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Is it legal to give PIANO lessons to your choir students?

I know people had discussed the legality/ethicality of giving VOICE lessons to their choir students (public school), but I have a student (and her mother) who is interested in piano lessons. I talked with the band teacher, who had been given the answer "no" when a student wanted private lessons for their instrument, because it is a conflict of interest. But I'm teaching choir...and it's not voice lessons. What is the ruling in this area? Because I know so many teachers don't abide by it. I had lessons with my choir director in high school. And the teacher here before me was able to give voice lessons (they allowed it because she was part time, and she had already had some students when she was hired). What is your opinion? I'd like to have an idea of whether or not I should ask the principal, or just tell the mother that I cannot give her child lessons.
Replies (13): Threaded | Chronological
on October 10, 2013 5:46pm
In my experience, it depends on the state you are in, and any specific regulations passed by the school board.
In one state, I was permitted by the state and by three different districts to give after school voice and instrumental lessons to my own students (and on school property). These districts were in rural areas where private instructors were often few and far between. In two of these districts, there were school board rules about appropriate content of these lessons. Help on their band music - should be part of my job and not OK for paid lessons. Advanced etudes and preparation for competitions and auditions? Fine to work on in private lessons. This was based on the general school rules for any paid tutoring outside of school done by teachers.
In another state, I was permitted to give after school voice and instrumental lessons to my own students, but only OFF school property. To my knowledge, this was a school board regulation, not any kind of actual law.
I think you should ask someone in the business office of your school - your principal may or may not know the specifics of what is or is not OK. I know in one of the cases, my principal had no idea what the rules were, or why. I had to get my information from the superintendant's office, union rep and/or music department chair. If you are a union employee, you probably have a union lawyer you could consult on this for free - they would probably have much better information about any actual applicable state laws.
on October 10, 2013 6:45pm
Dear Kristi:
In asking the question, you yourself are obviously unsure of the "smell" test... and a good rule of thumb in an instance like this is to say no. The desire to teach a good student is a strong motivator for you, the desire to establish an additional connection; but in the end, it is just not right to tutor private lessons to a student that you also teach in a classroom setting.
Whether you are leaning yes or no, you should get the opinion of your principal, and then follow their advice.
Maybe you could refer the parent and student to another teacher/tutor in your school district. Some music departments maintain lists of private tutors located in the area... teachers and former teachers in the school system, as well as other residents in the area that offer these lessons.
Sorry for the bad news, but "... that's the way it is."
on October 11, 2013 5:23am
Can someone please explain to me how lessons "conflict" with anything??
Ron, please explain how it is "just not right" to tutor private lessons to a student that one also teaches in a classroom setting. I have never heard of such a position before, and in fact, know many school music teachers who do it all the time.
Kristi, just do it!
Applauded by an audience of 4
on October 11, 2013 7:27am
This does seem rather silly - I'm D of M in one of the smaller colleges at Oxford University and I don't think twice about giving my choir members singing lessons if they ask. I can't see how there can possibly be a conflict.
on October 11, 2013 7:33am
Just hearing the question raised gives me a shiver.  Is the government so far-reaching in our lives that we cannot give piano lessons to students after school?  If so, then it is another indicator that our government has overstepped what our founders had in mind many years ago, regardless of how you feel about ObamaCare!
on October 11, 2013 7:38am
Sure, Mr. Maroney.
The basic premise is that there is an inherrent conflict of interest when a music teacher is the director for the whole group, or the whole district, and the private teacher for one or more of those same students. That is especially true in a public school setting where a student is paying for the private lessons "on the side". Now imagine "X" number of kids auditioning for a solo -- who and why are the soloists selected?
Now, hypothetically, if students already take lessons from you in your private studio, and you form an ensemble from that pool of students, I can see where that would be acceptable; but to go the other way around is not acceptable. Even in a rural setting, where the available community/professional musical resources may be rare, the schools generally frown on this practice.
The same goes for non-music subjects as well -- PT and OT teachers in the schools can not / should not also be hired as private therapists by the families of their school students. What parts of the therapy gets taught during the school sessions, and what gets taught during the private/paid session. The same goes for math tutors, by the way, and other academic subjects (good math tutors can earn upwards of $80-$100 or more per session!).
Somehow, some districts find reasoning to allow these practices, and/or some teachers get around this in their own unique ways... (i.e., one tutor I know used to offer music tutoring only in the summers...) I can not speak to every incidence in every district. But bottom line, try to avoid it. If you have specific question on this, you should probably check with your administration.
In a "perfect world", everyone would be above-board and doing things appropriately... But as I'm sure you know, we do not live in a "perfect world".
Hope this helps...
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 11, 2013 7:57am
I too have never heard of any problems with giving piano lessons.  I don't take money for students that I teach in Choir or Band because I feel that it is part of my job to help those students as long as we are working on school related music.  But piano lessons are not part of the curriculum and if a student can play the piano it helps them in all other areas of music.  I have to wait until after 4:00 p.m. or after our contracted hours but I do charge for piano lessons.  If you teach at your home it shouldn't be a problem or a concern of the school at all, but I do my piano lessons after 4 at school because it is more convenient for everybody. I have never heard of any problems on our area for this.
on October 11, 2013 8:05am
When I was teaching in public school, I had several people approach me about lessons and I always had to turn them away. This was, however, only because our school had a specific policy that you couldn't make your own money on school property WITH school property (since I would be using the piano in my chorus room).
However, I think it's a wonderful bonding experience you can have with your student(s) and I bet it would make them feel that much more responsible for being a real leader in choir :)
I'd echo what people say here - find out what is supposed to happen in your particular school and then (if possible) run with it! :)
on October 11, 2013 8:11am
To summarize:
1.  Check with your administrators - principal, head of department, etc. - to see if they are aware of any inherent limitations to your efforts.
2.  If you are a union employee, check with the union lawyer and see what the union's stance is on this.  Of course, this isn't a problem if you're not covered by a union.
3.  If you plan to do this on school property, make DOUBLY sure that the school district or school administration doesn't have a problem with this.
4.  Since it is in an area (in my judgment) about which you cannot influence anything - I would agree that private lessons at the public middle or high school levels to one of the students IN THE AREA FOR WHICH YOU HAVE BEEN HIRED is probably inappropriate - then I do not see, even with Ron's explanation, how there is anything "inherently wrong" with doing this.  If this were done at the teacher's home, as a private studio, what difference to the school or the district?  And it's not a case of "doing it on the sly" - it's a private arrangement.
5.  The only concern NOT mentioned is the chaperoning issue to avoid the possibility of impropriety of sorts having nothing to do with music - not that you would, but in this litigious society, you can't be too careful.  That may be something you need to give thought to.
on October 11, 2013 8:52am
I know teachers in 7 districts in 3 states who give voice lessons to students they have in their choirs. I asked all of them, none have ever had problems at the state, district, or school level. After I asked them two went to district music supervisors and one to their principal just to double check and all three laughed off the question. Everyone I've talked to and everyone they've talked to think that calling this "conflict of interest" is ridiculous.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on October 11, 2013 9:40am
It's not about an over-reaching government.  Primary and secondary schools (and districts) have these sorts of policies to protect against the possible appearance of favoritism (see Ronald Isaacson's response below), to prohibit the use of public school facilities for private gain (see Ashley Conway's response below), and to avoid insurance liability issues.  In contrast, at the college level, instructors are often expected to have private studios on campus. 
Kate Thickstun, Esq.
Artistica Director
Pacific Women's Chorus
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 12, 2013 8:17am
The public school districf where I taught forbids this practice.

The private school where I now teach actively asked me, at the interview, if I'd please be willing to offer private voice and piano lessons to the students right there in the music room.

on October 13, 2013 8:05am
Let's get this straight here! Are we talking about giving lessons (which is the word used in the question) or about selling lessons?
I note that Teresa Mingusactually does the former, though it would appear most imply the latter. Bravo Teresa! This practice of actually giving lessons certainly lessens the favoritism factor that some alluded to. But there is certainly room for favoritism and arm twisting, especially in a school environment, even if it is not terribly overt: "You'll probably get much better marks, Johann, if you take a few (paid) lessons with me". Somehow this diminishes when it is phrased: "You'll probably get much better marks, Johann, if you work with me a bit after school, and of course I don't charge for this".
It is interesting that the practice is much more common - even expected - in a university environment. But this does not lessen conflict of interest! I taught in a renowned music school for over thirty years and witnessed a number of questionable situations. It happens everywhere, in every profession. As Ronald Isaacson noted above: "In a "perfect world", everyone would be above-board and doing things appropriately..."
We are showing wisdom and sensitivity when we put the notion of our "imperfect world" into the equation.
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