Transcript: Episode 046 – Judy Naillon on Supporting Music Teachers Through COVID-19
Hey, there! It’s been a busy few weeks around here, the Business Building program is well under way, and I’m hopeful that we’ll find our summer rhythm soon.
Earlier this spring, I talked about how crises can breed creativity, and today’s episode is an example of that. Today’s interview highlights one teacher’s response to the hardships she was seeing as a result of COVID.
Hear how Judy’s desire to help a friend who was sick, potentially with coronavirus, led her to start a group for teachers to support each other through times of medical and mental health need.
Here’s my conversation with Judy:
Andrea: Hi Judy. Welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for being here today. Can you give us just a brief introduction to your studio and what you teach?
Judy: Sure. I am Violin Judy or Judy Naillon and I have been giving lessons since 1996 and I started giving lessons in the small town I grew up in and I don’t want to say there was no violin teacher but I did have quite a few students based on the fact that I was there and available. So I don’t know how great I was when I started teaching but I did have students right away and I also quickly added some piano students and I taught at my church basement and I am so glad that I did start early. I was just 14 when I started and it really helped me get a lot of business knowledge before I even hit college.
I now live in a town about an hour away from that small town I grew up in, Wichita, Kansas and I have many, many students. I’ll just say I have a full studio of violin, piano and ukulele students. I also play violin in the Wichita symphony and I’ve been doing that since college, so lots to do here for a busy music teacher.
Andrea: Lots to do. You definitely keep busy and you’re very active online in music teacher Facebook groups and always offering support there too, so that’s kind of how we got connected.
Andrea: We’re recording this in early June so a couple of months into Covid and all the studios shutting down in-person lessons and going online and things like that, can you talk to us about how your studio has been impacted?
Judy: Yes, I was really lucky to have an awesome transition into virtual lessons. The way that I have my makeup lesson structured is that I don’t offer a separate in-person live time for my students so their options are all virtual options. I would say about 80% of my students who come to the studio for lessons had already experienced a virtual lesson. I additionally already had a great setup for virtual lessons because I already had eight existing virtual only students who don’t even live in the state of Kansas. I think because of these two factors I was able to have such a great transition. I was even featured on a local mid-day program. It was about a 7-minute segment and they were looking to speak to a business who had made the transition successfully and I was so pleased. They did rerun that many times so all of my students have been able to see that and I included in that news piece a picture of almost all of them, so they were just very excited, even the adults, to see their picture on the news.[00:03:51]
Andrea: That’s awesome. Wow! And obviously, we know that not every teacher had the smooth transition that you have had and even once you get online that wasn’t the end of the struggle for a lot of teachers. What some really cool things have come out of this transition and just creative things have come up out of it? So can you talk about weekend activities you have come up with a neat response to Covid to support teachers? Can you tell us about that?
Judy: Yes, I created a Facebook group called MusiCARES Volunteer Teachers and MusiCARES is one word. It’s easy to find if you just type that in on Facebook and it’s also available on my studio Facebook page. This is a group that I created because I had a friend locally here in Wichita who suspected that she had Covid and her doctor told her she needed to self-isolate. She didn’t feel too bad at first. She was able to keep teaching but I kept asking her every day, many times a day, “How are you feeling?” I was just so worried about her and I knew that she is like me in that we will keep teaching until our deathbed. So I was really trying to get her to say, “I could use some help.” And so as I thought about how I could help her, I decided it would probably be a good idea if she really couldn’t teach all of her students–and she has many–that I get some other local teachers on board. I started talking to friends and then I realized that my friend here would not be the only teacher that would have this problem where she was sick and unable to teach her students.
And so I decided to post on my Facebook for friends that are music–just personal page–friends that are teachers who could give me information or maybe some times they had available. I was just getting the idea and Boom! I have like a hundred messages all at once and people emailing me and sending me messages and I could see this was going to be a huge undertaking if I was going to not just be helping my friend and I had the idea then to help other teachers. So I decided I should definitely make a Facebook group for this because it would be a much easier and simpler way to just stay organized and it really has taken off. Let’s see. I’ll go and look. How many people do we have in this group now? Sixty-four. We have 64 members right now. It’s just fantastic.
And so we were able to help my friend locally take care of her students that needed lessons and we’ve also helped with two other teachers who were ill and just needed a few lessons covered but I’m hoping that in the future people will come to this group who need help and also are willing to help.[00:06:45]
Andrea: Yeah, so your motivation was just to help your friend who is a teacher and just needed maybe time to take a rest from teaching, a few hours of lessons off her plate for a week, a short-term reprieve.
Judy: Yeah, she had been teaching successfully and then one day she told me, “Well, I was coughing so much today I just kept muting it.” And I really kind of strong on her into letting me just start doing this because even one lesson can give you a bad break if you teach back to back lessons like I do, a 30-minute break can help you get through the rest of the day. I really feel bad for anyone who is ill or struggling mentally because I do teach 7 days a week and I do teach back to back lessons. And just by the end of the day, the eye strain, the way you’ve lost your voice, it is so draining. It’s so different than in-person lessons and to be sick on top of that, I cannot tell them I have just had the luck to have wonderful health.
Andrea: And I think right now especially, where teachers are worried about protecting their income, maybe they already lost 20% of their students or something so they just think, “Oh I can’t take a break if I’m only coughing,” or worse. It’s a virtual lesson but to be able to have that little breathing space, so what other situations have you been able to help out in?
Judy: So far we have helped people who have a physical illness that is most likely Covid. What I’m hoping to do is that I’ve put in the description of the group that I don’t want this group just to be for people who are physically sick but people who mentally need a break, and it may be me, because I know I have a lot of students and I’m down here. My studio is in my basement so I don’t have natural light. I don’t have a window to look out of and take a break, which is good if you are a student and you don’t need any distractions. But if you’re me down here for 8 hours in a row, it gets a little depressing and as you know, you’re a piano teacher, I spent 15 minutes yesterday trying to explain to a very small 4-year-old boy that the pointer finger is the two, the four is not the two, you know, I mean, we’ve all had those situations where things are just not going well.
And honestly, I think that I’ve had the luck that my lessons have gone really well, but I can’t imagine how giving four or five of those lessons in one day and being able to teach the next day, you know. That’s when I might need a break too. So I do encourage people to just come and hang out in our group and that way, if you need the resources–knock on wood you won’t–then we have it there for you. But if you are willing to volunteer just one 30-minute lesson, you know, some people buy gifts 15-minute pre-school lessons. Some people might need just 15 minutes of your time, then it’s a really awesome way and it helps you feel so good about yourself and connected to these other teachers.
What else can we do in a pandemic, right? We can’t go out and volunteer at the food bank like we used to, right? I mean, there are not very many things we can do. As a piano teacher who has no medical training and we need to self-isolate and be safe, this is something if you want to help people in this pandemic, this is something you can do. So I really encourage people come check out our group and maybe join us.[00:10:10]
Andrea: And what instruments are you looking for teachers?
Judy: Right now anything. First I started with piano and then I realized she also does viola, violin, cello, string, and then my good friend who plays baroque oboe said, “You know, I teach baroque oboe,” which is a specialty. But really, I give a great presentation and speech on baroque music. So if any wind teachers were sick I could just talk to a student about differences in baroque music and classical music and these instruments. I said, “That would be fantastic,” then I thought, we better open it up to wind teachers too and to anyone who teaches a musical instrument or voice can come and join our group. I think this will be something really awesome as it grows.[00:10:58]
Andrea: And do you see it going beyond Covid?
Judy: Definitely. I think that any teacher who is sick or having a mental health day in the future could take advantage of this. It doesn’t have to be pandemic-related. People that want to help now during this crisis will probably still want to help a fellow teacher in a later point and time as well.
Andrea: I know teachers can be reluctant to ask for help. We’re a stubborn bunch. And what are some situations where you’d really encourage a teacher to ask for help for covering a few lessons even if they don’t want to?
Judy: Well, you know yourself better than I do, I mean, I’m not a medical professional but I know when I need to take some time off. And when I need to take some time off I can make that happen because I have in my schedule an extra week that I don’t schedule that I can just message someone and say, “Hey, you know, I really have some things I need to take care of today so this is going to be one of my unscheduled teaching days.” Now, in general, I don’t take those. I’m stoic and I try to just plow through so I can save those days for a vacation at the end of the summer. But I think if you really feel like, you know, if I had four of those lessons where I could not get Johnny to figure out which finger is 4 for 15 minutes solid, I think if when you reach that point where if you just need to like if you’re muting in silent screaming, it might be time to just take two or three lessons and take advantage of this system.
We have a really nice organization. We have a really nice structure, I should say, so that you don’t really have to worry about a teacher coming and giving a fantastic lesson and trying to coach your student.[00:12:41]
Andrea: Yeah, can you tell us more about that?
Judy: Sure, that would be fine. I’m happy to do that. So I put some thought into the organization because when I first started teaching I had a local teacher who loved to poach my students and it just broke my heart every time, and I don’t want that to happen to somebody where somebody will see this group as a way to join the group and kind of see who’s getting sick or who’s going to have a bunch of students to unload and then maybe just snaps them up. I don’t want it to be like that.
What I did is I asked each teacher if they would sign up and when they give the information, give it to me instead of the student directly, and then the teacher who is ill or having that mental health day will also give the student’s information to me or another group moderator, and then we just connect the two people without revealing personal information and we have a Zoom. We use Zoom and instead of it being like “Oh, this is my Facetime ID which is also my email if you need to contact me in the future,” that’s not an option.
So in the Zoom we have just a link so that it wouldn’t even be the teacher’s personal meeting ID. So what I do is when a teacher needs that help I give the student the information by sending them a link about 15 minutes before their lesson would start so that it’s completely private and there’s no worry about someone trying to get your student’s information.
Andrea: Awesome. Yeah, that’s really I’m sure assuring to the teacher that they’re not going to lose students because they accepted the help of a substitute for a few hours.
Judy: Yes and another thing that we have done is ask teachers to not bring their A-game to these lessons. We don’t want a teacher to come in with the latest apps and the coolest technology and some really fantastic new music. We just want a teacher who can listen to what the student has been working on, give lots of praise, maybe one critique, and make notes for the teacher who has been ill and send those notes on to the coordinator.
The other unique thing in the group is that if you are the ill person, the person who is going to be giving your lesson doesn’t even need to know it’s you. You can be completely anonymous other than to the group administrators.[00:15:08]
Andrea: Alright. And what do you do to vet the teachers who are joining the group and serving the subs?
Judy: Well so far with 63 people in the group I actually know most of those 63 people just from being on Facebook friends and then teacher groups with them. So it’s been pretty easy to tell so far. I will say that if I don’t know someone personally in the group I would want another teacher to vouch for them. I want to be able to go to their studio Facebook page or to their personal page and see that they are legitimate piano teacher, you know, being in a local MT and A_ chapter or something that would give you some street cred with me. But more than that, I really do want someone who personally knows the teacher. But if you really want to be in my group, you can also just email me and you listen to this podcast, which would probably mean that you’re an actual piano teacher.[00:16:03]
Andrea: So how can teachers get involved? How can they volunteer with MusiCARES?
Judy: Yes, they can join the Facebook group MusiCARES Volunteer Teachers and they can look for posts. Usually posts will have instantly as I post them, but sometimes I’ll post something and I don’t get any bites right away, maybe it’s because everyone’s working or teaching or it’s the middle of the night, but in that case, I do have some people that I know who are really anxious. There are some teachers who are just so anxious to volunteer so I may just message people too and say, “Hey, I know you wanted to volunteer. Can you do a 4:15 Central Standard Time on a Thursday?”
Oh, as long as I’m talking about time zones, I will mention that one of my goals is to match up teachers with students who aren’t even in the same time zone. I really do want to make sure that the opportunities for poaching are few and far between. If someone was going to switch teachers they would be more likely to switch teachers in their own town than want that person who is 500 miles away, I think. I was trying to figure out how to make this just really streamlined and make teachers want to take advantage of it who are sick.[00:17:14]
Andrea: And what’s the turnaround usually like if a teacher needs a volunteer to take their lessons? What is the minimum amount of time? Are they asking for at 9:00 AM for a 4 o’clock this afternoon lesson or is it days out? How does that typically look?
Judy: Usually you don’t know three days in advance you’re going to be sick with Covid. The idea is that someone could go and in a very short amount of time we would be able to coordinate them, hopefully, with teachers for their students. So I hope that as this group grows, you know, we just have two administrators right now. We’ll probably have more in the future as the group grows but I hope that we can keep that turnaround time short because if you are teaching online and you can quickly look at Facebook. It only takes about a second to do that. That’s an easy thing to monitor and if you’re also on your teaching break and you’re looking at Facebook, if a volunteer opportunity arises, then that’s going to be in your notifications too.[00:18:13]
Andrea: How about let’s say it’s someone who has to care for a family member? Would it be appropriate for someone to ask for help if they needed to go take their mom to her physical therapy appointment or something like that?
Judy: Yeah, I mean as a teacher who, I mean, I love to teach and I’m doing this seven days a week and I think it’s fun to teach other people’s students because it’s just “Hi” and you know, sit there for 30 minutes and be pleasant and you’re like you’ve done something wonderful, I mean, I certainly would be willing to volunteer. I feel like many of our teachers would be willing to volunteer for people who are assisting someone with a medical problem too. I can think of a lot of people who will have cancers that need longer treatments and you just don’t know how you’re going to feel. You don’t sign up to get cancer and when you skip the treatments you don’t know, they don’t tell you, you’re definitely going to feel terrible because if you’re teaching online you can feel terrible and still teach. It doesn’t take as much energy or effort and you can mute it but it is nice to have time to rest. And that’s when your body can recover quickly is when you do have that time to rest, another reason I would volunteer which makes me think that other people would also volunteer.[00:19:27]
Andrea: And I think it’s so important that like say it’s a teacher with cancer that they’d still be able to teach. I think it raises spirits and that’s good for health too, as much as they can and then just those days that they can’t that it’s good to know there’s something they could fall back on and not let their students down, not feel any pressure about that.
Judy: I know. If a national group like the Music Teachers National Association wanted to take over this group, I mean, that would be fantastic if there was even more structure and if there was even more organization and more advertising and more members. Someday that would be great if somebody wants to take over this group who is like an organization like that. I think that would be wonderful too.
I think as more people hear about this they will want to participate and not just in the greedy way but in the “this is the easy way to help.” We as independent music teachers, we don’t have these sick days or a substitute teacher. It’s just hard and to reschedule people if you already have a very full schedule like I do, it’s hard. There’s not a lot you can do and I personally believe consistency is the key to success. Even if you have a student who isn’t practicing, they show up every week for lessons, they’re still learning.
I don’t know if you’ve heard that story about the piano teacher who would have a new student meeting and she would tell the parents, “Well if they’re going to practice I charge this much and if they’re not going to practice I charge more. Just tell me now.” But some people would still sign up their student if they weren’t going to practice at home and they would still make progress, and she was making more money. There’s something to be said for consistency so I’m happy to help people with it.[00:21:12]
Andrea: Alright Judy, well thank you so much for the work you’re doing there and for having the idea and putting it into action. I think lots of music teachers will be benefiting from this in the future. And where can listeners get in touch with you and get involved?
Judy: All my social media is ViolinJudy. So you can find me on Facebook, Instagram. My Facebook studio page is Violinjudystudio and violinjudy.com. And you can also find me in the MusiCARES Volunteer Teachers Facebook group. We’ll make sure you get a link for your site for that as well.
Andrea: Alright, yeah, we’ll have all those in the show notes. Thank you Judy.
Don’t you love that Judy took the initiative to make something like MusiCARES exist?
I appreciate the way Judy so thoughtfully structured the group to make it truly helpful for teachers. We don’t have to worry that by asking for help we’re just trading the stress of being sick for the stress of having an opportunistic teacher recruit students from our studios.
I also love the idea of using the volunteered lessons to teach about a topic we’re passionate about that may not be a normal part of lessons, whether that’s baroque music or songwriting or music production or something else. This could be an opportunity to test a new curriculum or a masterclass topic.
Now, I know music teachers are generally a pretty kind-hearted bunch of people. As you listened to this episode you were probably thinking about how you could help. And, absolutely, please think about that.
But I also want to encourage you to think about how you could receive help. Actually, I’d go so far as to challenge you to find an opportunity to ask for help.
Maybe you’ve had a lot of heavy life stuff going on. A major personal transition. A demoralizing blow to your studio enrollment. The loss of a family member or friend.
Or maybe you just feel like you’ve been in a perpetual Zoom call since March and you’re beginning to dread lessons.
These are the things MusiCARES volunteers want to help you through. Is it time to ask for help?
Getting over our own pride and asking for help, whether it’s getting a sub for a few lessons or just asking for feedback about our studios, may be one of the hardest and most valuable skills we can learn to grow as entrepreneurs.
It’s not always easy, but it’s so worth it.
So, whether you need a hand or want to lend, check out Judy’s Facebook group. All the links will be in the show notes at musicstudiostartup.com/episode046
And if you wanted to really help me out, I’d love it if you left a rating and review for the Music Studio Startup podcast on iTunes. You all rock.
That’s all for today. Thanks for listening. I’ll be back next week.