Some adjustments are necessary in the way you do business, but being a traveling teacher does not differ substantially from being a studio-based teacher. Both teachers have the same challenge: unless they deliver good value for the dollar they won't have any students!
You might choose to be a traveling teacher if you:
If you are new to the area or a recent grad, you might want to give serious consideration to being a traveling teacher. Traveling teachers are always in demand. Many parents would rather not drive if they can get someone else to do it. Once colleagues know you travel, they, too, will happily refer their callers who will consider only a traveling teacher.
I need to mention that in some communities there is a stigma attached to being a traveling teacher. This is unfortunate, but it's a fact of life. Often, teachers offer this extra service because it's the only way they can gain students because their training is significantly below the college level. Offering a come-to-you service (often in tandem with a low fee) can be enough incentive for parents to overlook the teacher's lack of credentials.
In other communities, the traveling teacher bears no onus. His preparation is the same as any studio-based teacher and he is not hindered with colleges or prospects by his traveling status.
If you are concerned about the image of a traveling teacher in your locale, talk to colleagues.
I also need to mention that many families who hire a traveling teacher tend to be less serious about piano study than those families who study with a site-based teacher. The fact that they are unable to (or prefer not to) make the effort to rearrange their schedules so the child can be taken to a teacher's studio is telling: they are doing this at their convenience. When their convenience is no longer served, your services may be suspended.
You probably will experience some discomfort, especially at first, since you are a guest in someone else's home.
This subtly influences the teacher/parent and teacher/student dynamics, however, as if the traveling teacher is arriving to scrub the floors for the afternoon. Even teachers with a strong sense of self say that the relationship between the teacher and family always has a touch of servitude in it when the teacher is in the student's home environment.
If this aspect of the teaching arrangement makes you uncomfortable, you should set up you own studio as soon as you can.
This is probably the number one difficulty. Because this is the child's house, he may not regard the lesson as an event during which he must shut out all other activities. There will be numerous distractions from siblings, pets, and even parents.
Deal with these problems immediately - - that very moment - - or you'll be plagued with them forever. Statements such as the following should be on your tongue, readily available: "I can't teach you if you get up to pet the dog. Come back immediately, please" and "I know you are interested in Rod's progress. Suppose we save the last five minutes for you to ask questions and give a report on last week's work?" And you should not hesitate to use them. You are the professional here.
During the phone query and the in-home audition, you must make it clear to the parent the conditions you expect in the home. If not, you will allow yourself to become a doormat. Of course, you have these rules spelled out in your studio policy.
Unfortunately, you must deal with unpleasant odors, uncomfortable chairs, cats that make you sneeze, etc. Accepting a variety of workplaces comes with the territory.
Arrive at the door exactly at lesson time or no more than one minute early. You don't like students to arrive early, and neither will the parent wish to have you sitting around twiddling your thumbs for five or ten minutes!
Do arrive early at the curb, however, and use the time to settle your thoughts.
What happens if you are late? Do you refund tuition? Do you give a make up lesson, and if so, where? Consider how you'll handle such disasters.
Will you need to rearrange lesson times in the winter to allow for extra drive time in case of poor road conditions? What about school closure days?
Think of all the contingencies you can and decide what you'll do. Put all this in your studio policy.
Just as you expect the student to be 100% ready for you, you must be 100% ready for him!
Recitals are a significant logistical concern because you have no studio in which to hold them. Therefore you must locate a recital venue.
I suggest a more low-key approach to recitals, at least for a while, such as monthly or bi-monthly recitals that rotate among students' homes. (In this case, it works to your advantage that parents of these students are usually less committed to piano study. They will not "miss" formal recitals or question why you do not have them.)
Food service is a problem. If you do rotating mini-recitals, ask the host family to provide refreshments. If you have a formal recital, consider asking each family to bring something to share, while you provide the punch and the table service (plates, etc.). This means you do not have to bring the entire spread as a "picnic."
Same problem here: space. How about the same solution? Rotate group lessons in homes.
You will have to tailor your studio policy to being a traveling teacher. Your studio policy will be different, in almost all respects, to that of a in-studio teacher. Particular concerns:
Make up lessons are a major headache for a traveling teacher. If you give them, you must find a block of time large enough for the lesson -and- the driving.
One solution is to have the student come to you for a make-up lesson; another is for him to come to another student's home (this requires the permission of the other parent, of course).
The solution I suggest, however, is "no make-ups, ever, for any reason." You are providing a special service. Make this clear -at the telephone query stage- so you do not waste your time auditioning students whose families will not accept this element of your studio policy.
One of the biggest - - perhaps -the- biggest - - aggravations for traveling teachers is what to do if your student is not ready for you when you arrive.
If you arrive and no one is home or the student is "down the street, I think, playing with Joe, but I can call him" what do you do? Wait? If so, for how long?
If you have the "no make ups" rule, I suggest you also have the rule that says if the student is not -on the bench, ready for you at the exact moment of the lesson- that no lesson will be given. I am sure you will have parents try to fudge and negotiate with you. Don't give in!
If this happens, you leave the home immediately. If you are there, it's easier to badger you. Park somewhere else to read or run errands in the time created.
Again, make this rule clear at the first contact so any families who cannot accept this rule continue to look for another teacher.
If no one is home, you might like to leave a note on the door stating you arrived and found no one.
If you do not have the "no make ups" rule, decide how long you will wait. How many remaining minutes will yield a productive lesson? 10? 15? And where will you wait? in your car? in the home?
How many "no shows" will you allow before you dismiss a student?
Make clear what you expect when you walk in the door: the student is on the bench with her music, ready to go. She has gone to the bathroom, gotten a drink of water, checked on what her brother is doing, petted the pooch, and washed her hands, all before you arrive. During the audition you will be able to gauge how high the mayhem level is in this home, so stress student readiness with whatever degree of emphasis you feel is needed.
Again, if the student is not ready, you walk out the door. Period. Fail here and you're a goner.
Be very precise as to what is required before you agree to take the student, and make sure the parent agrees to do these things. As with the make ups and tardies, I suggest you discuss this with your callers before you agree to consider taking the student.
If you decide to rotate group lessons/recitals, be sure the parents are aware that they will have to take their turn. It may be a deal-breaker. (If so, don't worry. No loss. They would have given you nothing but trouble.)
As you can imagine or have experienced, scheduling can be a nightmare.
Probably the way to go is to teach only 45-minute lessons. This will leave you 15 minutes' drive time between homes, and all lessons will start at the same time (all on the hour, all on the half-hour, or whatever). If you are early to a lesson, stay in your car with a book or some paperwork. Don't go inside early and share a cup of coffee with the parent, as this damages your professional relationship with the family and makes your requirements and requests more easily ignored or compromised.
For efficiency, try to schedule nearby students on the same day of the week. If you travel to more than one town, the benefit of this idea is obvious!
It is *your responsibility* to arrive at the lesson on time. Test-drive your route if you worry that 15 minutes is not enough time. Rearrange the schedule or drop the student if you can't insure that you can arrive on time, every time.
This will be a very large tax deduction for you, so make sure you have a log and keep meticulous record of how many miles you drive.
Only mileage *between students* is deductible. The mileage between your home and the first student and between the last student and your home is considered your "commute." Travel between students is considered travel between job sites. Therefore it is financially rewarding to schedule your students carefully to minimize "commute" miles and maximize "between job site" miles.
You must conduct these in the student's home. You need to see the family situation and the piano, if nothing else. Watching the group dynamics in the home will be very illuminating and can help you forestall certain problems.
If there are gross failings in the instrument, ask that the parent seek services of a technician before you agree to begin lessons.
If you sense trouble in the home setting for any reason (15 large dogs have free run of the home, for example, or the child is disrespectful to you and his parents), at the end of the audition, do not make a firm commitment but tell the parent you will call on the next day. (Make sure you do it!) This allows you to "sleep on" the decision. Smile, be gracious, shake hands, and leave.
In general, I'd advise you to follow your intuition. If the overall circumstances look as though they would make a highly disagreeable lesson situation for your and/or the student, decline to add the student. When you call, you say, "I will be unable to teach Ronald at this time, but thank you for the opportunity to meet you." If they ask, "Why not?" say only that you think you are not the right teacher for him. Make no reference to the home situation. Be polite but firm. Do not offer additional explanation; if you do, you leave yourself open to even more questions. The less you say, the less there will be for the family to question. Tough to do something like this, but, you'll suffer if you don't. And the student will have gained nothing but a negative experience.
If all seems to be fine, you have your choice of setting the lesson appointment then or calling the next day to do so.
You are providing an unusual service. Stress this in your ads. The parent benefits by not having to drive; the student benefits by being able to have a lesson on his instrument and in familiar surroundings. If your target market is wee ones, play up the "security of familiar surroundings."
Tops on the list is a cellular phone!
You also need an answering machine or voice mail which you can access away from home.
You depend heavily on it. Don't fail to give it routine maintenance. Keep the gas tank half-full at all times.
Particularly if you are driving in an area where rain, snow, and ice are common, consider joining an auto club which offers emergency road service. These fees are deductible.
Keep emergency supplies in your trunk. Your auto club can give you a list customized for your locale.
Get a set of local maps. They're free through your auto club or inexpensive at gas stations. Office supply stores have spiral-bound map books, if you prefer these to the open-out-try-to-get-folded-back sort. Another option is to use one of the map Web sites, such as Expedia or Map Quest.
Get a carryall or briefcase and bring in all routine supplies with you. Don't depend on your student to have so much as a pencil! Suggestions:
One of the problems of being a traveling teacher is being away from your music library and other student supplies. Either pack a mini-library in your trunk or revise the lesson plan to accommodate bringing the item to the next lesson.
Obviously, lesson planning takes on new meaning for a traveling teacher!
Have a very detailed talk with your agent about what is covered by your homeowner's/renter's policy and what is covered by your auto policy. If someone breaks into your car and steals your electronic keyboard, who pays for it? You may need extra coverage. This is deductible, too.
At some point, you may decide you no longer wish to travel. Your concern, then, is whether you turn over your students to another traveling teacher and start from scratch again with marketing and advertising to build your site-based studio - - or do you convert your students?
If you will no longer travel at all, announce to your students that they must hereafter come to you or find another teacher. Although you can do this with a month's notice, it usually works better for everyone if you make the change just before a vacation (such as summer vacation or Christmas break).
Write a memo announcing the change. Do not explain why you are doing this. Instead, describe the benefits to the students: "Beginning January 1, I will no longer be traveling to students' homes but teaching from my studio located at 888 Elk Grove Street. This will allow me to offer a greater variety of lesson times to my students. I also will have greater access to my materials, a permanent place for recitals and workshops, and the ability to begin siblings of present students as well as add new ones in the hours presently spent in driving. The fee will remain unchanged/change to $x. I will contact each of you about a lesson appointment. Of course, you have the first opportunity to keep your lesson time."
Do not bring the memo with you to a lesson. Mail it, timed to arrive over the weekend. Those with questions will call you.
Set aside some days as traveling days and some as in-studio days. All new students, including any siblings, will be in-studio students. If parents balk, ask if they would like both lessons back to back in the studio so only one trip will be necessary (a -benefit- to them).
Eventually your studio-based clientele will be so strong that it is financially feasible for you to announce, "Effective September 1, I will no longer teach lessons in homes. Your present lesson time is still yours, of course. Please let me know if you'd like a change of times, and I'll do my best to accommodate you." Those who don't want to come to you will let you know they are quitting.
Speaking of which, don't let fear of losing students weld you to traveling status. To insure your studio's health, have an advertising campaign ready to go.
Initiate it at least three months in advance of your announcement. Take any new students as studio students.
The change from traveling teacher to in-studio teacher is a golden opportunity to raise your fee. If you think a higher fee -and- a drive to your studio will be too much of a shock to your families, consider a smaller fee increase at the time of the change and a larger one later, to catch up.
If, however, you've put advertising in place, you probably will be in a strong position to raise your fee to the level you want it and not worry whether the double-whammy will take a major toll on your roster.
Naturally, students you add through your advertising program will be at the new rate. There is a peril in teaching at two fees, however, so as soon as you can, get everyone on the same page of the hymnal.
copyright 1998-2003, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me about reprint permission.