Skip main navigation

Building your professional support network

No music teacher is an island. When developing your career, it’s important to always remember that.
© Sam Flower (ISM Trust)

No music teacher is an island. When developing your career, it’s important to always remember that. Professional athletes have a team around them for a reason, and this should not be any different for music teachers.

If you are a private music teacher working at home, or even a classroom music teacher operating in a busy school, you can easily become isolated, so the importance of having a reliable and trustworthy support network in place cannot be overstated.

It’s important to accept right from day one that you won’t be able to do everything yourself and in certain circumstances, it’s often far better to ‘outsource’. The bigger your professional network, the quicker you will be able to seek support. This in turn, means that you will have more time and opportunities to concentrate on music making and developing your teaching skills.

What support will I need?

Naturally, depending on the exact nature of your work, your needs will vary. However, we’ve broken down four categories of support that you should consider putting in place as part of your commitment to your ongoing profession development.

1) Legal assistance

Legal assistance

The word ‘legal’ may seem scary and heavy handed, but unfortunately music teachers can face a multitude of issues: from problems with contracts, to queries around employment/self-employment rights, unpaid teaching fees, and much more in between. Often, the quicker you seek advice, the better the outcome, so it’s vital to know who you will turn to if you need assistance.

Having certain protections in place before issues arise is key. For example, getting a set of solid draft contracts drawn up means that should things go wrong, you have a written agreement from which to base your claim. Solicitors can be expensive, so it is worth exploring alternative options like seeking guidance from a professional association (who often have their own in-house legal teams and range of downloadable resources and template contracts), or a legal aid charity or citizens’ advice organisation.

Being aware of the potential problems which you may face will help you to be on the front foot should an issue arise, allowing you to seek support quickly, often before an issue gets out of hand. Here is a list of topics that you should have a basic understanding of, so that you can spot when something is not quite right:

  • Employment statuses and their associated rights
  • Holiday and sick pay entitlement
  • Redundancy and unfair dismissals
  • Negotiating and setting fees

2) Financial and business affairs guidance

Financial and business affairs guidance

Particularly important if you are self-employed, having a basic understanding of topics such as business structures, record keeping, data protection, welfare options, and tax considerations will save you time and money in the long run, and in turn, allow more time for music making. Financial and business support can come in multiple forms. Full blown accountancy and financial advice services can assist you with tax returns, expenses, pensions, financial planning, and more. Whilst very useful, their associated fees can be high, so consider seeking a free initial consultation, which can help you to gain an understanding of the kind of one-off or ongoing support that you will need. If you have a professional association membership, remember to check if it gives you access to free or discounted access to financial and business services. There are also a variety of software solutions on the market which can be used to facilitate lesson invoicing, scheduling, and payments. This helps to alleviate a lot of the admin involved with running a teaching practice, freeing up time for actual teaching.

3) Wellbeing support

Wellbeing support

A career as a music teacher is hugely rewarding, but it can be both physically and mentally draining. Long hours playing instruments and/or singing, sustained periods of sitting or standing in one position, lack of departmental support, and juggling your work-life balance can all affect your wellbeing, so again, having someone to turn to in these situations is hugely important. This could be your doctor or counsellor, a charity, a professional body or trade association, or even a friend, family member or colleague. Whatever you might go through, its crucial to not suffer in silence.

4) Peer community

Peer community

Often, the very best support will come from your fellow teachers – those who’ve really experienced what you are going through. Immersing yourself in an active community of colleagues is therefore invaluable. Where would you go for the latest guidance on child protection and safeguarding? Who would you to turn to if you received a noise complaint? What are some of the best ways to promote yourself and find pupils? Perhaps you have questions on teaching methods and resources, or you may have a particularly challenging pupil and need guidance on how to best handle the situation. Your fellow teachers will have ‘been there and done that’, so are extremely well placed to answer these questions, offer advice and signpost to where you can go for help. Social media provides great opportunities to connect with colleagues. Facebook for example, is awash with ‘Groups’ of teachers, in which you’ll be able to ask questions, promote yourself and gain tremendous insight on what others are doing and the issues your fellow teachers are facing. Moreover, professional associations often run conferences (both in-person and online), member groups and networking opportunities, and can be a great source of knowledge.

As you develop your own career, you will be able to offer your own advice to others, based upon your personal experiences and expertise.

Final thoughts

Do not burden yourself with the expectation that you need to be an expert at everything. Instead take comfort in the fact that there are people out there who know more than you on certain topics. Having a dedicated support network in place will help you to tap into others’ expertise, enable you to fully engage in your music making without distraction, and allow you to be the best teacher possible.

This article was written by Sam Flower, Marketing Officer at the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), the UK’s professional body for musicians. The ISM’s sister charity, the ISM Trust, provides a range of free professional development resources and events for all musicians around the world. Find out more about the ISM and ISM Trust at ism.org and ismtrust.org

© Sam Flower (ISM Trust)
This article is from the free online

Being a Flexible Music Teacher

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education