“Once I finally learned how to teach piano the right way,” said the instructor who trained my mom, “I had to fire all my students and start over.” She was obviously (and humorously) misdirected in this remark, but expressed clearly the familiar frustration of trying to teach a new system to an old and complacent student.
For other reasons, though, her words have an uncanny resonance to me at this moment. My studio is half the size it was at the beginning of the year, which was half of what it was when I began teaching from home, which was half again what it was when I used to travel to students’ houses. Over the years my students have lost interest, moved away and succumbed to the seductive allure of home lessons; they’ve been replaced, but never in the same numbers. I suppose I could start advertising, but I prefer word-of-mouth referrals because they ensure the parents know what they’re in for before they ever show up for the first lesson.
So here I am, with half a dozen kids and what could be viewed as an opportunity. With twenty or forty students, cancellations are commonplace and overhauls to the schedule nearly impossible. With six, I decided, I can try something I’ve wanted to do for years: group lessons.
I started small. Two groups of three: one for beginners, one for advanced. I told the families that for our end-of-year event, we’d replace the last lesson in June with a group class. I dreaded the scheduling, but it actually wasn’t so bad, and I was even able to put the groups back to back for two solid hours of games and performance.
Surprisingly, though I’ve had lots of classroom and private teaching experience, this new hybrid format made me a little nervous. I wrote out a schedule of games, reminders and stalling techniques in case I ran out of things to do. And then I unlocked my front door and waited.
They came with parents and grandparents and anticipation. They sat on the rug, pointed and spoke and clapped rhythms, worked cooperatively and let their personalities shine through. The slower, more methodical boy accepted help from his bouncy, lightning-fast friend. They both stared wide-eyed at the girl who played the last piece of the volume they had just started. The preteens fell into joking and jabbing each other as if they’d always been friends. They complimented each other and talked seriously about improvements for the future. When they left, smiling for a few parting photos, I wondered why in the world I hadn’t done this a long time ago.
Oh, yeah – because I couldn’t have done it then. I can, however, do it now. And I’m already scheming about how to make it a permanent part of our plans for the future.