Imposter syndrome and the private music teacher

“Am I good enough?” “Why would anyone want to hear me play?” “Wouldn’t my students learn more from a different/better teacher?” Imposter syndrome is very real, and I think it affects a lot of people to some extent. I have heard phrases like this from so many private teachers, and indeed have had these exact thoughts and feelings myself on numerous occasions.

Yesterday I received a very spiteful and unnecessary comment on my Facebook group, from someone I have never met and who knows nothing about me, suggesting that I have no qualifications and shouldn’t be teaching as I don’t know what I’m doing. A few months/years ago this would have unsettled me and made me question what I was doing. Yesterday, whilst I was initially upset and angry about the comment, I quickly bounced back without feeling the need to defend myself or question whether I should be teaching or performing. I have a BA and Masters degree in Music. I have taught piano and cello for at least the last decade (albeit with a break in the middle). I have a successful little studio of around 20 students – all of whom are progressing well and love their lessons. I work very hard to make sure I’m giving them the best tuition that I can, with all the right resources and knowledge. I organise 2 recitals a year for them to perform at, and encourage them to perform publicly (at school etc.) and take exams. This is on top of looking after my 2 young children full-time, playing at gigs most weeks, teaching at the local music centre and helping to run a local music club. Life is extremely busy and I’m just doing the best I can.

I suddenly feel like my mindset has shifted over a short period of time, and this has made me think carefully about what caused these thoughts and feelings in the first place. I hope that the information below will be useful to any other teachers who may feel like they are a fraud!

What is Imposter Syndrome?

According to Wikipedia, Imposter Syndrome is “a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved. Individuals with impostorism incorrectly attribute their success to luck, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be.”

Sound familiar? Many private music teachers admit to feeling inadequate, or feeling like they are a fraud.

Why is Imposter Syndrome common in private music teachers?

Our society in general sees music as a hobby. ‘Successful’ professions are things like doctors, vets and lawyers. Teaching the piano (or any other instrument) isn’t seen as a ‘real job’ – I have even been asked outright a couple of times, by a student/parent, what my ‘real job’ is. You may have seen the Simpsons episode where Marge is trying to think of ways to raise money and one of her ideas is to teach the piano, even though she has never played – “I just have to stay one lesson ahead of the kid.” It’s easy to feel like this is how others see us, and don’t appreciate all the training and hours and hours of practice that has got us to where we are today.

Private music teaching is a very isolated job. We see our students for a short amount of time each week, but don’t have colleagues to chat to on a regular basis, and it’s easy to think we’re the only ones feeling like this.

What can I do to overcome/reduce the effects of Imposter Syndrome?

I think the most important thing is to realise that you’re not on your own. This is something that commonly effects lots of people in our profession, and knowing that there are others you can reach out to could be a big help. Social media is great for this – there are lots of groups where you can meet others in your position. These include (for those on Facebook) Piano Teacher Central, Piano Teachers With Beginner and Intermediate Students and Vibrant Music Studio Teachers.

If you feel like there is an aspect that you are lacking in, make a plan to do something about it. Find a teacher you can shadow to see how they deal with issues. Attend a course. Do your own research on the area. As musicians, we know there’s always so much more that we could learn. Make sure that you’re still learning all the time – read, attend courses – but don’t forget the amount of training and work that you have already put in to get to where you are.

For those who question whether piano teaching is a ‘real job’ – try to remember the reasons why you decided to do this in the first place. For me, music is a huge part of my life – and a good part of this is down to my teachers as a child. They were the ones who motivated me and inspired my love of music. My goal is to have this impact on others.

I’d be very interested to hear your views on this. I didn’t realise until fairly recently that affects such a wide range of people – if you have any advice or experience with Imposter Syndrome, it would be great to hear from you.

1 thought on “Imposter syndrome and the private music teacher”

  1. Vikki, I’m really impressed: this is so coherently, cogently and lucidly argued, and pellucidly written. And me — maybe because I started out on education and finding out what life was about very late, I still, even now, even though I have a PhD and have worked in the interpreting, academic, and publishing worlds, I still feel every day I’m going to be exposed as a fraud!
    Shall I tell you somebody else who felt that? Rimsky-Korsakov, who finished up writing 15 wonderful operas! He got what might be called these days, “Grade V piano”, but then spent the first 27 years of his life on active naval service, but taught himself to compose “by ear and by instinct”, as he puts it, and at the age of 27, on the basis of a few of his compositions which had been played at amateur concerts, was appointed as a tutor in composition at the St Petersburg Conservatoire, not having any idea of musical terminology, chord structure, etc; he had to try to keep ahead of his pupils by mugging up what he was teaching the night before! But inevitably the boring academic tutors of his time, who’ve never been heard of since, sniped at him constantly. I’ll give you more details in a more conventional email, since this is not the place — but you’re in very good company! I suppose almost involuntarily one thinks instantly of Mozart and Salieri. So beware of any Salieris you might meet!

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