats wandering into a lesson, so if you don’t want to separate the animals from your studio you could take on famlies that don’t mind your felines being friendly. I have a few home students that don’t care about my kitties wandering in on a lesson. It does change the atmosphere though. What do you mean about the noise being distracting if you close the door?

“When love is deep, much can be accomplished.”
-Shinichi Suzuki

said: Apr 8, 2006
 26 posts

One of my former teachers had a cat, and I enjoyed having it around to play at my ankles, tho it could be shooed if it became a distraction.

said: Apr 8, 2006
 26 posts

I have liability insurance for my home studio tacked onto my regular renter’s insurance policy. It only added about $100 a year and covers up to $1 million per incident, lifetime max of $2 million. Even if parents sign a waiver, it’s still a good idea to have this insurance because it covers defense attorney fees. I’ve been told you shouldn’t advertise that you have liability insurance to your students or parents, though…

Mariam said: Apr 8, 2006
Mariam GregorianViolin
Ashburn, VA
34 posts

Ah, the feline issue! I am struggling with this right now. I am not able to keep my three cats out of the studio without shutting them into one of the upstairs bedrooms…and that’s what I’ve been doing! :( They are just too interested in the foot charts…and they will also sit in anyone’s lap, regardless if that person likes cats. Eventually I’m sure I will have someone that can’t study with me because they are allergic. I really need a new house where I can make the studio a “cat free zone”.

Lynn said: Apr 8, 2006
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

I have 2 cats. 1 is not interested in “outsiders” and stays away, and the other will come in and say “hi”. Yes, it’s a distraction—hard to ignore a cat who’s head-butting you insistantly!— but the kids are flattered by the attention and once he’s recieved his due, he wanders off again. Occasionally he gets to be enough of a pest that I have to send him off to the kitchen and close the door.

I have wood floors in my house, a sisal rug in the front room that I use for my studio, and the furniture is all wood. I have little problem with students who are allergic to cats, since there is no carpet or upholstery collect hair and dander…the wood and sisal is easy to keep clean, and I will vacuum in the morning on a day when a particularly sensitive student or parent is coming. I actually have more problems with my students who are allergic to spring pollens! My neighbor has a huge spruce in the yard, and I can’t open the windows at all on those wonderful balmy spring days, or those poor kids just choke up.

Junebug: the noise issue…your cats must be the quiet kind! Mine regard a closed door that “should” be open as a personal affront, and will carry on at length until the situation is rectified!

said: Apr 8, 2006
 122 posts

Ha! Both of my cats are so insulted that I lock them up when I teach certain students that they do howl for awhile. My teaching space is far enough away from the room I lock them up in that we don’t hear them.

Gone are the days I can close any doors of my house and get peace…

“When love is deep, much can be accomplished.”
-Shinichi Suzuki

said: Apr 10, 2006
 55 posts

Yes, noise. If my cats figure they should have access to a room they will scratch at the door forever! They even try to climb walls and doorways! Of course they are still only kittens so I hope they outgrow this soon! Thanks sharing your pet situations. I have been a little worried about that, but maybe I don’t need to be. I am reminded that my first violin teacher had a little pomeranian named “Twinkle” and we thought she was wonderful!

Also, I do not plan to have a separate waiting room, but students will simply come into the studio and observe the end of the previous student’s lesson. I have never had a studio big enough to do this and am very excited to be able to provide this opportunity. If I have to close the door to the room, every time a new student enters there will be noise from the door opening and closing. I want them to just be able to sneak in and out.

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