How to Take Time Off When the Wolf's at the Door
Updated: Dec 22, 2019
A Freelancer Music Teacher’s Journey
An independent voice teacher in a Facebook group posted a query. She was experiencing a lot of cancellations in the month of August, and wondered if any of her compatriots had similar experiences, and perhaps some suggestions for remedying the situation.
I don’t think she wanted to hear what I told her. I didn’t want to hear it when it was told to me.
Years ago, I worked out of a studio in the Fine Arts Building in the Chicago Loop. The building was, and is, someplace that musicians can rent professional space and also make noise. The 6th floor was very quiet, though, during the month of August. I seldom made enough money to cover my rent and parking. I’d sometimes make the haul to the Loop just to teach one student.
I was always broke. The idea of taking time off from teaching was very scary, financially.
One September, my neighbor, and older and much more experienced independent teacher of piano, asked how my summer was. I complained about my students’ sparse attendance in August, and he gave me some advice that terrified me. But I took his advice and have never regretted it. Richard said, “You have to take time off in the summer. If you don’t you’ll burn out. You have to give your students an opportunity to quit, and you have to give yourself an opportunity to stop and start again. If you never start a new teaching year it’s really hard to implement any policy or price changes”.
The bad news was that I was always broke. The idea of taking time off from teaching was very scary, financially. It shouldn't have been; August was a reliably good wedding month and my freelance singing calendar was pretty full. But you never know when a jobber is going to send the check, and the bills are due when the bills are due.
The good news was that Richard had given me this advice in September, so I had the better part of a year to both consider whether I’d take time off the following summer, and if I did, how I could save enough during the year to cover my August expenses.
I have many faults, but one of my strengths is that I’ll follow sensible advice from reliable sources. I do not have to learn everything the hard way. (I mean, most things, but not everything.) I considered Richard a reliable source, and his advice seemed sensible. In that year I started an “August Fund,” which I’ve recreated every year since then.
My “August Fund” has allowed me to take two or three weeks off every August – my slowest teaching month - even back when I was single and it seemed the wolf was constantly at the door. Every year it makes me nervous to do it, and every year I’m glad I did.
Richard was right. Sometimes there’s a student or two who don’t return after my August break. I always assume they’d been wanting to quit but probably didn’t know how. He was also right about using the “new start” as a time to introduce price increases and policy changes. I don’t do it every year, but when I need it I’m glad I’ve made a natural time for that to happen.
Mostly, though, I’m grateful to have some time to decompress from teaching. My students – their needs, development, and goals – take up a lot of real estate in my head. I sometimes just feel internally frazzled because they’re all up there in my brain, demanding my attention.
Teaching voice and running a voice studio are activities that are demanding both emotionally and intellectually. I’ve found that unplugging from my students and my studio isn’t a luxury, but is vital to my well-being. I can’t be there for them if I’m not there for me.