Life of a Music Teacher
The Routine, Struggles, and Meanings of the Job
© 2020 Goh Tong Keat
Waking up in the late morning on a Saturday, enjoying a good hearty brunch, and then hanging out at the mall in the afternoon sounds great, except that they are not for most private music teachers. Music teachers can do that on every other day of the week, but not on Saturdays. Most of them have a packed schedule with back to back lessons on Saturdays. Kids can only come to extra-curricular learnings when they are not in school, so after-school hours and Saturdays are usually when music teachers get busy.
In Malaysia, you can earn up to RM2,000 a month just by teaching private lessons on Saturdays alone. The starting salary here for a fresh graduate in general is around RM2,500, so that amount of money you can get by teaching on Saturdays is almost equivalent to a full-time salary. In the eyes of many people, the music teachers are living the "good life." However, there are struggles in the job. The repetitive nature and the irregular work hours of the job may take its toll on the teachers.
First of all, for the freelance teachers, you do not get all the students right away. It will take a couple of years to establish your studio. If you are lucky, a teacher who is leaving her job may send all her students to you. For the unlucky ones, that means squatting at your friend's apartment for a while. Once you get enough students, you noticed that kids grow up and go to college, which also means leaving your studio. Before you realized it, you are at the start of the new cycle all over again.
On top of that, freelance music teachers have to deal with endless lesson-rescheduling and sometimes unreasonable expectations of the parents. If the relationships between teachers and parents are well-managed, it may turn into conflict and add pressure to the job.
After years of observations, I found that to be able to stay in this profession for the long term and to feel happy about the job, music teachers need to possess two traits: The love of music and the desire to educate.
We know that everyone loves music, but things can be very different for a music professional who is doing it all the time. The love for music has to be a part of your life that you cannot live without, and that passion will translate into an inspiring force that students can feel it when they are learning with you. The students will, in turn, show more eagerness to learn when they are inspired. If both sides are equally engaged in the learning, the process will be enriching and satisfying.
Having a passion for music alone is not enough. To be an educator for the long term, you must believe in the values of what you are teaching, and have the patience to nurture them in the students. Students come with different learning abilities, backgrounds, and mindsets. If you wish to see all the students doing what you want them to do, you must have the desire to educate them, and that includes finding ways to communicate and deal with each unique personality of the students.
As a music teacher myself, I find that the most meaningful part of my job is to be able to walk into the lives of students and making their lives better by giving them the benefits of learning music. It Is not about how many competitions they have won or how much money I am getting paid, but it is the state of mind knowing that I am doing something good for the community and the world.