Returning to face-to-face teaching Jump to main content

Returning to face-to-face teaching

Last week, we caught up with two ISM members - singing and piano teacher, Annie Sharkey FISM, and piano teacher, Joanne Snowden MISM - to share their experiences of lockdown, and how they have found the process of returning to face-to-face teaching.

How did you adapt your teaching when the lockdown came into effect?

Annie: When lockdown happened, we were all sent home from school not knowing what to expect. I took home my teaching materials, as I had pupils just about to do their Trinity Graded exams. As it happened, these were also cancelled, so we managed to continue tuition online and eventually did a digital version of the exam. I found myself listening to recordings day and night as pupils sent them to me for evaluation. When we felt it was good enough to send, we then had to overcome the challenges of condensing files and uploading them to send. They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks but this old dog had to learn a few! I can't tell you how relieved I was when we got confirmation of receipt from Trinity.

Joanne: I adapted to online teaching very quickly. I actually switched to online lessons a week earlier than lockdown, because I could see the writing on the wall. I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday phoning my students, who all switched to virtual lessons, and working out how Zoom worked and what new technology I needed.

I like to use games to teach and reinforce concepts, and have a 40-piece challenge running in my studio, so I had to work hard to adapt to new ways to keep students challenged and feeling successful.

When did you return to face-to-face teaching?

Joanne: The week commencing 14 September. I saw four of my students in person out of 24.

Annie: School reopened in September, and face-to-face lessons began straight away. I still had a small number of home pupils, who preferred to stay with online lessons for a while.

How did you feel about returning to face-to-face teaching before having to do it?

Joanne: I’m probably the only piano teacher in England who wasn’t looking forward to face-to-face lessons! All I could see were the restrictions and rules I’d have to have in place, which aren’t there for Zoom lessons, where I now know just how to teach anything I need to teach.

Annie: I was worried about returning to school for a variety of reasons. Firstly, my own safety and that of the pupils. I was also unsure how many pupils would actually return to lessons, due to fear of safety and also the impact of the pandemic (maybe parents losing jobs etc). As it turned out they all returned and have settled back into routine.

What measures did you put in place to protect yourself and your students?

Annie: Both at school and at my home studio, I have clear shields in place for the singers to stand behind. Pianists wear their masks and I also wear masks and a face shield. I greet the students at the door armed with my hand sanitiser and digital thermometer. I think the younger kids enjoy having their temperature taken each week and they always ask what it was. I have practised glissandos up and down the two pianos with disinfectant wipes and am getting very good at them. I sometimes wonder whether I am in the teaching profession or working for a cleaning company, as I clean music stands, piano stools and door handles between pupils, and if you stand still long enough, I would probably wipe you down with disinfectant too! Such is the changed routine.

Joanne: I ask my students to get changed into clean clothes after school - wash their hands, go to the loo, as there's no more using the bathroom in my home. They sanitise hands on arrival and handle their own lesson materials and stationery. I clean the piano between students. I use a pop-up acrylic screen between my chair and the piano and I wear a face mask if I want to sing. I also ensure that parents complete a COVID-secure checklist before coming to confirm they are not showing any symptoms.

I'm being more flexible in my terms and will offer catch-up lesson slots if lessons are missed.

How did you find teaching face-to-face?

Joanne: I did love seeing my students’ happy smiley faces coming through the door. I am so glad I decided to do it for the sake of those students who needed the personal contact. However, I found the teaching experience very restrictive, and there is no way to demonstrate technique or sound except on a piano, and my teaching area just doesn’t offer the space to do that safely.

I find Zoom easier now, although I never thought I’d say that! It’s less restrictive – I can sing when I need to, I can demonstrate technique and sound, I have lots of online theory and rhythm games to play. I also don’t have to worry about breathing on anyone, or sharing the same keys as someone who’s just coughed on them.

While the majority of students are thriving in online lessons, especially with greater input from parents as they are at home more, a few are struggling with the online format and I want to get them back on track with face-to-face lessons - before another lockdown happens!

Annie: All in all, I have found face to face teaching surprisingly pleasant even with all the changes. I enjoy seeing my pupils again and asking how they are doing with all the changes for them. Some of them have just started secondary education and all of this has added extra stress for them. I have even started using Google Classroom in school to share handouts with the pupils without the need to touch them (another new venture for me). I have found some positives in the experience of having to teach online. I now can offer the pupils the online choice when they have difficulty in getting to my studio, or if they are off school but well enough to have their lesson. No more missed lessons! I do have to be well organised with books etc as I am asking them not to bring any unnecessary material to their lesson, and I use my own books. The school children are also finding positives in the routine at school as the one-way system means it takes longer to get to classes!

I would like to thank the ISM for keeping us all updated on the regulations, letting us know if and when we could resume face-to-face lessons.


Joanne Snowden is a private piano teacher based in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. You can get in touch at [email protected], or visit her website.

Annie Sharkey is a singing and piano teacher based in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. As well as her private students, she also teaches at Loreto College, Coleraine. To get in touch, visit her Facebook Page.

Returning to performing

ISM member and pianist, Jane Everard MISM, shares her experience of returning to live performance, putting on a socially-distanced concert in her local community for VJ Day.