When hiring a teacher, his or her qualifications are an important part of your decision. Formal qualifications like college degrees, teaching licenses, playing ability, and prior experience should be considered along with the informal qualifications of personality, patience, ability to communicate, and teaching style. Any severe imbalance between the formal and informal qualifications could be an area of trouble. It is of no benefit to the student if their teacher has several advanced degrees and has been teaching for forty years if they are unable to communicate in a kind and effective manner. Some of the best teachers have few formal qualifications but are excellent in every other way. When talking to a prospective teacher try to discover as much as you can about their background and teaching philosophy, while at the same time get a feel for their personality and assess how compatible they are with you. Some teachers have a specialty in instructing certain age groups or ability levels. Be sure you are a good match!
There is no formal license required to teach piano in the United States. Anyone can advertise their services as a piano teacher, even if they have never seen a piano! A licensed music teacher is someone with a degree in music (not necessarily piano), who has also passed certain state examinations and experience requirements qualifying them to teach music in the public schools. However, there is no piano-specific teaching license, and teaching band or chorus in a public school has little (if anything) to do with teaching piano lessons. Therefore, do not weigh too heavily the fact that the prospective teacher is licensed. More important is that they have a college degree in piano performance or piano pedagogy, and are successful and experienced specifically in teaching piano students. Affiliation and certification by a bona-fide teaching organization like the Music Teachers National Association (www.mtna.org) is an indication that the teacher is committed to excellence in teaching.
When getting recommendations from other students, do not accept vague statements like, “She is a great teacher, go to her.” Find out exactly why they like the teacher: What does the teacher do to motivate them? How does the teacher deal with mistakes? What don't you like about her? A perfect teacher for one student may be a perfect disaster for another.
A degree in music is a very worthwhile qualification, but it is by no means required for successful teaching. Some of the best piano teachers have no formal music degree. Music degrees come in many disciplines: performance on a specific instrument, theory and composition, music history, and any number of subspecialties of those general categories. When choosing a piano teacher, consider the exact degree they received (if any), and what school they attended. Music conservatories offer a more intensive program than non conservatories, but even a local community college may have on staff a fabulous piano instructor who produces highly qualified graduates. A degree in music is a very positive qualification for any teacher, but it is just one of the many factors you should consider when evaluating a potential teacher's credentials.
Be wary of teaching certifications and diplomas awarded by publishers of piano teaching methods. They may indicate mastery of that specific methodology, but they are usually little more than a marketing gimmick designed to inflate the legitimacy of the piano method, and sell more method books!