|Graphic by Marco Buonvino|
Over the years, I have found that parents often haven't thought through what they're really asking when they ask me to make up missed lessons. For instance, I had a parent once who wanted her two boys to be able to reschedule lessons for a month due to a sports schedule. I had already told my daughter that she could not sign up for soccer because the practices met during my teaching time which happened to be during these boys' lessons. It was now too late to sign my daughter up for soccer - we had already made the sacrifice. So, now that I'd already irretrievably dedicated one slot of time to this family, she wanted another time as well - which could only be taken from my personal time since my teaching schedule was full. In short, she wanted the ability to make some other activity a priority over piano, and she did not mind asking me and my family to be inconvenienced to facilitate it. Teachers who agree to demands like this become burned out. Quite often, their next course of action is to adopt a very strict no make-up policy because they've grown very tired of trying to make a studio full of over-scheduled families happy at their own expense.
I had another family once who wanted to take a month-long vacation and simply pay no tuition while they were gone. This would have resulted in a significant financial sacrifice on my part as I had no way to recoup the lost income. I can't just stick another student in that slot for a month and then kick him out once the original student returns. Even if I had not had a waiting list at the time (I did, which made this request absurd), I would not have agreed to it. If I allow one family to do this, I'd have to extend that policy to all, and this would mean that any of my students could come and go as they pleased with no financial obligation. I can't run a business that way. Better to refuse and risk losing that student but maintain the integrity of my policy and the stability of my income.
Teachers also struggle with the fact that we have a very short number of after-school hours to devote to teaching. I usually try to fill up all of my available teaching time, which means that if a student is sick, I simply don't have an open time to shift them to unless I resort to using my personal time. The more students I have, the more burdensome this becomes.
I tell my parents that they should think of their monthly fee as tuition which reserves their place in my studio, not a per-lesson fee. Hopefully, your teacher has a clear, written policy about missed lessons. If he/she hasn't provided you with one, you might ask for one. It's much better to deal with this issue before it actually comes up so that you know what to expect. I've found that the best practice, by far, is to make my policy clear before the student ever begins lessons. Some teachers will make up lessons under certain conditions, some teachers may provide a swap list so that you can rearrange lessons yourself, and some teachers may make no accommodations at all. Know what your teacher expects, and don't go into the situation thinking that you'll talk her/him out of it or that you'll somehow be exempt.
I have some wonderful families who truly "get it." Last year, two families had situations come up which created a conflict with piano for a period of a few weeks. In both cases, they apologized for the conflict and simply pledged to continue to pay the tuition until the conflict had passed. They offered this up front without my having to defend my policy in any way. While I would have loved it if piano had been a bigger priority, I felt that they showed me a great deal of respect, and I respected their handling of the situation in return.
Those parents fully understand what Vicky Barham writes in a fantastic online article: Make-Up Lessons From An Economist's Point Of View. She teaches economics at her local university, and is the parent of music students. She explains, from the business perspective, why music teachers should not be under any obligation to find another spot during the week or to refund for missed lessons. Be sure to read it!
Thanks in advance for your support!
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