Be Our Guest: Top 10 Tips to Help the Independent Teacher From Burnout

Be Our Guest, Musings, Tips

There are certain times a year where burnout tends to show its face a little more. Winter tends to be one of those times so this guest post couldn’t have been more well timed. I am excited to have Laurabeth Roundy, a private piano, violin, viola and fiddle teacher in Arlington, WA be my guest and share with us her top 10 tips on helping independent teachers from burning out. If you have some additional tips, feel free to leave them in the comments as we can all benefit from them. Take it away Laurabeth…

One topic discussed among my music teacher colleagues is how to avoid being burnt out. The truth is, being a private music instructor is an emotionally draining profession and requires a unique cross-section of skills. I often ponder if I identify most as a businesswoman, teacher, or musician. Each one of those hats can be a stressful one to wear, let alone being all three simultaneously. Personally, it had gotten so exhausting that after teaching full time for fifteen years, I started asking myself if it was time to retire. In order to avoid leaving the only career I have ever known, drastic actions needed to be taken to change the environment of my studio. In no particular order, this list can produce healthy and professional boundaries that help avoid unnecessary heartache and stress.

#1) Studio Policies. 
Have a clear format of operations and policies and stick to them. Before starting a new student, sit down and explain how you operate. If the policies do not work for them, best they do not start lessons in your studio. I highly recommend a tuition based system and take at least eight weeks off of teacher per year. Breaks are crucial for re-energizing. Respect your time. Never work for free offering discounted lessons or make up lessons.

#2) Raise your Rates.
Being well compensated for your efforts is important for anyone’s job satisfaction. Know your market value and charge accordingly. I have joked that if you are not hesitant to say your rate out loud, you are not charging enough.

#3) Limit Communication with Students.
Have students only communicate via email. No text or phone communication enables you to be in control of the communication stream. Only check your email a couple times a day and not after 8PM. There is no need to be on call 24/7.

#4) Know your Demographic.
Acknowledge what age group you are best set to teach and you enjoy the most, and stick to it. I came to realize I was not enjoying teaching students under seven. Young student’s lessons are very exhausting and require a lot of planning. Now I market towards teen and adult students and turn students under eight away.

#5) Dismiss Problem Students and Be Choosey With New Students.
We are not obligated to offer lessons to anyone, even if they are currently enrolled in lessons at our studio. Not every student will be a good fit with every teacher. If the relationship is unhealthy for whatever reason, dismiss the student. Pick and choose who you accept as a student. Just because someone expresses interest in our service does not mean we should accept them as a student. It is truly easier to not start someone who exhibits red flags than to have to turn around and dismiss them because it is not working well.

#6) Keep Relationships with Students Professional.
Keep your personal life personal. If students send a friend request on Facebook, add them to the restricted list or do not accept at all. Do not engage in much non music related chit chat. We can be friendly, but students are not our friends. Steer clear of becoming an underpaid and under qualified therapist. We can be supportive and offer a quality experience without over engaging.
This has been the singular most draining problem for me as a teacher, keeping healthy personal and emotional boundaries with my students.

#7) Envision Your Dream Schedule and Then Actually Stick To It.
This is the beauty of self employment, complete control of our schedules. Know your limits and stick to them by not compromising your personal schedule for a student or adding too many students to your roster. Personally, not teaching Friday – Monday, getting off before 6:30PM, taking August off, and not teaching over 35 lessons per week is what works best for me. I have dismissed current students and turned away potential students because our schedules were incompatible.

#8) Establish Expectations.
Set an upfront expectation of practice and enforce it. Cut the students who do not practice at home. I realized I was not happy offering the same lesson over and over to students who never touched their instruments, whereas the students who were here to study music brought me great joy.

#9) Renew Your Enthusiasm and Love of Music by Taking Lessons Yourself.
As musicians, we are life long students ourselves. Push forward as a teacher to study new methods, concepts, and teach in new and exciting ways. Be an enthusiastic student of music and teach with exciting materials, and the students in your studio will be too.

#10) Do Your Best and Then Accept the Results.
Quit trying to convince students to be something they are not. If they do not want to practice, you do not need to keep teaching them. If they do not want to participate in the recital, that is their loss. If someone is not giving it their all, withdrawal emotionally. If they want to quit, let them go with your blessing. We can do our best to offer quality lessons and experiences, and what the students do with that is up to them.

Using the steps above I have taking myself from being terribly burnt out to being the most energized and enthusiast regarding teaching that I have ever been in my sixteen year career.


Laurabeth Roundy has been playing and performing classical violin for 27 years. She has been teaching private violin and piano lessons full time for 16 years and have taught well over 1000 students of all ages and backgrounds.

As a teen, she was concertmaster for the Everett Youth Symphony Orchestra, a member of the Seattle Youth Symphony, All Northwest Orchestra, and others. Laurabeth is a member of Cascade Symphony Orchestra and has performed as a soloist at hundreds of weddings. She continues her music education studying classical piano, piano pedagogy, and cello with ongoing professional education.

In 2005, Laurabeth graduated with honors from Western Washington University with a Bachelors of Science in Mathematics. She says, “Although my first passion is music, ultimately I decided not to major in music in college and pursued a degree that would offer more flexibility, in case I ever wanted to go back to graduate school. Turns out, I love teaching music and would never want to do anything else!”

You can find out more about Laurabeth and her studio at Arlington School of Violin Music Lessons.

1 Comment

  1. MusicalitySchools

    This is a very thorough and thoughtful article, Laurabeth! Teachers could head off several future problems by implementing many of your ideas. This just went to my Pinterest board — thank you!!


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