Lesson Cancellation—tolerance?

Laura said: Feb 10, 2008
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

I was going to post this to the Teacher’s forum but on second thought I think I’d like to bounce this off parents too!

I have recently been experiencing an uncomfortable number of lesson cancellations. All of them seem to be for very understandable and uncontrollable reasons such as:

  • Mom is suffering from major illness and is unable to practice with her child, therefore child is not practicing and lessons are not worth attending (not to mention much lower priority in their lives right now)
  • one-vehicle families in which something has come up and the vehicle must be used by the non-lesson-attending parent that day (therefore parent and child unable to get to lesson)
  • Dad usually drives entire family to attend lesson, but is busy that day and Mom doesn’t know how to drive by herself (therefore no way to get to lesson)
  • Very Very Very busy family schedule with working parents, such that if they need to book a doctor or dentist appointment, then the only time that can happen is when the lesson would normally be
  • stuck on highway during major traffic congestion and not worth continuing on to make it to lesson
  • Mom and/or Dad’s work schedule changes for that week, unable to take child to lesson and unable to reschedule
  • sibling is very sick at home, so Mom has to stay home too (therefore can’t take child to lesson)
  • Mom has a phobia of driving in the snow, so even though major roads are clear (including entire route to my place), she won’t venture out her driveway if there is anything remotely white on it, for any reason
  • family has decided to take a mini-vacation (skiing or what have you)

With the exception of the last one, I find it rather hard-hearted of me not to excuse these absences. On the other hand, the number of such cancellations is rather significant—for example in the past two weeks I’ve only taught about 2/3 of my scheduled lessons. I wonder if it is just due to Busy Life In General These Days. Or am I not firm enough with my studio policies?

I do have a written policy that states that all lessons will be charged, unless due to conflicts that are known ahead of time (X number of weeks notice required), or extreme situations beyond control such as illness. However, everyone seems to consider themselves under “beyond control” category.

I teach at home and therefore cannot argue that I have rent, overhead, administration, etc. to cover. I also have young children at home (with childcare from my husband during my teaching hours, so no extra cost to me)—so no matter how hard I try, I can only go so far in presenting my studio as a formal operation.

I am mostly worried about lack of continuity and progress, but I suppose that is the parents’ choice. I also am mildly unappreciative of the loss of income—but what can I say? I believe these families just view the music lessons as something they would pay for only if they are attended. They don’t see it as me reserving my time, etc. because in their mind, if I don’t teach their child, then that is simply more free time for me that I ought to appreciate. (So it’s not the same for them as missing swimming lessons, for example.)

These families are otherwise quite committed and always keep up with their payments. I enjoy teaching these children so that is the primary thing.

In contrast to my teaching situation, my child takes lessons from a formal school, in which tuition for a set number of lessons is paid by the term. I prioritize my whole life around making sure we get to those lessons. The only times lessons are missed are due to illness, if the teacher cancels due to her own reasons, or if we’re snowed in—but we always reschedule. I also remember taking lessons from my own teacher who taught out of home, I can honestly say that my mom never felt so free to cancel lessons—we went every week unless I was deathly ill.

So now that I’ve vented… what are your thoughts? Is this just the way life is these days? What is your level of tolerance regarding acceptable reasons to miss lessons? What if rescheduling is absoultely not an option for these families? Do you still charge them? (Or if you are a parent, do you still expect to have to pay?) How do you communicate this? Is there a difference in how you’d handle this if you are in a formal music school vs. a home studio?

The next time someone calls and tells me they can’t come because they don’t have use of the car that day and also has no means to reschedule—do I go ahead and say “OK, thanks for letting me know—I’ll be charging for that lesson anyway”? I don’t want to come across as unreasonable.

Not sure what I’m looking for—sympathy? A smack on the head? Oh well, I’ll just sit back and see what you all have to say! Thanks!

Connie Sunday said: Feb 10, 2008
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

Oh my.

You certainly CAN argue that you have rent, overhead, etc. I’ve said this to many posts of a similar nature in the past, from private teachers: if you don’t treat your business as a business, and treat yourself and your time with respect, clients—even the ones who like you the most—will run over you like roadkill.

It is the nature of human beings to look after themselves and their families, first; that is why you have to set absolute standards, and be willing to let those go who won’t follow them. After just once, “I’m sorry, I don’t give makeups without 24 hour notice (and often, not then),” they will get the message.

You have got to stand up for yourself; the absenteeism is, in my opinion, a function of not keeping a firm policy in place.

Connie

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:
http://beststudentviolins.com/library.html#handouts

said: Feb 10, 2008
 Violin, Guitar, Flute, Cello, Viola
120 posts

You are being very empathetic about the circumstances in which people are cancelling lessons, and this is an admirable trait. But, you also are “rationalizing” that you are not overly convenienced by the cancellations by saying that you have no overhead, your husband can provide childcare, etc. It doesn’t sound like the financial aspect is killing you, either. However, none of these things are good reasons for not developing a better policy about cancellations/makeups. Sometimes we feel like we’re being nice and understanding. But, we should be nice to ourselves, too. No one gets to pay less for decreased attendance at sports teams or ballet class. Why should we get paid less?

Once I adopted a No Makeup policy I saw better attendance. People still miss lessons at times, but I also still get paid. One teacher trainer of mine says that she teaches for free (it’s from the heart), but you are paying for her time. This is so true! Now, people still ask me to make up lessons, even though my policy explicitly says that I don’t offer makeups for any reason on the student’s part. It is very tempting to do a make up if I have the time—especially when I begin to worry about the consistency issue you brought up. I, too, don’t like it when a student goes for a week without a lesson—too easy for them to lose focus, etc. But, I have had to learn that it is not my responsibility to worry about that.

It might be easiest to wait to adopt a new policy in summer or fall. Or, you could start start now by telling people that from now on, without 24 hr. notice for any reason, they will be still responsible for the lesson fee, and then adopt a no makeup policy in summer or fall.

Good luck!

Lynn said: Feb 10, 2008
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

Says who? Your studio is as formal an operation as YOU decide it is.

As far as policies, I myself prefer to make them very black and white, and then respond to situations as I see fit. My policy reads in part that tuition is due for all scheduled lessons, and I do not give make ups. Since winter here does sometimes make travel ill advised, I plan a week in the spring where I give lessons to anyone who canceled because of snow.

I completely understand the difficulty in maintaining continuity when a student misses frequently, (not my responsibility, ultimately, to rescue the situation!) and it’s not always possible to make a scheduled lesson. If I can do so easily, I don’t mind making another time available. I frequently do, but I would never write that into my policy, because 1. I can’t guarantee that I’ll have another time available, 2. I am not willing, time-wise or financially, to repeatedly take the hit for everyone else’s circumstances, and 3. as you are noticing, if you allow exceptions, you inevitably wind up evaluating or negotiating whether someone’s particular circumstance fits your criterion, The outcome is that someone, usually the teacher, will wind up feeling ill-used. Since I’m not obligated to give make up lessons, parents are pleased when I do accommodate their particular difficulty, they are not surprised or upset when I can’t, and everyone goes away happy.

For families that can’t make it for whatever reason, I have used the lesson time for a phone conference/lesson to very good effect. Everything from being able to discuss things with the mother that were not easily discussed in lessons with the student present, to discussing the past week’s progress, and giving a new assignment or focus for the coming week. Occasionally, I have listened to a student play over the phone, and it’s really interesting what kinds of things you can pick up on when you can’t also see what they are doing. It’s hard on the ears, though; violins over the phone line are unpleasantly edgy, and basically sound bad, so I don’t do that very often!

Grace said: Feb 10, 2008
 Violin
110 posts

Wow, I could have written your post myself a few years ago. (I think I actully did write a post here just like yours, and Lucy and Connie gave me great advice!! Thanks, ladies!!) But once I had a baby, I really shaped up about my policy! I also teach in my living room & my husband watches our child. But I always get paid for any missed lessons. Especially since I had a baby, I need to be making money when it is my working hours, just as you would expect from any job!

Two things that really help are that I collect tuition at the beginning of each month, and I charge a flat fee per month. This helps parents to not see each lesson as worth $x, but paying for a spot in your program.

I’ll pm you my studio policy so you can get more ideas. It was hard to do, but I found that people respond to the way you present yourself. You say “no” a few times, and people either shape up or quit. (But I didn’t have a single person quit!) Good luck!

said: Feb 11, 2008
 89 posts

As a parent whose children have taken lessons both in a formal school setting and in a private studio run out of the teacher’s home, I can comfortably say that I think you’re being VERY understanding….perhaps too understanding. Yes, you can empathize with these families about their problems—and you probably wouldn’t be as good a teacher if you didn’t—but that doesn’t mean they get a free pass to walk all over you financially.

This is a business relationship, and you should give yourself the respect to treat it as such. If you ask for payment in advance and remain firm about the no makeup policy, I’m sure many of these “uncontrollable absences” will disappear. (There’s nothing like paying for a lesson you didn’t take to focus your attention on making sure it doesn’t happen again next week! Ask me how I know…) If you know that your tendency is to be too nice about it, make sure your paperwork is clear and firm—and then simply defer to “the policy” if anyone questions you.

Another idea: set up some sort of network so that families can contact one another to swap lesson times—something that DOES NOT get you involved at all.

Yes, you might lose a family or two in the short term. But if you start new families with a clear understanding of the rules from Day 1, your studio will be stronger in the long term. And you’ll not only be happier, you’ll be modelling professionalism for both your students and for your own children, who are quietly learning how the world works as they watch how you handle conflicts.

Laura said: Feb 11, 2008
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

Thank you for all of your responses so far, and also for the private messages. As you can understand this is an awkward situation and it’s always best to have ones ducks lined up before taking a solid stand. I have lots to consider—in the meantime I don’t mind hearing more, particularly from other parents.

It’s not entirely true to say that the financial aspect isn’t killing me—we have debts like everyone else and every dollar counts—which is another reason why I am teaching. But my studio has been growing. We were able to live on less students before, and we purchased our house before I started teaching, so every additional student is just gravy and it’s not as if I have budgeted from day 1 for every single current student’s tuition fee to put food on the table and pay our hydro bill—OK, I’m being sarcastic there (in case it’s not coming across), but I believe that is what the parents perceive when it comes to a home studio. In other words, the “fixed costs” aspect of my buisness is a tough sell to get across.

I need to really start communicating that they are paying for a spot in the program, and not $X per hour whenever it’s not inconvenient for them. I know for a fact that quite a number of them will have serious problems “paying for services not rendered” and won’t be able to understand why I simply can’t enjoy my free time—which is how they will see it. What manner or wording might you suggest that I use?

The other point to note is that I’m not having problems with people requesting make-ups. That doesn’t even come up—they simply cancel (”See you next week”) because make-ups don’t fit in their schedule. I have yet to demand payment upfront because quite frankly, I’ve never run into this problem so badly until now. Is payment in advance really what is required? Or is a firm enough studio policy sufficient? (I.e., as long as parents know and accept that they WILL be billed for missed lessons)

Thanks again for your collective wisdom. I appreciate it.

Connie Sunday said: Feb 11, 2008
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

In my experience, yes; payment in advance is what is required. See my lesson policy:

http://beststudentviolins.com/Studio.html#policies

…and my policy is actually very lenient; much more so than many teachers who do not do family rates or any makeups.

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:
http://beststudentviolins.com/library.html#handouts

Lynn said: Feb 11, 2008
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

Absolutely payment up front!
Like Keroppi, I charge a monthly tuition, due the first lesson of the month. Others charge on a quarterly or semester basis. Whichever way makes sense to you, you will be thrilled, amazed and delighted at how much easier it is. ‘:D’

said: Feb 11, 2008
 103 posts

This is a hard situation to be in. I also charge by the month. I ask that parents write me post-dated cheques at the beginning of the year. I tend to be too “soft” in my make-up policy, however I’ve never to my recollection given a refund for no-shows. My policy states:

[color=green]Attendance / missed lessons

  • I will reschedule any lessons that I miss for any reason.
  • I will attempt to reschedule any lessons that the student misses due to a legitimate reason such as illness or a conflict with school events. Please give me 24-hrs notice in such events.[/color]

The problem is, in reality I also have a really hard time saying no to make-ups. (Especially when it’s the student’s birthday and they want to celebrate it—and therefore miss their lesson.) The last time some one asked this, I really felt like saying no, but couldn’t bring myself to say it…

Anyway, the $ that’s paid is holding their spot, not the “lesson” per se. Though I do figure out my lesson fee by how many lessons are in the year and then divide that over the number of months that the studio year goes for. That way I’m always paid the same rate each month.

One of my teachers charged on a “per-lesson” formate, so though I always paid by the month, it was a different amount each time. It really does make it feel like that specific lesson is what’s being charged for.

I think that charging a flat rate per month or by term helps to have people be more committed. Oh yeah, I also state in my policy that:

Lack of practice is no reason for missing a lesson.

Even if the lesson ends up being more of a review or practice session, it’s definitely not a waste of time, as it helps to at least maintain what the student has learned. (I’m thinking particularly of young or Bk 1-4 students)

Heidi said: Feb 11, 2008
 Violin
33 posts

So, does anyone who goes to hockey, ballet or tennis get make-up lessons when they miss due to illness? Is payment due per lesson, month, or semester for gymnastics? You must value your time and specialized knowledge as a music teacher just as the soccer coaches do.

Laura said: Feb 12, 2008
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

upbeat

So, does anyone who goes to hockey, ballet or tennis get make-up lessons when they miss due to illness? Is payment due per lesson, month, or semester for gymnastics? You must value your time and specialized knowledge as a music teacher just as the soccer coaches do.

Well, the difference is that the session will still continue if one or several kids are missing. The coach or teacher still has something to do, and if you’re not participating in it, it’s your loss. However, in the case of a private lesson, if the student doesn’t come for whatever reason, the teacher gets a 30-60 min. break… why should he/she be expected to earn money for having a cup of tea? (and if I’m not saying it, I’m at least thinking it!)

— Not that I don’t agree with your point, Upbeat. :) In fact, that is one of the points I’m trying to make myself. But I’m just playing devil’s advocate in anticipation of the backlash I’m sure I will start getting once I start taking a stronger stand. What response would you have in such an argument (which does seem at least partially valid)?

It seems that once you get down to it, the real crux of the issue is paying for the spot in the program and the slot in teacher’s weekly schedule, considering that other more regularly-attending students could be having that slot. If you want that space, then you should be paying for it, regardless of whether or not you choose to use all of the sessions. Please correct me if there’s something I’m missing.

said: Feb 12, 2008
 56 posts

speaking as a parent, i’m attending private lessons with my kid. It is quite annoying if the previous student is late or does not turn up at all. Because we are the last student of the evening, it does help if the student calls up early to inform the teacher, so that she can make other arrangements, such as call the next student to come early, so that everyone can end early and have a good rest for that night.

Basically, I have lots of respect for my music teacher who really makes an effort to teach at her best. And I want to return that respect. And that includes being punctual and turning up for lessons regularly and informing her early in advance if we plan to skip for that week.

Of course there are periods when families could be undergoing changes, e.g. moving house, difficult family moments, etc.

However, I will tend to map tardiness in punctuality and attendance to how much the family values the music education. And teachers pls correct me if i am wrong, …teachers will also tend to teach approximately the same amount equal to that which the individual families put in.

Talent is not born, but created

Lynn said: Feb 12, 2008
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

Purple_tulips,
You are way over thinking this.
What exactly are you imagining the “anticipated backlash” will look like? Pistols at dawn?! Families will either comply with your new policy, or not. If they don’t agree they’re not going to argue with you; they will either accept that that’s the way it is now, or decide to find another teacher. Unless you send signals that the matter is up for negotiation. (This will be good practice for when your kids start to argue back. Yes, you provide your reasons, but the ultimate truth is: you da boss! ‘;-)’)

In my experience (and I have at various times dramatically raised my rates, updated my policy or turned my schedule upside down and sideways), the families that are committed adopt and adapt. The ones who are marginally committed use the change as their exit cue. That’s a good thing. If your program is not, or is no longer, a good match for them, it’s better for everyone if they switch to a program that suits them better, and it gives you room to enroll a new student who does want your program.

Financially, calculate how much your current practice is costing you in lost income, and compare that to the anticipated income generated by the policy change. If you subtract from that anticipated income the income currently generated by one or two families with a high absentee rate, on the assumption that they might dis-enroll, you may find that your actual income either remains the same, or only drops slightly. Any new enrollment, then will increase your income. When I increased my rates, part of my calculation was how many families I could lose before my income fell below current levels, which helped off-set anticipatory lost income anxiety about families pulling out because they “can’t afford it.”

Grace said: Feb 12, 2008
 Violin
110 posts

Of course, it is your decision to run your studio any way you want, but I would encourage you to really consider moving to a monthly pre-payment system. It is a very common practice among music teachers (and pretty much any other sports, dance, gymnastics, kumon math, etc etc etc activity out there! It is not a foreign concept to parents!)

Once you do that, be prepared for the requests for make-ups to start! Some ways that help me to be firm are: I remind myself that if I offer a student even one make-up lesson, I have to offer that to every student (and just do the math…)

Also, if I say “yes” to a student, I picture myself saying “no” to my husband and baby. It really does affect my family if I offer to teach a make-up lesson outside of my designated teaching hours & that is time I don’t get with my family. Especically if you have kids your time is so limited and precious, and I decided I have to choose my own family over my students. I am firm on my policies for my family’s sake as much as (or more than) for myself.

I don’t think any of us are teaching to get rich, nor are we trying to “rip off” our students or cheat them to take their money. But that does not mean you are so “nice” that people don’t value your time.

said: Feb 12, 2008
 Violin, Guitar, Flute, Cello, Viola
120 posts

Every time I expected a backlash—when I went from no group classes to group classes, when I went to a monthly tuition, when I raised my rates, when I changed my policy to no makeups—there was none! Now, I can’t say I haven’t worried that people would complain or leave. But, I have always been pleasantly surprised at how it all fell in place.

Now, I’ll have to do this myself. I posted a question on group class attendance, and I will make a change for next year, in that I will omit from my policy that it is strongly recommended that students attend all group classes, but that ONE is mandatory per month. Lucy’s recommendation that no extra language is needed, but rather just a simple statement of the policy is great advice.

Laurel said: Feb 12, 2008
Laurel MacCullochViolin
Langley, BC
120 posts

I tend to tell parents “You are paying not just for the lesson, but also for the time slot—just like a daycare.”

I find that the daycare comparison is the most effective; most know that daycares generally charge X amount whether the child attends or not. So they can identify with this more easily than with comparing it to swimming or team sports.

Laurel

Lynn said: Feb 12, 2008
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

Every time I expected a backlash—when I went from no group classes to group classes, when I went to a monthly tuition, when I raised my rates, when I changed my policy to no makeups—there was none! Now, I can’t say I haven’t worried that people would complain or leave. But, I have always been pleasantly surprised at how it all fell in place.

So true, so true….And THEN you start wondering why you worry so hard about parents giving you a hard time, when you can give yourself a hard time so much more effectively!

:lol:’ ‘:lol:’ ‘:lol:’ ‘:lol:

said: Feb 12, 2008
 Violin, Guitar, Flute, Cello, Viola
120 posts

Lucy

[box]when you can give yourself a hard time so much more effectively!

:lol:’ ‘:lol:’ ‘:lol:’ ‘:lol:

[/box]

No kidding! :)

Christy Paxton said: Feb 12, 2008
Christy PaxtonInstitute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Bentonville, AR
5 posts

Just because I go to “work” at my home doesn’t mean my time on the job is worth less if I have less to do. Imagine a job where you go in on time, you’re on the clock, and the boss doesn’t have any projects for you to work on, or maybe you finish early. You are still expecting a certain number of hours to be paid, and your time is worth the same. Many parents who work in the real world understand that I am “on the clock”, even if they don’t show up.

I learned several years ago to treat my scheduled lesson time like a job. I go in to my studio a few minutes before my lessons are to start, and get myself ready… warmed up, instrument and music ready, mentally go over the students I have coming. If a student doesn’t show up on time, or at all, then I use that for practice time. When they walk in the door, they see that I am there, dedicating that time to being in my studio, and setting an example of practicing as well.

Until you see this as YOUR business, your job, your professional time, you will continue to treat it casually. That is, if a no-show means a cup of tea, then you’ll probably continue to excuse the no-shows.

I used to teach more casually, my policies were pretty fluid, then I decided that I needed policies that were in MY best interest, so I put make-up policies, payment policies, and attendance policies in place. In the process, I only had a few students get weeded out (and I ended up dismissing them due to non-payment issues), but overall the parents applauded the stepped-up professionalism. Not only that, but I believe it was my changed mindset that led to growth in my studio. I went from about 14 students to over 40 within a year and a half.

About 2 1/2 years ago I became a single parent, and what had been a supplement to my husband’s income had to be my sole source of supporting myself and my 4 children (dad left, no child support, kids with me full-time). I know we think that will never happen to us, but it happened to me, and I thank my lucky stars every day that the decision to create a more professional program has paid off. I have an income I can count on, and relationships with my families in my studio based on mutual respect and accountability. I know where you are, cause I was once there, in the SAME position, afraid to require more of the parents. Now I know that if I didn’t, it would have crippled my ability to grow as a professional and frustrated my students as well.

Quit being devil’s advocate against yourself… you owe yourself the respect to think about what is best for you, your students, and the future of your program. I’m so glad I did.

said: Feb 12, 2008
 44 posts

My four children have taken music lessons in many different situations: formal programs offered at a university, private lessons in the teachers’ homes, Suzuki schools, you name it. Here is what worked best for me as a parent: we signed a year-long contract which specified a certain number of weeks of private lessons and a certain number of weeks of group lessons including 6 summer lessons. We could pay for the year in full, or make 2, 4, or 8 payments with due dates given at the beginning. When faced with this, not paying by the lesson or the month, I was much more likely to make ALL the lessons. Also, the parent doesn’t feel “shorted” by paying the same monthly fee in, say, December, when usually a “vacation” is built in. Summer lessons are already paid for well before school is out. Our teacher was very accomodating about summer schedules and vacation. You might give out a roster of your students to every family and let them swap lessons between themselves. We had one piano teacher that did this and it was great. She did not have to offer make-ups at all. If my child had strep throat or whatever, I could try to exchange lesson times with another family, but it was MY responsibility; the teacher only asked that she be e-mailed about the change so she would be aware of who was coming. Our current violin teacher offers one makeup day per semester (usually a Saturday) that is first-come, first-served. You can sign up for a make-up on that day. If it doesn’t fit your schedule, too bad. I think this is accomodating enough on the teacher’s part. We as parents should respect the teachers’ time and personal life. However, I think a very rigid no-makeup policy is counter-productive. The parents may accept it, but it doesn’t go very far in building a mutually respectful relationship (I am giving you a parent’s perspective, as you asked.)
One of my children was very sick and missed a month of school. There was no way she could practice or attend her (prepaid in a university program) lessons. Our VERY busy teacher very graciously worked with us after our daughter was well to get her back on track. This teacher also stressed to us parents that if the child had not even practiced ONCE during the week, there were still thing that we could work on in a lesson such as theory or sight-reading. Since then, I have never told a teacher we weren’t coming because my child had not practiced, but that we WERE coming because the child had so much she needed to work on!
Again, you asked for parent perspectives, and this is what I am giving you. As one of the previous poster said, however, if you let yourself be run over, parents will treat you like roadkill. All of us are looking out for Number One first. Be sure YOU are looking out for YOUR Number One first, too.

Laura said: Feb 15, 2008
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

Well, thank you very much again for all of the input! I have some good ideas to go wth as I start to adjust my studio policy. I will definitely go for some sort of prepayment requirement, with a much more specific policy for missed lessons and make-ups (I personally do not mind doing make-ups if I can fit it in—it’s the outright cancellsations that start to bother me).

I particularly did appreciate hearing from other parents (thank you kidvocate and zaccheus), since I also have a child in lessons and know what I would appreciate from that perspective.

Also, I am swayed by my previous experience as a former student so many years ago. I just remember taking lessons both from a formal academy and at a teacher’s home. All I remember is that we (as in my mom and I) were very committed to attending lessona and just weren’t in the habit of considering them optional. If any were missed, it was with REALLY good reason—like severe illness or something. But I even remember attending lessons with an injured finger—we just worked on the other hand.

No one had any formal written policies or anything—except perhaps at the formal academy. But again, I didn’t tend to miss any lessons unless sick, and it was no big deal to reschdule.

But honestly, there were the occasional times I missed a lesson for some other reason, and my home-based teacher in particular was just fine about that. Keep in mind that such occasions were VERY few and far between, and I was already a serious and committed enough music student by that time that there was more than enough to practice even with two weeks between lessons.

Also, back then there seemed to be fewer reasons to have to miss lessons. Family life was more simple, people drove around less, more moms stayed at home, kids were enrolled in less formal activites in general, more flexibility for fitting in more of the “reasons” that people use to miss lessons nowadays. At least, that seems to be a big factor based on my own experience and perspective.

I had no idea how businesslike one must be to run a home studio these days. But upon reflection I can understand why it is necessary. It’s too bad in a sense, though…

Laura said: Feb 17, 2008
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

Well, I personally believe that there is room to be flexible without opening myself up to abuse. Not that I disagree with what others have described—it works for what you need, and that is the most important.

I don’t think that cancelling lessons and/or requesting makeups necessarily consitutes disrespect for the teacher’s time. For example, I’ve had a family cancel because they were a little sick and were prepared to come for themselves, but they didn’t want to bring germs to my house and get MY kid sick (my own kid being very young at the time). In that situation I was more than willing to reschedule to another time that week.

Upon reflection I also believe that the committed, respectful people will always continue to be that way, and those that are likely to “take a mile given an inch” will also continue to be that way. As long as my policies work for what I want to uphold in my own situation, I’m sure things will be fine.

For example, although I teach several days a week, there is one day when I have only one student (it happens to be during a time slot when it is easy for me to manage this—my kids are otherwise occupied, etc.). If that student can’t come that day, it’s actually BETTER for me, assuming I’m given enough notice. But of course I would prefer this student to have a make-up during one of my other teaching days, instead of just missing a week of lessons.

I also get different “vibes” from families who request cancellations or make-ups for various reasons. Some are the most committed students and practicers, and would never think of missing a lesson EXCEPT for something truly EXCEPTIONAL. When it comes to telling me that they are not able to come a certain week, it is with the utmost of respectful language, body language, etc. and with lots of advance notice. They are also willing to bend over backwards to make ANY make-up time I suggest that will work for me. Personally I do not mind such a situation, since a) it does not happen often and b) I want to support this obvious commitment to learning.

Again, speaking as a parent, I would not appreciate an outright no-cancellation policy. My child goes to a formal school with a very reasonable policy which we appreciate and partake of when necessary but is impossible to abuse (at least for me, anyway). I think that within the constraints of running a viable business and personal schedule, there is still room for a little give and take—it keeps the humanity in the equation. Just because I have a dire emergency that means I can’t get to music lesson, and humbly request a make-up, doesn’t mean I am not being responsible for my own situation. I am simply making a request—which my child’s teacher, under her current policy, may choose to honour or reject. If she allows a re-schedule, then I am humbly appreciative. If she can’t provide one, then I accept that too. No disrespect or abuse exchanged either way—just simple human relations, in my opinion.

(And my kid plays about so much that a half-hour either way hardly makes a difference—trust me! :) I would only schedule make-ups when it truly works out for me, don’t worry.)

The only situations that are getting to me are the ones in which it seems rather obvious that when dealing with the ins and outs of life, they seem to think “Oh, we can just skip music lesson that week” and do so rather liberally. It is these families whose attention I need to get by adjusting my formal policies. And I will learn to be fine if, as a result, if I end up losing some families who are in that category.

Amy said: Feb 25, 2008
 Violin
10 posts

My policy is that they are allowed to cancel one lesson that they can make up or not. After that, I will not make up lessons and they are charged. However, I do require my parents to pay on a semester basis.

The only reason I started this is because when I first began teaching I had a lot of students cancel at the last minute. It wasn’t the money that bothered me, it was my time being wasted. I make sure that my schedule revolves around my students. I also put in a lot of effort planning and teaching their lessons. A lot of absenses means that we don’t progress as well as I’d like.

I have to say I was nervous about my new policy at the start but I have not have one complaint yet (and hardly any absenses).

Jennifer said: Feb 25, 2008
Jennifer Moberg
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Sukhumvit Soi 42 Soi Barbot 1, 38
71 posts

I know I am late to the game with this, but makeups and cancellations are something that everyone has to deal with and worry about, I think.

My black-and-white policy is that I do not give any makeups, unless I have canceled for some reason. If a student is sick, parent is sick, birthday party/lots of homework/didn’t practice etc etc, that is unfortunate, but (callously) not my issue to deal with. I tell all parents that if someone else cancels I will offer up their time slot as a makeup, as I will be at work anyway, but I will not teach outside my schedule due to someone else’s kung fu performance.
All families pay for the entire semester upfront, so I do not need to worry about someone trying to pay by the lesson. On rare occasion (family of 3 kids in the program, budgeted finances) I will make an exception and allow families to pay by the month, but they have to make a good case for it. I only have one family who ever cancels, and all families know they will not be refunded for any missed lessons.

“Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart.”

www.ViolinsAndChinrest.com

Carl said: Mar 14, 2008
 11 posts

My daughter’s academy is similar to many of the other policies that were already mentioned.

Tuition is charged by season and payment is broken down no further than monthly. Tuition rates are determined by lesson length (15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes) and assume a fixed number of lessons per student for the entire season. Students are also expected to attend group classes at least every other week, (although weekly attendance is obviously welcomed :) ). 10 summer lessons are offered, I believe students are expected to take a minimum of 7. Summer tuition is paid in a lump sum.

If the teacher cancels, the teacher will schedule make-up time in the form of either separate make-up lessons or extra time at future lessons. If the student cancels, you’re basically out one lesson, but students of the same teacher (we have four) may swap lesson times, so there is a way to not lose the lesson.

Extreme cases are handled specially. My personal take as a parent is that in the end most conflicts are not extreme (athough they sure can feel that way when you’re in the middle of them) and can be dealt with pretty reasonably.

We’ve been involved in our daughter’s academy about 7 years now, and their policies have seemed to successfully balanced both commitment (which we all know the Suzuki method requires!) and the flexibility and/or volatility of personal schedules.

Some people/families have a habit of overcommitment, but we all have to pick and choose and prioritize in all areas of life. As a parent I want my child to learn to make wise choices and commit to them, and I think a good, fair but firm teaching policy is a great help and encouragement to get people moving in that direction.

said: Nov 4, 2008
 63 posts

I have a monthly pre-payment system and it works really well. Overall, new policies work best with new parents! ;-)

On a financial note, parents really shouldn’t expect a lesson-to-lesson refund. Have they thought it through? Do they really expect you to be able to make up the time and money by pulling someone off the street for a lesson that day?

But on a more important note, it’s a consistency issue. If parents need a financial motivation to model consistency to their children, so be it. The students who are really succeeding in my studio have parents who are consistent and don’t make excuses. Funny how that is…

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