1996 – The Beginning
I pulled up across the street from a gorgeous house in an affluent neighborhood in Orange, California. As I shut off the engine, I realized how my VW bug echoed in the quiet cul-de-sac. This was my first day to meet my future private piano students. I was 21 years old and it was the summer before my senior year at Vanguard University.
"Don't be intimidated. Just remember, you know more than they do."
Receiving a gift
The teacher I was replacing was handing me her mobile studio. She traveled to about 15 students' homes a few times a week. But she was moving to India to work on a Ph.D. and needed to refer her students to another teacher. She was the benefactor and I was fortunate enough to be on the receiving end, thanks to my own college private piano instructor. (Thanks, Eiki!) Unfortunately, I can't remember the teacher's name now, so we'll call her Nahla.
I was meeting Nahla at a students' home and driving around Orange with her for the afternoon to meet the rest of her students. I locked my car door and walked across the street, totally nervous. Nahla greeted me, then gave me a few pointers, like: "When you meet the student and parents, don't smile the way you just did when we met. They need to see you as a serious teacher, not a friend," and "Don't be intimidated. Just remember, you know more than they do."
So, I tried to contain my smiles and watched EVERYTHING Nahla did with much anticipation. I had only one more lesson with each student before she would turn her studio over to me completely.
Making the transition
Nahla had given me a list of all her students, about 15, and eight of them chose to continue with me. Knowing that it is very common for students to take the change of teachers as their opportunity to quit, I wasn't hurt. I was elated to be making $37/hour and actually teaching piano!
Despite feeling inadequate, I charged ahead and did the best I could. I called other teachers whenever I had a problem or questions about teaching techniques, motivating students, or dealing with difficult parents. I asked A LOT of questions and then went to my students acting very confident. I didn't try to be someone I wasn't. I was honest. I was sincere. But I worked hard to become a better teacher.
That experience was a huge step forward for me. I started to believe that how I saw myself would translate into how my students and their parents viewed me.
Just a few months previous, I had almost passed up the opportunity to start teaching private lessons, thinking that I wasn't "good enough." But I gave it a shot. And thank goodness! I had no idea at the time, but teaching private piano and flute lessons became my ultimate dream job!
Read Part 2 of My Story here — Changing Careers
How did you get starting teaching? Or are you just starting your private music studio? I'd love to hear your "Early Days" story in the comments below!