Here’s the conundrum: in order to get hired to teach, you need experience. But in order to get that experience, you need to get hired. Because of this, musicians without much teaching experience often end up discouraged and stuck, going nowhere fast.
A version of this issue was raised in the webinar sessions last week on applying for college teaching jobs. Thank you to everyone who participated and everyone who helped spread the word! I had a blast and one of the best things for me was the wide range of terrific questions people asked. Below is one I wanted to unpack further:
What if I don’t have enough teaching experience?
First of all, whenever we’re working on our own promotional materials, the feelings of not being “enough” will come up. Of not being smart enough, talented enough, or accomplished enough. It’s all of our self-esteem gremlins acting up, our fears about being judged and our worries about how we stack up to the competition. This is normal: we’re human.
So be kind to yourself, but park your ego to the side. Take an honest look at the experience you have, how you are presenting it, and what you can do going forward.
You’ll also need to take an honest look at the job descriptions you are considering and evaluate if you are in fact an appropriate candidate. Getting objective feedback from an experienced mentor or coach can be very helpful. Especially someone who has hired people for the kinds of jobs you are considering.
In working with clients on their CVs for college teaching jobs—or résumés for any other work—I regularly find that they’ve left off some of their most relevant and impressive credits. So I often find myself asking clients a series of questions like . . .
1. Have you taught master classes or clinics, presented workshops or lecture demonstrations?
Yes, all that is teaching and it counts. I often find musicians have either forgotten about these experiences, not kept track, or assumed that because these aren’t actual “jobs” that they don’t count.
Go back through your calendars, datebooks, contracts, or files of programs and travels. Write down the names of the schools and institutions where you spoke, presented, or coached. Note the topics or subjects. Take credit for your experience.
2. What about any coaching?
Coaching is teaching. Have you coached individuals or ensembles informally? Think back, maybe it was at a summer festival or in helping colleagues prepare for auditions. Have you served as an informal assistant conductor or led sectional rehearsals? Adjudicated competitions? Is any of this on your CV or résumé?
3. Have you served as a teaching assistant?
Just make sure you detail what you actually did. Don’t simply list your duties and responsibilities. Focus in on what you created, managed, and delivered—on what makes your teaching distinctive.
4. What about community engagement, educational performances, or residency work (AKA “outreach”)?
Yes, this is a form of teaching, too. If you were speaking with and actively engaging the audience, and delivering explorational learning experiences, that’s teaching. Have you created any of these engagement programs? Do you have testimonials from participants or partnering organizations? Because this can help bolster your credentials.
5. Is there any other kind of teaching that you’ve done?
Any volunteer tutoring, test prep, or perhaps mock audition advising you may have offered to students or peers? And any teaching outside of music?
Note: It doesn’t matter if this was paid or unpaid work. Experience is experience. If you did it you can own it. Just make sure you represent it accurately.
You may think the employer won’t care that you taught SAT prep or that you were a swim coach every summer. You may think only music teaching counts.
For one thing, non-music teaching experience can make your CV more memorable.
For another, if that experience includes transferable skills such as classroom management, the ability to motivate and engage students, or curriculum design—that can help build your case as a viable candidate.
And evidence of teaching success is a compelling story in any arena.
Maybe it’s the number of season wins for the swim team, or the percentage of students who significantly improved their SAT scores, or the number of people you tutored who passed exams and courses thanks to your good work. The details count.
I hope as you’re reading this that you’re remembering experience that you can add to your CV, résumé, or teaching bio.
Again, I find that most musicians aren’t communicating their strength and value as teachers, in part because they haven’t sat down and thought about what they’ve actually done. And they haven’t taken the time to get it down on paper in a concise and compelling format.
Now is a great time to focus in and clean up your materials so you can put your best self forward in the upcoming season.
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Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well