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Is it a conflict of interest to give Voice lessons to your choir students?

Thanks to all those who sent in responses about the issue of giving voice
lessons to choir members. As always, your collective wisdom is a wonderful
resource and you have helped me to formulate a clear policy.

In general the responses fall into two groups, those that teach in high
school and those that are in a community setting (or university). The
responses from high school teachers confirmed my feeling that it is a
conflict of interest to give private lessons to students in a public school
and charge them. Occasional coaching (especially for students struggling
to match pitch & find their voice) is fine and helps not only the student
but the whole group. In a community setting it doesn't seem to be an
issue. Here are the responses.
-----
I work as an Admin Asst for the Worship Pastor at a contemporary music
church. We only have a "traditional" choir around Christmas, Easter and
sometimes Veteran's Day, which I conduct. However, I also am helping the
background vocals (to the contemporary praise music) develop their voices
and with their ability to harmonize as a small group. I do not charge them
for occasional voice lessons, but I do it during work my hours so I get
paid a little. I also offer to help any choir member with their parts-
also, usually during my office hours. However, If anyone in the choir, or
in the congregation wants regular, weekly lessons, I charge them $15 for a
1/2 hour lesson. (Anyone who comes to me from the community for weekly
lessons I charge $20.)

The key is that I don't give regular, weekly voice lessons to choir members
unless they pay $15 per lesson. But, I will help them learn their parts
and give them pointers and help in their vocal production at those
occasional times.
---
I have taken several of my choral students on as private students, and you
should not, for one second, feel guilty about charging, especially when it
does take considerable time. You get paid for the hours you prepare for
rehearsal and for the rehearsal itself. You deserve, through your hard
work and the experience you offer, to be duly compensated for any
additional time you offer for instruction. Anyone who tells you otherwise
is, frankly, trying to take advantage of you.
-------
I have given (and am giving) a few lessons to choir members. I've always
had them approach me about finding a teacher. On a few occasions, I have
worked for 4-6 weeks with individuals to get them up to where I feel they
should be in regards to breathing and vocal health. In those cases I just
to do for free because I want my choir to sound better. In another
instance, I'm going to be offering a choir member lessons because he's not
a church member, but volunteers greatly in the choir because he loves to
sing and what we're doing with the music we share. So I'm going to do that
as a trade-off for him sharing his talents with us (he's a phenomenal flute
player).
------
I give a discount on private lessons to anyone who participates in the
music program.
-----
In a community choir setting, I've offered any of my singers one free
coaching - whether vocal technique, or on notes, or whatever. But if they
want to study with me on an ongoing basis, they understand that they need
to be on the same basis as my other vocal students.
---
..hi there - I conduct a large, multi-tiered all treble boys choir and I do
offer one-half lessons to our choristers. I charge them $15.00 for each
weekly lesson and there is always a waiting list. As this is my personal
time [even though the lessons will strengthen the choir] the difference
seems obvious. And, I have never had a parent say one thing about this
since I have been lessons for over 20 years. The lessons do occur on a
non-choir day.
-----
The early Westminster (Choir College) system used to expect free
voice lessons for choir members, and it was a great idea in those
days, but I think impractical today.
I give a 25% discount for choir members who wish to study with me.
In exchange I expect regularity in attendance at rehearsals.
----
Is this a public school, church, or college? At the college level, I teach
my choir students privately for $40 per hour with no problem whatsoever,
but I can imagine that a public school situation might make this more
difficult! However, salaries are such that I depend on my additional
private income to pay my bills.

IMO, I don't think you should feel guilty about using your expertise to
earn additional income from those students who desire/value private lessons
enough to pay for them.
----
I give lessons to my choir members. Each situation is individually
addressed, due to financial resources, expectations, and of course, vocal
needs.

As a rule of thumb, however, I usually offer between two and four lessons
free of charge, and then if they think they would benefit by continuing, we
enter into a "professional agreement." In other words, they pay me.
Usually at a discount to the going rate in the community, I might add. But
it suits us both; I get a better personal relationship with the singer and
improved attention to vocal issues, and they get a better relationship with
me and gain confidence in their newly found vocal improvements.
-----
Several years ago I faced the same question. A couple of factors came
into play. The first was that my administration would not allow me to
teach, and charge, my students if I taught them on campus. They
believed this represented a conflict relating to use of public school
facilities for private gain. The second question that came up was the
supposed perception that students taking privately from me would be more
likely to advance in my program than would the other students.
Apparently, this was an issue with a previous director.

The bottom line is that I chose to not give private lessons to my
students. Ultimately, this was an issue of time and it was a good
decision. I did give lessons to a few students in my home, primarily
over the summer. This worked for me and I would never advocate this for
anyone else. You will want to explore some of the "legal" issues with
your administration.
---------
I hope that you will repost responses. I am currently dealing with this.
I have a friend who is an artist in residence here in SC. We are working
to write a grant to have him teach. I have been in contact with other
teachers, and we worked out a deal where the students would pay $12-$15 for
a 30 minute lesson. They would pay to the Choral Boosters and the
treasurer would write a check to the teachers. That way, the instructors
don't have to deal with students not paying...we are making sure our voice
instructors are paid in a timely manner.
-----
When I was hired it was stated teaching my school students privately was a
conflict of interest. Quite frankly I wouldn't have the time or energy to
add on more to my school load.
----
This is a great question and one that I hope lots of directors to. When I
was a first-year teacher, I asked my principal if I could teach piano to my
general music students, and to my surprise he said "absolutely not." Of
course, I asked "why not," and he responded that it is simply not ethical
to give/sell individual lessons to your own students. If you do not charge
for the lessons, this looks like favoritism (unless you teach everyone who
wants the lessons). And if you do charge, it makes it look (to other kids'
parents) like they need to hire you to teach their children too--in order
to get a better grade or do better in your class or get the solo or ???

It is strange, because I have seen some other teachers do this, but I
really have to agree with what my principal said to me in my youth.
----
In my district, we are not allowed to charge the students.
---
If you're in a US school or univ, you are in a conflict of interest
situation legally, I believe. But, if you inform your administrators, and
have the students sign some kind of waiver (?) then maybe you could give
lessons and charge for it. But you must be upfront about it and inform all
interested parties what's has been requested, and how you hope to handle
it.

You should NOT do it free. YOu're a professional, and you're providing a
service they need. You can do it cheap if your students are in a financial
bind; I've done that a lot, using a sliding scale.
------

I believe it is unwise to teach your choir students privately whether they
pay you or not. They might expect preferential treatment in the case of
solos, small ensembles, etc. There might also be a conflict of interest on
your part as well as you get to know these students better than the others
and naturally favor them. My school district strictly forbids teaching your
own students for any kind of payment. I always refer my choir students to
other private teachers in the area.
---

Sally B. Murphy
Oak Bay Secondary
2101 Cadboro Bay Rd
Victoria BC V8R 5G4
smbmurphy(a)shaw.ca
250-598-3361 ext. 407