Being a teacher can be a lot of work. At times you need to push yourself to the edge of your capabilities and be keenly aware of your strengths and weaknesses. What you don’t want to do is spend unnecessary time sending emails, taking notes, or scheduling.
Take advantage of the clean slate you have as a beginning teacher to set up some systems that will make you most effective and efficient.
Your circumstances and tools will inevitably change, but start with a handful of processes that save you from drowning in a sea of administrative decision fatigue.
These are the systems I rarely think about, but are also most valuable to me.
- CALENDAR. The worst feeling as a teacher is missing a lesson. I work against this by putting every commitment on the same calendar (Apple Calendar which syncs my laptop and phone). If scheduling is up in the air, yet to be nailed down or confirmed, I’ll still schedule it but put a question mark in the heading. This way, when I schedule an appointment I am aware of every potential conflict and am able to schedule odd lessons weeks in advance. Every Sunday I do a weekly review of my calendar and upcoming projects so I’m aware of all that I need to do. On the day before a lesson scheduled at an irregular time or after a long break I do a text message confirmation.
- STUDENT LESSON NOTES. With 20 students, several of whom are working on the exact same piece, keeping track of the details from week to the next is difficult. I’ve written before about my method of taking student notes at the end of each day of teaching, but I can’t emphasize enough the value of noting what transpired in lessons week to week. In a short hand, bulleted form I list the activities, teaching points, and quality of performance in the lesson. I also use the opportunity to note any special events (upcoming birthdays, auditions, etc.) or unique parts of the lesson (Mom came instead of Dad, shoulder rest was missing, etc). All of the information specific to one student is captured on their own note in Evernote. On one note I can scroll backward and see a historical log of every lesson we had together. Though having a log of the details is helpful in a bind, the most useful function of taking these notes is tasking my brain with recalling the salient points of each lesson (even ones that happened hours before) and priming my brain to brainstorm what would be best for my student in our lesson next week.
- LESSON PLANNING. When are you going to think about your students’ progress? As we already discussed, a teacher has a teaching mindset. It is best in your first year to schedule your deep thinking time, because one of the worst places to do that thinking is while teaching the lesson. For me that thinking happens in these forms…
- Micro – Lesson planning. I do this planning every week, often for half an hour on the day of my lessons. I jot down what the lesson points need to be including in previews or technical exercises I should start with particular students.
- Macro – Goal setting and parent conferences. At the beginning of the year I set semester goals for each of my students and record them on their evernote note. With some students (generally older ones) I share my goals and we discuss them, but with other students I keep the goals to myself. During mid semester parent conferences I name these goals and we reflect on the best way to chart a course to reach them before the end of the semester.
- Macro macro – Personal teaching audits. These usually happen just a handful of times per year. I take a deep dive into analyzing my four pillars of teaching: personal violin skill, teaching sequence, and communication with parents and students. I spend this time re-organizing the way I think, looking for inconsistencies, or wondering if I’m really serving my students at every step along the way. Never doing these deep dives will render your teaching unorganized and stagnant, however I recommend leaving plenty of time between each large scale audit to really grow and experiment with your process.
- STUDIO POLICIES. How do you feel right now about communication, cancellation, billing, and punctuality. Your policies, the skeleton of your studio, need to be written and communicated to your parents and students immediately. Make sure to have these typed, formatted, and sent before you first lesson. You can find mine here.
These are just four of many systems I use, but they are my most productive systems and ultimately reduce friction during lesson time. Prepare these systems for yourself before your first lesson. The foundation and structure you construct in this week can last for decades.
Tomorrow I will discuss the systems for your students you can put in place.