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  • Writer's pictureAlaina Chester

Teaching in Texas

Last August I decided to move to San Antonio, Texas to teach privately (and get Texas residency in case I ended up going to school here). The competitive nature of band programs in Texas means there are plenty of students/parents willing to participate in lessons. I’ve always liked private teaching - why not do it on a larger scale, get more experience, and make that good good money?

I wasn’t sure if I could be completely self-sufficient this way, but I am! It took a lot of work to get to this point, though it was really easy to find students. Regular money started coming in after about two months since I wasn’t able to teach in schools until the end of September. In the meantime I got fingerprinted for clearances to work one on one with students and sent a lot of introductory emails to band directors.

A general idea of my work life:

I teach about 30 students a week.

Most of them middle schoolers, a handful of high schoolers.

Lessons are usually during their regular band classes.

Teaching oboe usually means 1-2 students per school, the most I’ve had is 5 at 1 school.

I visit 3 to 4 schools and teach maybe 6+ students a day on average.

(I’ve heard if you’ll be sticking around you can get students to come to you)

This means I really only teach a very rough 20ish hours a week.

Most of my work day is spent driving, sitting in my car between lessons, buying food, or chilling at Starbucks takin’ care of business.

LOTS of administration work/bookkeeping, along with parent communication, which I think puts those work hours to about 40 a week (but then there’s reed making and my own practice too).

It’s important to quickly find a system that works and keep it updated/organized daily or things get extremely confusing. Creating a lesson schedule with a reasonable travel route takes a lot of time and puzzle work. Luckily it doesn’t change too often and those administration hours diminish as things get going but some months I feel like that’s all I’m doing all day…

I know people who work out their own system, but my head hurt from trying to plan my planning. Luckily, my friend and fellow traveling Texas teacher saved my life by showing me It has a studio website ready to go at $12.95/month. Helps keep track of your teaching calendar, student info, payments, mileage, creates invoices, and I can write lesson notes that send to parent emails.

Teaching at schools puts me in direct contact with band directors instead of parents. Talking to band directors gives me a better idea on what I should work on with students, but usually means extra effort to communicate with parents every week. Unless the schools scholarship lessons for students (which awesomely happens a lot!), the parents are still paying me so communication is very important. It’s not too hard unless they start ghosting me, then it gets worrisome…of course they have a lot to deal with in their lives so I understand the oboe teacher is low on their radar however -

Tracking down money IS A CONSTANT STRUGGLE! Either they have to pay me online/through an app (which people still have a hard time trusting) or the students have to be responsible enough to bring it with them to school. I literally rely on 12 year olds to give me half of my paychecks. Definitely not preferable, though as oboe students most of them are pretty responsible - But really frustrating if they forget it on the kitchen counter four consecutive weeks in a row - Collecting chunks of money throughout the month is an endless cycle, and it can be hard not to take it personally when I’m not paid on time, which is always. Most parents are on time or at least apologetic, but there are always a handful of culprits every month. I could implement late fees but some parents argue or won’t pay them. Threatening not to teach their students doesn’t work either because then I’m out the money altogether. Plus I usually like the students and would feel bad or I feel an obligation to their band directors…If I were going to do this long term and could afford to pick and choose students, I’d have more control over this but instead I’m at the mercy of the parents’ hectic lives no matter how many pleading emails I send reminding them this is my full time job. Even collecting school scholarships can take what feels like too long.

Something I wasn’t prepared for was basically being a parental figure for these kids at times. For high schoolers it does feel like a traditional mentor role with a sprinkle of life advice, but young middle schoolers still need to be reminded of proper behavioral skills and it took some adjusting to feel comfortable in that role. “It’s important to be on time,” “Practicing is the same as doing your homework,” “Please don’t cry every time I correct you or your life will be very hard,” “This is expensive, don’t break it,” “Please don’t lie about breaking this.”

Another thing I learned was that I’m not only teaching the students, but also the parents and even band directors. It’s usually about proper instrument/reed care and what they can do to help progress. It can be awkward when I’m trying to explain why buying better, usually more expensive, reeds are important. I see how it may seem like a scam to the skeptical parent, and it can be hard not to take that personally too as I’m trying to make sure good habits start early on. If students are struggling with bad reeds, then improper muscles get overused and abused, tuning is harder, and they are too worried about sounding good to play with proper air (or not worried enough and blow too much air). Most of the time my middle schoolers sound way better than my high schoolers because of those bad habits that have to be undone. Obviously, I can’t win the reed battle all the time, money is a real thing, so we work with what they have. This means ignoring problems that seem easily fixable to me, but we still work towards a confident sound.

Overall I’m really happy with my choice to leave school and teach. It’s exhausting, it’s extremely hard to feel like practicing when I come home, and I’ve probably only made about 10 reeds for my own use (whoopsies). I learned I wouldn’t want to teach privately on this scale for too long. But it’s a great option for transitional periods and I’ve realized how much I needed a break from my school experience. I’ve also been gigging around and taking lessons with oboists in the area.

Feel free to reach out with questions. Hopefully more fun, situational stories about teaching to come!

Staying hydrated at the San Antonio River Walk :)

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