Magazine article American Music Teacher

It's All Your Business: The Value of Music Teacher Surveys

Magazine article American Music Teacher

It's All Your Business: The Value of Music Teacher Surveys

Article excerpt

One of the most valuable ways to increase professionalism in the independent studio is to network with other teachers about successful policies. Discussing business issues during local and state music teacher associations meetings offers the opportunity to share favorite teaching practices and seek solutions to joint concerns. Such sharing acknowledges that we are not only independent, but also interdependent music teachers. An equally effective means of gathering data concerning our profession is to conduct a written survey of professional issues. Surveys provide invaluable insight into business issues, professionalism and successful approaches to pedagogy within our geographic area.

As a member of the Northern Virginia Music Teachers Association (NVMTA), I started surveying my local MTA in 1979 after a discussion on business issues at one of our meetings. I conducted regular surveys of the group until I moved to North Dakota in 1994. Since then, others have continued to survey NVMTA members every few years. I also have conducted a number of other local, state and national surveys, often before presenting at local, state or national conferences. In all instances, I have learned an immense amount from the surveys, as have the teachers who have been surveyed.

Before talking about what can be done in a survey, it is important to first discuss what cannot be done. Any survey of business practices, especially those concerning rates, cannot be done with the intent of price-fixing or fee-setting. The purpose of a survey is to gather information, much like the Department of Labor's information on average annual wages in various professions. No recommendation can be made for a certain set wage or a set percentage increase in income from year to year, or any other economic policies that affect the independent teacher. Such actions are considered price-fixing, are highly illegal and must be avoided.

It is not illegal, however, to gather data. It benefits us immensely to know as much as we can about rates and business policies in our particular geographic area. Suggested areas to address in a survey might include:

* Rates per hour

* Method for billing (weekly, monthly, semester and so on).

* Annual income

* Sources for summer income

* Number of students

* Hours a week spent teaching

* Hours a week spent on other studio activities (bookwork, learning new repertoire, meetings and so forth).

* Educational background

* Years of experience

* Population of community

* Make-up policy

* Use of book and fee deposit

* Use of swap list

* Use of technology in the studio

* Extra services offered (work station, chamber music, group lessons, theory classes, performance classes, summer camps and SO on).

I conduct all surveys anonymously, since teachers are more willing to share personal information when they are not required to identify themselves. Unfortunately, some teachers have been reluctant to share information concerning rates, even on an anonymous survey. How can we charge professional rates if we have no historical data about rates from which to draw our own conclusions?

As I prepared for this article, I reread some of the personal summaries I wrote of my own thoughts at the end of the NVMTA surveys. It is easy to see that members in the group were able to draw their own conclusions about professional issues and make increasingly more professional choices concerning studio policies. The following summary was included at the end of the 1987 NVMTA survey and shows how the discussions and surveys on business issues impacted the members of NVMTA in only a few short years.

1987 Survey Summary

In 1985, I was astonished by the number of teachers who believed they charged too little--40 percent. Most teachers, 63 percent, raised their rates only every two to three years. …

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