Lucinda Mackworth-Young spoke about the positive and negative aspects that the autonomy held by piano teachers brings. Being in charge of our own destiny was seen as a powerful advantage but she pointed out that as a result we are often: 'unrecognised, invisible and weak'. She argued that individual piano teachers often need greater clarity as to their philosophy, principles, and practice of teaching. In other words she asked us all to think about why we teach, what we teach and how we teach. In essence, as piano teachers, what is our product? Lucinda concluded by encouraging everyone to make sure that students had the musical confidence to be able to pick up and play a piece of music, improvise and enjoy playing with others.
Nigel Scaife agreed with Lucinda that the autonomy of piano teachers was generally a positive attribute. However, he argued that one of the issues to be considered was the status of piano teachers, indicating that for many it was a second income and therefore was sometimes considered to be less important. The role of ABRSM in the regulation of piano teachers was briefly touched on and Nigel pointed out that a licentiate diploma in teaching was in effect a 'licence' to teach.
"Understand that you decide how you want to be perceived - or the market does it for you!"
"If we are going to be taken seriously as a profession what do we need?"
"Piano teaching is a specialised occupation"
Sharon Mark-Teggart wondered whether the public image of piano teaching as a home-spun cottage industry was partly due to the straight-forward and low set-up costs? She emphasised the importance of adopting a more business-like approach whilst stressing the need for secure playing and teaching subject knowledge. With the phrase 'I'm just a piano teacher' she pointed out that we seem to apologise and downgrade ourselves. She questioned whether we appear professional to others, asking us all to consider what our 'shop window' looks like. Sharon argued that piano teachers need to be helped to 'get out of the jar', to look around, be curious, say hello to other teachers and to network. To continue our development as pianists and teachers we need to step outside our comfort zone and become part of a reflective and creative community.
"The lack of regulation is a problem and needs resolving. We need to talk about it and explore".
Frances Wilson had carried out a survey for her presentation via her blog, the cross-eyed pianist. Similar to the points just made by Sharon, the survey showed that working from home appeared to create the perception that piano teachers were able to 'do their hobby for a job!' The most popular public images of piano teachers in the UK continue to be that of elderly, eccentric ladies teaching from home (complete with cardigans and with cats) or mums who want to work from home! Frances argued however, that a balance of qualifications, experience and CPD was vital for all teachers, alongside an openness and willingness to learn on the job. Furthermore, she also maintained that all piano teachers run small businesses and should be quite clear in stating and sharing their terms and conditions with potential clients. Finally, she stressed that a value-added approach should be adopted by the professional piano teacher whereby activities and experiences outside the normal teaching environment should be offered, for example workshops and concerts.
After the presentations the debate was opened to further questions and points from the floor. The issue of qualifications touched a chord with many and the question of whether qualifications are necessary or recognised by anyone outside the profession was raised. The point was made that instead of qualifications, market forces often determine the day including the rate of pay.
This opened up a fascinating exchange about why piano teachers should be exploring change and indeed what needs to change. For example, alternative models to the hourly rate were debated with Catherine Cossey outlining the payment options available at Catherine Cossey Piano Tuition. Finally, the possibility of teachers within a certain geographical area working together with each one focussing on a 'niche' area within their teaching (beginners or teenagers for example) became the subject of some interest.
I shall be concluding this series on Being Professional in my next post with a summary and some thoughts on how piano teachers can work towards becoming and being perceived as professional.
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For information about the February meeting of the Oxford Piano Group click here.