This article about teaching piano after maternity leave comes from Gemma Wilkins. Gemma is our Community Assistant at Vibrant Music Teaching and runs a music teaching studio in the regional town of Mudgee in Australia. She completed her degree in Music Performance while on maternity leave in 2018 and recently returned to teaching again after the birth of her son in April 2020. Teaching piano to preschoolers and primary-aged students while raising two young children has been her reality for the last four years. You can read more about Gemma and her teaching studio on her Facebook page.
Running your own music teaching studio while welcoming a new baby into the family can be quite a hurdle. You want to remain productive and operational as a teacher, yet survive the unpredictable nature of parenthood.
This is the second time I’ve returned to teaching after maternity leave, so I’ve been reflecting on how I was able to emerge with both a happy family and a successful teaching studio. I’d like to share what I’ve learned.
Clear communication ahead of time is the key to keeping families happy while your studio is closed, so start planning your return long before the baby arrives.
Be fluid with your return date
There is a reason for maternity leave. Our bodies need to heal, and we need to transition into a totally new schedule of demands. I can tell you from experience that you have no way of knowing ahead of time how long that will take.
When communicating with piano parents, don’t make promises of exact dates. Expect to take more time off than you think you’ll need.
If your government has some kind of paid parental leave scheme, take advantage of it. Use that time frame as the minimum amount you’ll be away from teaching.
Where I am in Australia, many families are eligible for 18 weeks of paid parental leave. This is how much time I told my studio families I would take off.
If you want to return earlier, great! Everyone will be pleasantly surprised. If you need to stay closed a bit longer, most piano families are very understanding (having been through the experience themselves.)
When it comes to teaching piano after maternity leave, it’s important to be flexible with your recommencement and try not to rush into too much, too soon. Because once you start teaching again, it’s not really feasible to go back on maternity leave if you’re not coping.
Use maternity leave as a chance to change your studio structure
Taking some time off gives you some time to reflect on your current studio structure.
After having my first baby, I condensed five afternoons of teaching piano lessons into two full days teaching, in the interest of saving money on child care.
With baby number two, I’ve changed many students to longer lessons and implemented online lessons. I’m focusing on fewer students, but more bench time.
If you’ve been putting off making changes to your music teaching business, maternity leave might be the perfect reset button.
You’ve taken some time for healing and you’re feeling ready to return to teaching. But life looks a bit different on this side.
Here’s where you start to change your definition of productivity.
You might be thinking that nap time will be your saving grace after returning to teaching. After all, babies sleep a lot…right?
That’s true. But there are good ways to put that time to use, and then there are not-so-good ways.
Don’t Rely on Nap Time
Don’t count on naps for productivity or lesson times. With my daughter, I resumed teaching during her (once) predictable nap schedule. This worked for a little while…until her nap times changed.
The duration of naps is highly variable – no day is ever the same, and there’s never a guarantee you’ll get the time you need.
Baby sleep schedules change quickly. They go from 4 naps each day down to 3 in a very short time frame. Then before you know it, there are only 2 naps a day, then 1, then…gulp…none.
Even the most routine-centric baby will go through these nap transitions every few months, so your teaching schedule simply can’t rely on it.
Use Nap Time Wisely
When a good nap does come along, power through the more nitty-gritty tasks which need a bit of concentration.
- If you need to send out invoices, do some accounting, or knock out lesson plans, naps are the perfect chance for that.
- Working on a couple of side projects? Tackle those.
- Need to sit on the lounge with a hot cup of tea in peaceful silence? Do that, too. (Self-care is important here!)
My son is the shortest little nano-napping bub around. I can barely boil the kettle before he wakes most days. So when I know I need to do something without distraction, I try to tackle that task the second he drops off to sleep.
When Naps Don’t Happen
Learn to do non-teaching tasks in small bursts during the windows when your baby is awake and playing happily independently. Prioritise tasks by importance, and knock them out quickly and efficiently during those short bursts.
If you schedule time to practice, do it while they are awake. (This also gives opportunity to connect with your child musically as they get older.)
Get a Mum’s (or Dad’s) Helper
If you’re lucky enough to have your partner home during teaching times, or if someone in your family lives nearby, that’s great. Use them.
If you don’t have any family nearby, consider hiring a parent helper while you are teaching.
A parent helper is like a babysitter. They keep the little ones entertained, but you’re still in the house to step in if needed.
I’ve had a number of helpers over the last few years. All of them have been high school students who were 13-16 years old, and I paid them anywhere from between AUS$7.50-AUS$15 per hour.
These helpers take the baby for a walk, play with the toddler, give afternoon tea, and generally keep the kids away from the teaching space for the afternoon hours. I’ve also given my helpers some of my smaller admin tasks like laminating, filing or photocopying.
I’ve found this arrangement to be much more cost-effective than day care centers, especially when I only need help for a few hours in the afternoon until my partner gets home.
Do ALL the Planning
When you get time to plan, do a lot of it.
I mean, a LOT.
Instead of lesson planning for the week, do it for the month or even the whole term. Order those music books long before they’ll be needed, and schedule your invoices to go out automatically. (Better yet, switch to all-inclusive tuition so you don’t have to add the cost of books to invoices throughout the year.)
I thought I had pretty good memory, but quickly learned that I only have a good memory after a good night’s sleep. Little children mean prolonged sleep deprivation, which turns even the sharpest minds into mush.
So when you return to teaching piano after maternity leave, plan a lot farther ahead than you did pre-kid. Use those quiet times (usually after the kids’ bedtime) to do your work, and learn to do it efficiently.
Change “No” to “Not Right now”
The most important tip is also the hardest: Expect your productivity to be lower than it was before you had a child, and accept it.
It does get easier. But in the early years, you will be tired a LOT of the time. Sometimes you just have to say “not right now” when an opportunity presents itself.
As an experienced parent running a successful music studio teacher, I’m here to give you permission to:
- Take maternity leave without doing any video lessons or creating lesson packs for your students
- Drop those students who aren’t bringing the fuzzy feelings
- Increase your rates to decrease your face-to-face hours
- Take as long as you need to return to work
There’s still time to do all the things…just not right now.
For more tips on staying organised and productive, check out Nicola’s page all about how to make running your music teaching business a breeze.