How to Find Music Instructors When None Seem to Be Found
When you’re dealing with industries such as music education which requires a very specific set of skills, the employment shortage really hurts and we feel that a lot more than the other industries.
Today, I want to talk about the teacher shortage that seems to be plaguing our industry. Many music schools shared with me that they’re unable to hire new teachers and meet the demand in their market as more students enroll. It’s great that people are signing up for music lessons now more than ever, with COVID slowly fading in the rearview mirror, but they just don’t have the staff available to teach these kids. We can anticipate more of this, and I have a feeling that this fall is going to be a real boom for music schools, but you need teachers to teach the lessons.
Why a Teacher Shortage Is a Unique Problem
In last week’s podcast called The #1 Challenge With Running A Music School I talked about what the number one challenge really is: There are only so many people within a given market that have the skills and the character traits to simply teach music lessons. Within that population, there’s an even smaller percentage of people that are actively looking for a teaching job, and this is a really unique problem in our industry.
If you own a restaurant or a retail store, it would be so much easier to hire people because there are so many people that have the skills or the ability to work within the given market. When you’re dealing with industries such as music education which requires a very specific set of skills, the employment shortage really hurts and we feel that a lot more than the other industries.
How Run a Music School With Less Instructors
In the last episode, one solution I presented to this challenge is leaning more into group classes. Perhaps you already have group options in your school, but the percentage of students taking groups are in relatively low amount. Well, this fall would be a great time to focus on how can you get more of your students into groups, and that’s where marketing comes into play when you have to be able to show the parents in your music school the value of your group classes. It needs to be evident to the parent that the group class provides an experience that can’t be replicated in the private lesson, that’s something unique to the group. That’s why I talked about my Kidzrock and Jr. Rockerz programs. Group classes are unique to private lessons because kids are learning in a social environment—a performing ensemble.
The Problem With Hiring Music Teachers With College Degress
Musicians who have a college degree know a lot about music and are probably pretty good musicians. But colleges typically don’t teach music majors how to teach lessons.
Last week, I asked music school owners in the Music Lessons and Marketing Facebook group to share with everyone what percentage of their students were beginners and what percentage were advanced. From those two surveys, I identified what percentage were intermediate-level musicians. In the survey, 65% of the participants said that 70% of their students were beginners and 87% said that 10% of their students were advanced. With this information, we can conclude that 20% of students in most music schools (or at least within the participants) were intermediate-level musicians. Ninety percent of students in a typical music school are either at the beginner or intermediate level, and a small portion is advanced.
Learning a lot about the music theory and obtaining a much greater understanding of music was awesome, but my teaching ability after four years of college wasn’t any different than my teaching ability before I went to college.
What They Don’t Teach You in College
Teachers who only teach advanced-level students are typically solo teachers who don’t usually work in music schools. Perhaps there are music schools that hire really high-end teachers for advanced-level musicians only. Being aware that a large majority of students in music schools are from the beginner to the intermediate level, why do we prioritize college-level and graduate-level instructors? Musicians who have a college degree know a lot about music and are probably pretty good musicians, but colleges typically don’t teach how to teach lessons. I studied music in college, but they never talked about how to teach this stuff. Learning a lot about music theory and obtaining a much greater understanding of music was awesome, but my teaching ability after four years of college wasn’t any different than my teaching ability before I went to college.
Over time, I learned that it was more important to prioritize personality over skill.
A Great Musician Doesn’t Always Make For a Great Teacher
So many music schools are looking to hire this caliber of musician, and they really incorporate it into their marketing. They put it front and center that their instructors are all college-degreed musicians or that there they have graduate degrees. Some music schools charge more for graduate-level-degree instructors, but knowing that a majority of students are beginners or intermediate, is it necessary to have an instructor with such a high level of musical understanding? I’ve been guilty of this and perhaps you’ve been, too—where you hire instructors because they have impressive resumes and credentials but they just lack the personality and the communication skills to be effective instructors.
Choosing Personality Over Skill
Over time, I learned that it was more important to prioritize personality over skill. I’ll never forget I hired this one drum instructor. He really couldn’t read music. He had formal training with the drum instructor, but compared to the rest of my staff, he was not as well-rounded as the rest were. Turns out that he was one of my best instructors because the kids loved him, the parents loved him, and the students were making progress. What more can you hope for from an instructor?
Starting Out in Groups
I got my marketing language down so that I was able to persuade parents on the phone that this was the more attractive option for their child or that their child would thrive and enjoy the group class more.
As I said earlier, one cure to this employment shortage is to try to run a smaller, leaner staff by having a larger percentage of your students in groups. Maybe you’ve got a growing group program. Maybe you’ve got rock bands and group piano lessons going on or some type of a vocal group. What would it take to say to all incoming students, “You have to start out in the piano group” or “You have to start out in the vocal group”? That’s what I did in my music school. Everyone between the ages of 4 and 11 had to start out in one of my group programs.
I got my marketing language down so that I was able to persuade parents on the phone that this was the more attractive option for their child or that their child would thrive and enjoy the group class more. I also always present a 30-day money-back guarantee. If for any reason your child doesn’t love Kidzrock, I’ll give you your money back for the month, then we can try private lessons from that point. I don’t think anyone ever took me up on that, but I eliminated that risk for them. I made it so hard for them to say “NO” to my offer.
Today, I want to talk about some other ways that you can do to solve the employment shortage that most music schools are dealing with right now.
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Don’t run ads for music teachers. Run ads for musicians.
Finding music teachers right now feels nearly impossible, but it was hard enough to find instructors before COVID. It often took me one to three months to find an instructor. It involved a lot of networking and placing ads. Just like I said, there aren’t that many people out there with the skills and the personality to teach. Then, there are even fewer of those people that are actively looking for a job.
The Secret to Hiring a Music Teacher
Another solution I encourage you to consider is not to hire music teachers. Don’t run ads for music teachers. Run ads for musicians. Run an ad that says: “Musicians Wanted” because there are more musicians in your city than there are musicians who identify as a teacher. Look for musicians who have engaging, friendly, and warm personalities. Look for musicians who have never taught before and teach them how to teach. They will be so grateful that you’ve taught them this skill that they’ll have for the rest of their life, and you don’t have to pay them $35 or $40 an hour like you do the seasoned music instructor.
A musician who’s never taught before doesn’t have any expectations as to what the culture and your music school are going to be like. When you go hire a music instructor who’s been teaching for 15 years, they have a pretty set of an idea of what type of environment they want to be in or what type of environment to expect from your music school.
The Difference Between Two Types of Teachers
The seasoned instructors typically get jobs. They teach in a studio and no one’s really managing them. Maybe it’s in a retail shop or they just show up and they teach. As long as they show up on time and retain students, everybody’s happy. If you’re a music school owner who’s trying to have a mission-driven music school and you have specific aspects of teaching that you want your teachers to incorporate, that’s not going to sit well with that teacher who’s been teaching for 15 or so years, who is used to always doing it his or her own way, whereas the musician who’s never taught is just so much more receptive to direction and is so much more coachable. They really need that from you.
One of my teachers years ago said to me, and I think this kind of sums up the mindset of a seasoned professional instructor, “Dave, I’ve been teaching for 20 years. You teach your way, and I’ll teach mine.” I mean, that’s the mindset of a lot of these teachers. I fired that teacher soon after that. What you can do, which I think is super easy, is develop a teacher training and an ongoing mentoring program.
All musicians identify as musicians, but not all musicians identify as music educators or instructors. So, target those musicians.
Where to Find Your Target Musician
Reaching Out to Teachers Teaching Professional Musicians
Where you can find these musicians? If you’re a traditional music school, you can reach out to the teachers in the community who are teaching professional musicians. Reach out to those teachers and say, “Hey, do you have any students that are really solid players that display these character traits? And you have those character traits. Maybe they’re really warm and friendly and a creative thinker.” Ask the teacher if they have any students that fit that profile, and then reach out to those students. All musicians identify as musicians, but not all musicians identify as music educators or instructors. So, target those musicians.
Looking for Instructors in Local Bands and Social Media
If you’re a rock school or kind of a more modern school that focuses on pop music, identify local bands and contact them. Let them know you’re looking to hire musicians. Social media is a great place to find out who the good local bands are, and there’s a ton of talent right there.
I always hire jazz musicians. I just felt jazz musicians can pretty much teach anything. Most jazz musicians also have pretty good rock chops, and most of them can play classical music really well. They’re great readers. They know their theory up and down. They have great ears, and they’re great at improvisation. So, I would network in the jazz community. There were a few teachers in my community that only taught advanced-level jazz musicians. There was a guy named Dave Black, and you would have instant bragging rights if he would accept you as a student. He only taught professional to semi-professional guitar players. I always would call him when I needed a new instructor.
Referrals From Your Staff
Also, talk to your staff and ask them if they have any friends or if they know anyone who’s a solid musician or a competent musician who’s got a warm, friendly personality. Be consistent with following up with your staff. Maybe you see your staff on a Monday and say, “Hey, did you go and hear any bands this weekend?” “Oh, yeah, this club, I heard some bands.” “Hey, do you know any of those guys? Do you think any of those band members would make for a good teacher?” Just keep it top of mind for your staff.
Offer them an incentive or a hundred-dollar bonus if they can refer a teacher to you. It’s not enough to go to your staff and say, “Hey, can you think of anyone that would be a good teacher? They’ll think about it at that moment, but you got to keep it top of mind for them. Ask them questions that are going to help them explore in their mind who they know, maybe just from a social standpoint, maybe they’re not even friends with them, but perhaps they know of a solid musician who seems nice. Staff really is the easiest place to find musicians.
Rethinking Online Ads for Teachers
I want to talk about an ad that you could run. Here’s something that I just put together for the podcast and the ad reads as this:
Do you love music and working with kids? Dave’s Music School is looking to hire passionate musicians to help kids discover the thrill of playing an instrument. One of our master instructors will train and mentor you as you develop new skills that will last a life time.
If you’re interested in passing the gift of music to the next generation and making a difference in people’s life, this might be the prefect job for you.
Email us at…..
Helping Great Musicians Become Amazing Teachers
Okay, now you’ve got a musician who has never taught. They’re eager to learn. Maybe they just got out of college. You hire that musician to trail you for a week, put them on some sort of a training rate, and have your new hire fill out a worksheet during each lesson. Put your smartphone on a stand and ask them to record key points. Here are some questions that you could use on a little worksheet that the new hire could be filling out during the lesson:
- How does an instructor build rapport with the student?
- Write a brief outline of the lesson structure.
- How does the instructor troubleshoot musical challenges the student has?
- What percentage of the lesson was devoted to playing and what percentage was devoted to the instructor explaining or instructing?
- How did the instructor gamify the lesson? Did the instructor use any games? (You want them to detail a little bit what those games were.)
- What did the instructor do in the lesson that you feel you can incorporate into your own lessons?
These questions are just getting the trainee to think about these different aspects of teaching.
How to Develop a Teacher Training Program
Training shouldn’t be a one-time experience. It should be an ongoing process. You don’t just go to a boot camp in the military and then you’re done. You’ll be constantly training and working on the fundamentals.
Whenever you’re going to do something in the lesson, which could be a teaching technique that you like to use in your lessons, turn to the trainee and say, “Hey, hit record for this. This is something that I always do in the lessons.” They hit record and run it for about a minute. Over the week, you’re gonna have all these short snippets of video and notes from this trainee. Then, you can use their notes and the videos to begin to develop a training program for your music school’s new instructors.
It’s not just enough to train the instructors as you onboard them. Training shouldn’t be a one-time experience. It should be an ongoing process. You don’t just go to a boot camp in the military and then you’re done. You’ll be constantly training and working on the fundamentals. It’s not enough to spend a week or two training a teacher and then let them go. Now there needs to be some sort of checking in with them or getting them a mentor. Think of something that you could do.
Empowering Your Teaching Staff
The question to ask everyone is “What ideas do you feel we all could incorporate into our lessons?” What’s happening now is that your teaching staff is creating your culture of education in your school.
What I did at my music school really went over great. I have the teachers sit in with each other with that worksheet that I mapped out for you just a moment ago and have them fill out the worksheet for the teachers that they’re observing. Let’s say you have a teacher and the student cancels. You say to the teacher “Hey, you’re four o’clock’s canceled. Cheryl’s got a teacher and has a lesson at four o’clock. Why don’t you sit in Cheryl’s lesson and fill out the worksheet?” You do this for a period of a few months, then you hold the staff meeting, and you share some key observations that the teachers pointed out in their observations.
This type of meeting is not about telling your teachers how to teach, but it’s you gathering data about how each of them teaches. The question to ask everyone is “What ideas do you feel we all could incorporate into our lessons?” What’s happening now is that your teaching staff is creating your culture of education in your school.
Develop a training program that you don’t write and create. Instead, let your trainees write and create the training program by observing you or by observing some master teacher in your school.
One way to deal with this teaching shortage is trying to embrace more of a group model for your school. Make groups an entry point for your incoming students. That will take the pressure off you to have a larger teaching staff.
Another solution is to hire musicians and develop a training program to teach them how to teach. Develop a training program that you don’t write and create. Instead, let your trainees write and create the training program by observing you or by observing some master teacher in your school. If you don’t teach anymore, I’m sure you’ve got that one teacher that is just so amazing that you wish everyone taught like that teacher. That should be the teacher that the new hires are trailing.
The only work that you have to do is get that video edited, get those notes cleaned up, and make the notes in some sort of bullet point format. I encourage you to at least hold a meeting twice a year with your staff and talk about how each of them teaches and what they can learn from each other. This approach will allow your teachers to feel like they’re more part of the school. It will give them a sense of ownership in the school that they shared with everybody a teaching technique that they use and all of their contemporaries. All the other teachers said “That’s a great idea”, and they started using it in their lessons. So some food for thought as we inch closer to the fall season.