Setting Boundaries

Laura Nerenberg said: Jul 24, 2012
Laura Nerenberg
Suzuki Association Member
Ottawa, ON
49 posts

Dear fellow Canadian teachers,

I am in the process of becoming a teacher “more true to myself.” I have been, for a long time, bending over backwards to accommodate students’ schedules. Each summer, making my schedule takes on a more and more hellish quality. Recently, after sending out my annual scheduling grid e-mail, I received about 6 e-mails from one family (divorced parents), and another highly complex scheduling e-mail from another family. The families that have responded (forms are due July 31) have overwhelmingly given me a SINGLE time when their child can make it to a lesson with me. After consulting with an Illinois friend and colleague, I, today, sent out a reminder e-mail about July 31 approaching. I included a note about giving me at least 3 possible lesson times during the week. I also mentioned that younger students must come before 5:00PM. (One parent wanted to bring her 3-year old at 5:30 or 6:00PM.)

Additionally, since I was/am still feeling a bit frustrated, I also mentioned that while I may have a more rigid schedule than some colleagues, that if the parents feel that the experience with me as their child’s teacher is valuable, then a little flexibility on their part is much appreciated. Basically, if they really don’t like the fact that I only teach certain hours/days, then, there is surely a less experienced/trained teacher out there who could take their child on in their studio.

OK—after this long preamble, my question is this: How do you set limits on what you, as a teacher, can offer in terms of lesson time flexibility and other logistical matters. Here’s my friend’s studio’s website—fyi:

My stomach has been in knots since I sent the e-mail to my students’ parents. That said, I also feel good because I have been somewhat bullied by several parents over the years, and while my note may be a little shocking to some, in the end, I may do myself a huge favour by “weeding out” (horrible term) those families who’s values clearly don’t line up with mine. My hope is that my note will be met by understanding, and that for those families who really don’t feel like they can give me a bit more flexibility, that it will be the little push they need to look elsewhere.

Your thoughts, my esteemed colleagues, are much appreciated,

Jennifer Visick said: Jul 25, 2012
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1076 posts

I’m not Canadian, but I think this topic applies everywhere… a music teacher, even if working out of their own home, and offering private lessons, is still a business owner and is running a business.

Every other business in the world has “business hours”. Do I call my local luthier, or my doctor, or my physical therapist, or my chiropractor, or my accountant, or my dog-walker, or my gardner, or my massage therapist, or my karate instructor, or my librarian, or my personal trainer, or what have you, to dictate the time I want to come, outside of their business hours? No: I call, ask what times they have open for appointments on such and such a day, or I ask what their business hours are, and I find a time to make my appointments during those hours.

Music Teachers can and should have business hours too. No reason to feel bad about this. No reason to be flexible once the hours are set, either: you’re not the only doctor, firefighter, nurse, vet, police officer, or other life-saving professional in a small town in the middle of nowhere, and you don’t need to be on-call.

Also, if they only have a single time when they can attend, and you don’t have that time slot open, or if you don’t take small children after a certain hour, don’t feel bad about saying “I’m sorry, but that time is not available for you” and then recommending another colleague if they can’t change the time that they’re available.

Obviously any business owner who wants to do business has to have reasonable hours when the clients they most wish to target are available. But once the hours are set…. stick to them.

Rachel said: Jul 25, 2012
 19 posts

Being clear about your needs and availability will set the right tone for your relationship with families in your studio. It sounds like the families have historically balanced the scales toward their needs, and now you are re-setting that balance point, and giving families clear and timely notice of these changes. Change is hard for everyone, but in the end staying true to your boundaries serves everyone well. You will attract and retain families who value what you have to offer and are willing to fit their lessons within your availability. Families who are less flexible and choose to leave likely would have been more challenging families to work with in general. The chemistry between teacher and family (parent and child) is key to a successful experience for all, so it is essential that you and the families find the right match. Setting boundaries and clearly letting families know your availability is not only okay to do, it is necessary.

…just my two cents, from a Suzuki parent’s perspective.

Kathleen Schoen said: Jul 25, 2012
Kathleen SchoenTeacher Trainer
Institute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Flute, Recorder, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Edmonton, AB
28 posts

Hi Laura!

This topic is a big one. I find myself constantly re-addressing it every year. I have the additional complication of teaching in two locations, and having the most convenient time being available at the less convenient location & vice versa. Here’s my approach, for what its’s worth:
Stage one—create a schedule with clearly set teaching times & locations and clearly indicated “unavailable” times (reserved for practice, rehearsal, admin, life …) I discover if I do this in the spring I am more likely to be realistic than if I do it during the summer after having a rest :-)
Stage two—send the schedule to all my returning students, with a note to the effect that they will get their same lesson time again this upcoming year unless they tell me that they want one of the other available slots.
Stage three—after a suitable time to let the returning students get back to me, the schedule, with any necessary revisions, goes to my new students with a request to select a first choice time and a second choice time.
Stage four—I allocate times to new students, trying for the first choice whenever possible but using the second choice when necessary to fit everyone in comfortably.

If a new student has concerns about their lesson time, I let them know that next year they will be a “returning” student and get first choice of other lesson times that become available. Often that will give the incentive to make the time work in their schedule for “just this year”. I usually find that families no longer have scheduling issues after being flexible for that first year, as they have a much clearer concept of how the whole program works and they have increased commitment to the process.

Of course, there are the exceptions, like the family that was with me for 6 years and then suddenly decided that soccer was a higher priority than group class and left my studio. :-( That was hard, but that’s a topic for another post.

Bethany said: Feb 28, 2014
 4 posts

Hello Laura,

It is nice to know other teachers have the same issues.

As my studio grew, scheduling became a bigger challenge each year. I too, state on the registration form, that parents must list three different days/time possibilities. The majority conform. A few give me a hard time each year. One, whom I had explained the process repeatedly for years, would list Wed. 7:00, 7:15, 7:30 as their three differing choices, each year. Last summer, after being particularly rude to me, taking up much of my time re-hashing, and still inflexible, I fired them. The first family I fired ever, in fifteen years of teaching. And it was over scheduling. Ironically, they were my least busy family, just very self-centered.

For next year, I had decided to tell everyone that if they do not list three different lesson times, then I will consider their registration incomplete and it will go to the bottom of the pile. I will let you know how that goes.

My personal belief is that if they are so over-scheduled they can only make one possible lesson time, then they are probably too busy to practice, as well. Over-scheduling….what a scourge nowadays.

Elizabeth Bronsveld said: May 7, 2014
Elizabeth BronsveldViolin
6 posts

Oh it is nice to know this happens in other studios!
I have had each student have a fixed lesson slot each week and must give 24 hour notice of cancelling otherwise they are charged for the lessons. However I will be re-vamping this come November when I start teaching again (on mat leave right now). I have too many people try to change their lesson times each week so I will likely be putting up a calendar with my teaching availability for the following 3-4 weeks, they can "sing up" for whatever slots they feel will work for them those weeks and they must come. I can't have an ever shifting schedule esp. now with my little girl needing to keep a schedule as well.

I think you did the right thing by emailing the parents. They cannot push around their hockey coach or soccer coach like that so why for violin?

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