The United States and China: Management Differences in the Private Teaching Studio

By Olson, Anthony; Coalter, Terry | American Music Teacher, October-November 2011 | Go to article overview

The United States and China: Management Differences in the Private Teaching Studio


Olson, Anthony, Coalter, Terry, American Music Teacher


Dedicated to the training of the next generation of musicians, private instructors sometimes become so deeply involved in the pedagogy of teaching they do not fully consider the administrative side of the profession, but as entrepreneurs, our businesses live or die on our ingenuity and professional skills--musical, pedagogical and business skills. Even further from our minds are thoughts of how private teachers in other countries operate their studios. As a result, few studies have been conducted comparing business practices of music teachers in the United States to those in other countries. Information regarding the business practices of private, pre-college music teaching is extremely limited. To fill that void, we teamed up to start exploring this topic by conducting an international, cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary study that explores the economic survival of individuals who are providing a purely discretionary service under very different circumstances: private music studio instructors in the United States and China. The United States and China are the two most diverse political and economic superpower systems in the world. As a result of these differences, one would expect the business practices of pre-college music teachers in these two countries to be very diverse as well. But surprisingly, we found this not to be the case.

Data for the study were collected using a combination of telephone interviews and online surveys. Personal interviews were conducted in Chinese with private music teachers living and working in various parts of China, and an online survey was administered to private instructors in the United States. The U.S. survey generated 124 completed entries and the China sample was limited to 10 participants due to the cost, complexities and intensive data collection process necessary to obtain the responses.

The collection of data for the Chinese portion of the study proved the most daunting of the tasks we had to complete--thus the limited number of participants in our study. The complications of conducting the survey in China were due largely to cultural differences. As the Chinese culture requires an appropriate relationship before undertaking business-related activities, we decided to conduct telephone interviews with Chinese subjects in their native language rather than attempt an online survey. It was a personal relationship with a Chinese national that provided our entry into the Chinese culture. We were very fortunate the relationship was with a musician who had the professional contacts we needed. But each step of the way was time consuming. Just the translation of the survey instrument itself took a significant amount of time. Sometimes just finding the right Chinese word was problematic, and we went through several iterations before the translators were comfortable with the Chinese version. Cultivating contacts in China also demanded a significant amount of time investment: it usually took several calls just to get a person on the phone and at least two conversations before the idea of participating in a survey could be discussed with a potential participant. Only then could a survey be administered. Once that was successful, the completed survey had to be translated back into English and that translation reviewed. With time invested in finding the proper participant, initiating contact, building a rapport, conducting the survey and then translating the results, an average of six hours was consumed in the collection of each survey, severely limiting the amount of data we could collect. (1)

In the end, our perseverance paid off. Data analysis revealed several interesting differences and even more interesting similarities regarding the way private teachers invest their time, as well as differences in the ways the two groups market and manage their businesses.

How Do We Spend Our Time?

As most private studio instructors are freelance musicians as well as educators, most do more than just teach in their private studios. …

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