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Taking time off

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#1 BabyGrand


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Posted 02 February 2019 - 18:53

I am having a very difficult time at the minute, with a combination of ill health and tough personal circumstances, and it's reached a point where it's become difficult to cope (though I feel embarrassed to admit that).  I have already had to cancel lessons a few times and take a few days off, and people who care about me are encouraging me to consider taking a longer period of time off to recover.  Obviously when you are self-employed, that's not easy to do!  I know I am very blessed in that I could manage financially for a time if necessary, because I have family members who would make sure I'm ok, although I really don't like having to ask that of them.  But in terms of the disruption to my students' learning, and potential damage to my business (if people leave because of the gap in lessons), there's not a lot I can do.  I don't know any other teachers locally who could cover for me, and I feel bad for letting my students down.  I have a number of students preparing for exams this term.  So I'm currently going back and forth over what's best, and I'm not sure what to do.  


Any advice would be appreciated.  Has anyone ever taken a longer period (more than a week) of time off before?  I have only done so once before, a number of years ago, due to sudden illness, and people were supportive but it did cause problems and I lost a few students who lost momentum during the break, and never picked up again.  At the minute I feel like I want to carry on and I'm trying to guess whether I'll cope or not, and I just don't know.  So I don't know whether to try and see, or to make the decision to take a break now.  And if I did, I don't know how long is a reasonable break, or how to go about it.  (Should I try to keep just my exam candidates going, or is that penalising students who don't take exams?) Etc.  My GP I'm sure would sign me off work, but that's pretty meaningless!  Although perhaps it would be a better way of telling my students/parents if I had that stated "officially"?  I could also contact the ISM (of whom I'm a member), if it would be worth doing that?  


I'm just feeling at a bit of a loss to know to do.  I know the forum is usually pretty quiet at the weekend, but I hope someone is around who might be able to offer some advice.  Thanks!  

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#2 HelenVJ



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Posted 02 February 2019 - 19:05

Very sorry to hear that, BG. Often we are the last people to realise when we need to take some time off. It's a big decision and (for once!) I really don't feel qualified to offer advice either way. I have no idea what I'd do in that situation ( sorry, that's probably not at all helpful!) and of course we do feel a special responsibility to our exam candidates. But I don't think that means that we should somehow struggle on valiantly when we need a break. You do have to look after yourself and put your health first.

It'd definitely be worth ringing one of the ISM Helplines on Monday. There used to be some kind of counselling helpline, I think, so you could talk things over with a professional. I believe the ISM also offesr some kind of financial support scheme and then there is also the Musicians' Benevolent Fund.

All the very best, and take care.

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#3 elemimele



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Posted 02 February 2019 - 20:30

Whatever you decide, don't feel guilty. All your pupils, even the exam ones, will survive. OK, some may go off and find other teachers, but many won't, and many will look forward to you being back again - and they'll be really happy when it happens (and they'll tell their friends, and it will build up again). Bad times happen, and you must, must look after yourself. It's normal and right to need time to look after yourself, time to recover. Remember, too, that if you were employed by someone, they'd probably plan a phased return to work rather than going from time-out to full flat-out schedule in one jump. So sad to hear what you're going through - I'm thinking of you. I hope it works out, but remember, please don't feel guilty.

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#4 zwhe


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Posted 02 February 2019 - 21:05

I would take this week off (tell everyone you're not well) and use the time to rest and think about what to do. If you haven't already, do consider counselling - I've done this several times and found it very useful to get someone else's perspective on how to manage. The one that stuck with me most from the last time, was when she asked me why I make other people's wants more important than my needs. Your physical and mental health are a need. Exams may seem important at the time, but nobody's health or career depends on them, and if you do happen to have a sixth-former that needs a grade 8 for uni, they can go to another teacher for a few weeks.

I really don't see a problem with only teaching exam pupils if that is what you decide - just explain to other pupils that is what you are doing, in case they find out you are giving some people lessons and not them. You could also consider a rota so people don't have lessons every week if you want to work fewer hours. Do you have any advanced pupils who could teach the beginners under your supervision?

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#5 Bagpuss



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Posted 02 February 2019 - 21:07

Bless you, BG.

Am sending hugs and a BAGMAIL :D

I had to take 3 weeks out in 2015...all my private pupils stayed, I fitted 3 lessons for each school student and group into just ten days and all exam pupils went on to achieve merits and distinctions in the next ABRSM session.

So it CAN be done, but YOU are more important.

Penning that BAGMAIL :D now...

BP xx
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#6 MollyM


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Posted 02 February 2019 - 21:37

Hi BabyGrand, I'm so sorry to hear you are going through some tough times.   No matter what, I think it's important for you to think about what is best for you and your health.  Health is always first and foremost, and only you can make that decision based on what you feel you need.


You mention students preparing for exams - are those exams coming up shortly?  Depending on how many students you have working towards exams and how long that preparation will take you, perhaps you could cut back on your workload by focussing on exam students only (?) helping them to prepare up until their exams with the notification that you will then be taking some time off (?) - perhaps a few months if need be.    It all depends on whether or not that would provide you with enough of an immediate sense of relief in your workload right now, knowing that you are slowing down working towards time off.


I found at one time I was truly taking on too much, so I made the decision to let go a number of students.  I simply explained that due to my workload I was having to cut back on teaching days and unfortunately were unable to continue teaching them.  I continued to teach those students I was putting through exams (there were only a few) and at the time I found my decision a wonderful relief and looking back I'm very pleased I didn't keep pushing myself when clearly I needed to slow down a little.    I had only one student who was quite angry with me for letting her go and she was quite rude in her response and showed me little/zero empathy, however, it just served to confirm I had done the right thing in letting her go! smile.png


You must put you and your health first - nobody else will.   And if you feel that you simply need to stop altogether to give yourself time, then that's what you do.  You have to help yourself first before you can help others x


Hope it all works out, there's just a few thoughts from me so I hope that might help you in making your decision.  Sending you good thoughts and wishes x

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#7 ma non troppo

ma non troppo


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Posted 02 February 2019 - 21:41

For many years I have wanted to take a serious break. I haven't taken more than three weeks off teaching in one slot ( as a break for holiday) since 1992. I fantasise about taking a month off. One day I am going to dare to do it, but I have a lot of financial commitments and it is unlikely I will ever be able to do it unless I am ill (I have insurance) or I finally retire.

I think if you feel tired maybe as others have said, take a week off and see how you feel. But I understand it is a worry financially. I think long standing and loyal students will not give up on you if you take a bit of a break. It is easy for others to say just do it, but I understand that the pressure of finances makes it difficult and ultimately more stressful potentially.
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#8 Minstrel



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Posted 02 February 2019 - 22:47

Apart from family, the most valuable, irreplaceable thing you have is your health. Make that your absolute priority, take whatever time you need to get yourself right. You can only be yourself and make the best of all the opportunities you have ahead if you invest in yourself now.

I had to take several weeks off following an accident a few years ago. Students, families and colleagues rallied, helped in ways I could never have dreamed of and stuck with me. Even so, when I returned I had to prioritise like mad and ended up giving up work at two ( out of ten ) schools to make everything else sustainable.

At the time it hurt and upset me even more that I might be letting people down , than that I was injured and that my body had a lot of healing to do. If anyone who recognises me is reading this, thank you for insisting that there are times when even the normally turbocharged have to accept that they can't do everything.

Look after yourself and be kind to yourself BG. Hugs.
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#9 Cyrilla



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Posted 02 February 2019 - 23:16

Bag and everyone else who has commented is right.


You clearly need this break - we all do when times are tough and when we seriously need to step back, re-evaluate, re-consider, regroup.   I had a major wobble some 15 years ago and was signed off for six months due to complete physical and emotional exhaustion.   I don't mind saying this because I recognise the signs in other people and I know how easy it is for these things to gradually creep up and for us to keep denying there's anything wrong.


I was lucky in that at that time I was mostly PAYE - however, if, as you say, you can cope financially for a while then please do it.


Definitely see your doctor, who I feel sure will sign you off.   It doesn't matter that you're self-employed - the fact is that your doctor has recognised that you desperately need time out.


When things become really bad, it's not something that can be recovered from with a week off, or a few good nights' sleep - I know because I've been there and done that and got all the T-shirts.


In the end I had 4 1/2 months off but I couldn't have gone on as I was.


I think you know that this is the right thing to do but just need reassurance from others that it is.


I think you now HAVE that reassurance from us all.



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#10 Banjogirl



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Posted 02 February 2019 - 23:30

The boy's cello teacher had to take a term off just after he left get due to an ongoing health problem. I don't think she lost any pupils. Everyone understood and just managed.
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#11 BadStrad



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Posted 03 February 2019 - 02:37

A stewardess I used to know told me that the biggest mistake parents make in an emergency is to try and put the oxygen masks on their kids before themselves. Her point - if the parent runs out of air struggling with a kid and their mask, none of them survive. If the parent has oxygen, they won't suffer from hypoxia, they have as much clarity as can be mustered in an emergency which is what they need to save the kid.

Take the breath. You can't help (teach) if you're not breathing. Even if every pupil leaves, you will rebuilt your teaching practice, but not if you don't give yourself some time to deal with what's going on.

If pupils have exams booked and you feel able to continue to work with them do so. Pupils not taking exams can take time to explore stuff, work on existing material etc. At the end of the day you need to look after your self.
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#12 Dorcas



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Posted 03 February 2019 - 08:07

Absolutely take some time off, Baby Grand.  I like the suggestions that you take off a week, contact the ISM and see your GP.   You might find you will be too stressed not teaching your exam students, so consider a reduced timetable at the very least.  You might find the ISM could put you in touch with local teachers?  Anyway, from personal experience, if you try and push yourself too far, you will just end up sicker.  If you don't look after yourself, you won't be able to look after anyone else, including your students.


Have a virtual hug xx

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#13 Splog



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Posted 03 February 2019 - 09:00

I recently had to take a year off due to illness. The decision was made in the summer so I didn't have anyone entered for exams, although one was planned. I dropped one school, and a friend knew someone who could cover the other school where there were GCSE students. I dropped my private students, but told them they were free to go to another teacher if they wished.(None of them did)  I had already given up one choir, and handed the other over to my assistant MDs who still run it.


When I came back, my income for the year was about half of what it had been the year before I left, but this year it is almost back up. Almost all my private students came back, and I got a few more. I started a new singing group closer to home, and have tried to arrange my teaching now so that I have two free days during the week.


I didn't regret it at all, and I will join with the others in saying that the most important thing is your health. Before I was diagnosed, I was very stressed, and feeling that I should take time off, but not wanting to let others down. I guess I was like a child not wanting to go to bed in case she misses anything. I only gave up the first choir because I was talking to one of the members and it slipped out that I wasn't happy there, and she set the balls in motion for me. Thankfully we had managed to find someone to take it over before I was ill.


There is no problem at all professionally with continuing to teach only students with exams this term, but only if you feel you can. Depending on your situation, they may be able to get their exam fees refunded if you can't. Also, if you decide to teach them, see if you can get them all together on the same day.


Good luck, and huge hugs, Splog xxxxx

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#14 DMC


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Posted 03 February 2019 - 10:25

It's hard to get off the treadmill isn't it? Even when you know in your heart of hearts you need it.


You'd be surprised how loyal your pupils will be to you. I took 2 months off a few years ago to work as Cocktail Pianist. All my pupils, bar one, were there when I got back.


When I did return, I felt refreshed, and my teaching felt rejuvenated. 


Be sure to tell HMRC if your income has dropped, as they can reduce your payments on account accordingly, which can help smooth things out. 


Good luck!

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#15 jenny



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Posted 03 February 2019 - 14:10

Lots of great advice here, as I expected there would be from the many caring teachers on this forum. I don't feel I can add more - just look after yourself and put yourself first right now.  And a big group hug from us all. grouphug.gif  

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