The Pleasures and Perils of Face-to-Face Teaching

The Pleasures and Perils of Face-to Face Teaching

Alright, so, straight off the bat I’m going to say that I don’t reeaaalllly feel Iike there are many ‘perils’ of teaching, per se – I do love it so much! – but I just couldn’t resist it as a fun blog title 😊
However, since I chose that title I now have to come up with some Pleasures and Perils.

The Pleasures

  • Interacting LIVE with my lovely students
  • Being able to HEAR properly
  • Bouncing off all those non-verbal cues teachers can’t get online
  • Addressing fingering, posture and technique with ease
  • Immediately being able to see whatever new music they might bring with them!
  • Being able to play duets and make music together

It’s an easy list to come up with and actually I could go on and on! I will simply be delighted to have my students in the same room with me again. Whilst online teaching is an excellent option when in-person teaching is not practical, it most definitely has its limits, and most of my students are hankering to come back1.

The Perils:

After some consideration, I can think of only these two2:

  1. The stress of providing a COVID-safe environment
  2. Re-adjusting to yet another set of teaching conditions

I’m going to discuss each of these separately.

Peril no 1: Being COVID-safe

Never before in my teaching career have I had to worry about such a thing. I am lucky to be in perfect health and cannot remember a time I have cancelled lessons due to my own illness. If students arrive and are clearly not well, I ask the parents to take them home straight away and we have the remainder of the lesson online (although, prior to this year, the setup for this was far less efficient!). That was the extent of the hygiene practice in my studio – simply an assumption that everyone is hygienic and healthy.

But of course, that is no longer the case. Much more vigilance must be practised. I recently sent out a questionnaire to my families, asking them what sanitary measures they would want to be in place when lessons resume. The list of responses went on and on, most of them common sense but some of them completely impractical in my studio, such as:

  • Student and teacher to wear masks, or perhaps a clear visor?
  • Keep at least 1.5 metres apart at all times
  • Teacher and student on separate pianos
  • Allow at least 15 mins between students to air the room
  • Wear helmets (I suspect this may have been a joke, as the survey was anonymous 😊)

I made the decision that social distancing in my teaching studio is not going to work. If I can’t go near the student to write on the score or to demonstrate technique, and have to explain everything from across the room, I cannot see the benefit of them even coming to my house – we may as well have the lesson online.

As a result, these are the measures I will be implementing in my studio in Term 3:

  • No parents or siblings in the room
  • Hand-washing before and after each student
  • Wipe down piano (and stool) before and after each student
  • Online lesson if unwell

I have given all my families the option of continuing online if they are even the teensiest bit uncomfortable with the level of sanitary measures employed. However, since they are all attending non-socially-distanced school and many are travelling on public transport, the additional level of risk associated with attending a piano lesson at my house is extremely low.

I also reiterated this very important point, with all my families:

If there is even the slightest sniffle, from the student or anyone in the student’s household, their lesson will be online that week.

Given that it’s wintertime which usually heralds many sniffles, I imagine Term 3 will be a hybrid teaching term for me – some face-to-face, some online.

Peril no. 2: A new set of conditions

Over the last 12 weeks I settled into the new world of online teaching. It took a while, and at first I really did not like it, which I wrote about in my blog Doom, Gloom and Zoom. But, having finally gotten into the groove of Zoom lessons, I think it’s going to be tricky readjusting to in-person lessons.

The new regime of hand-washing and sanitising the piano, monitoring for face-touching/coughing/sneezing that will warrant repeating this procedure, combined with not allowing parents in the room is enough to make it a very different teaching experience for me. It’s yet another new set of habits to form and conditions to get used to, and that’s always a hard thing to do.

One thing I absolutely plan to make a new habit of, though, is typing up their homework notes in Tonara, rather than writing it in their notebook3. I can type MUCH faster than I can write, and I figured they’ll need more detailed notes from me since parents won’t be there. I NEVER usually have my computer with me while teaching – so this is one thing I will carry over from my online experience!

Will in-person lessons ever be ‘normal’ again?

If Australia is able to eradicate COVID-19 like New Zealand has, it’s possible we will all relax and not give too much thought to infection during in-person lessons. This is hard to imagine! Until we have a vaccine, we will all have to be vigilant, and this will become normal behaviour4.

If you are interested in reading the letter I sent out to my studio families regarding resuming face-to-face lessons, you can view it here.

If you are interested in reading/completing the anonymous survey, click here.

I’d love to hear your views on the pleasures and perils of resuming lessons. Please do leave a comment with your thoughts!

  1. The parents have admitted that despite the convenience of not having to commute, in-person lessons really are that much better.
  2. I am resisting listing ‘I can no longer teach in my pyjamas’ as a peril 😊
  3. Students can write a summary in their own notebooks too – this might work well.
  4. Notice how I avoided saying ‘the new normal’. I’m a bit tired of this phrase, how about you?
Samantha Coates

Samantha Coates is a professional pianist and teacher with over 25 years experience in both private and group tuition. She is the author and publisher of BlitzBooks, the music education series that has captured the imagination of students across Australia and transformed the teaching of music theory, sight reading and general knowledge.

4 thoughts on “The Pleasures and Perils of Face-to-Face Teaching

  1. Barbara Poole says:

    Hello Samantha
    I was pleased to find that your letter to parents/students was very similar to mine. I did not teach last term as I would have found on-line teaching difficult. I only have a desk-top computer and have no way of moving everything into my studio to cope with on-line. I can’t wait to start back for Term 3. My studio opens out to a bbq area so any parent who usually sits in the studio during a lesson will be able to stay outside and still hear and see what is going on as I will ensure that the sliding glass door is left open at all times. Obviously, I won’t be able to offer on-line “make-up” lessons but I have always been willing to make up any lessons missed through illness etc. The main thing for me is that no child comes to a lesson if he/she is ill in any way. Both my husband and I are in the “vulnerable” (I don’t particularly like that word) age group and I am very tired of children arriving here out of uniform and telling me they weren’t at school that day because they were sick!!! I guess I should have sent them home, as you stated!
    Thanks for your newsletters and blogs .

  2. Andrea says:

    Hi Samantha,
    Thanks for another great article. Your previous article Doom, Gloom and Zoom really resonated as it echoed exactly what I went through too. I now have a good tech setup for online as a backup option and I am also adopting the same protocols as yourself with face to face lessons. Interestingly my students preferred for me to use their notebooks again rather than online. I only had one who said she can’t read my writing very well so wanted online notes. I use My Music Staff instead of Tonara, but I believe they are both very good and have adapted well for a COVID world of music teaching. This is the new normal.

    • Samantha Coates says:

      Indeed it is, Andrea. It will be interesting for me if I have to go back to notebooks. I can type MUCH faster than i can write!

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