Transfer Student Attendance


said: Jun 2, 2009
 26 posts

Hi! A local (traditional) cello teacher is retiring and asked me to take her three most advanced students (about book 7/8 level in my estimation, though one can play the first three pages of Saint-Saens concerto fairly well). All three have studied with her for at least five years and were heartbroken. The former teacher thought they would be most likely to continue lessons if they studied with me during summer rather than waiting until fall to study again.

In the beginning I explained my policies: lessons are pre-paid for the month and make-ups/reschedules will be considered only with adequate notice depending on the urgency of circumstance. However, I have a four-lesson trial period during which they may opt to pay by the week and at the end of which either party may decide the match is not right.

One student is a high school freshman. Her mother or father brings her to lessons around sibling schedules. Her family decided to begin paying by the month immediately, and she has now had four 45-minute lessons. However, her mother has requested a reschedule almost every week! Sometimes she calls several days in advance, sometimes 24 hours in advance. Each time it has been due to another child’s transportation needs for a softball game / other club or the parents’ desire to be present at the same. Up until now I have been accommodating, but I now see that if I continue, they will become even more demanding.

Another student (the most advanced) is a high school junior. She told me her family is unable to pay in advance due to financial problems, and she can only take 30-minute lessons. She drives herself and has canceled three times, twice last-minute, for various reasons, and never wants to reschedule. In total she has had two lessons.

I have not had attendance problems with students for many years. My other students/parents are accustomed to the routine and expectations. Sometimes they even try to take a lesson when they are seriously ill! Because I am so used to this, I am inclined to ‘think the best’, that the transfer attendance problems are due to it being the end of the school year or missing the old teacher. How do you suggest I handle it? I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, honor my colleague, and also not be taken advantage of.

Margy said: Jun 2, 2009
Margy Barber
Suzuki Association Member
34 posts

That is a tricky situation. I don’t know if you are still in touch with their former teacher, but you may want to turn to her for advice since she knows the student history. Simply ask if they were habitually asking for rescheduled lessons, or if she noticed a tendency that summer seemed to be difficult for them to be consistent, so you know whether it is just a temporary thing due to the season of the year or whether it could be ongoing.
Regardless, it may be good to drop each of the parents an email…it is possible the parent of the child who is driving herself isn’t even aware her daughter has missed lessons! This happened to me once.
In the email to both parents, start positive and express how you’ve already enjoyed getting to know their children and what great ability and potential you see. Then express that you are concerned about their difficulty in meeting their agreed upon lesson time with you and how difficult it is for you to continually reschedule due to your student load. Ask first if there is a better permanent time that would work, and then quote the lines in your formal lesson policy regarding absences and rescheduled lessons.

I personally do not offer make-up lessons unless it is a lesson that I personally miss, or if it is a serious family emergency (funeral, car accident, hospital stay). If it just a simple sickness or a ballgame or school conflict, they do not receive a make-up but if they can switch lessons with another student later in the week. I give them the phone number and they must make their own arrangments. This especially works well in the summer when things come up suddenly for families. I give them the example of their school where they pay tuition…they don’t get make-up days or tuition money back if they miss days of school…the tuition covers the whole year whether they attend or not. And just as schools will make up days if they call a snow day, in the same way I will make up lessons if I cancel a lesson. Make sense? This has worked wonderfully over the years for me, but I do have to state it in print and in person at the beginning of each year to remind parents, and generally remind them again in the middle of the year.

The other way I handle the summer ebb and flow of schedule is that I choose the seven or eight weeks I will be teaching, then I ask parents to tell me which five, six, seven, or eight lessons they will be taking, so that they can be free to work around family vacations and summer camps. If they can’t take at least five lessons, I suggest they take the summer off, because the gaps between lessons rarely produce any substantial progress. This also has worked wonderfully. This year only five of my 32 students took the summer off because the families could schedule easily around their other events!

Good luck!

Lynn said: Jun 2, 2009
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

You said that you offer a 4 week trial period to see if you are a good fit. Part of the fit is whether these families can work with your policies. If you are more accommodating with your schedule with the first family than you would otherwise be, you are not giving an accurate picture of life in your studio—and yes, you are telling them that you will flex your teaching schedule around all their other activities. In other words, you agree to be the least important commitment.

With regards to the student who canceled, she may well be deeply ambivalent about working with you, especially if she was attached to her other teacher—and it sounds like she was. Citing financial hardship may be true, it may also be a way to avoid making a commitment to lessons with you that she’s just not ready to make. She may need time to let go of her other teacher before she’s ready to work with someone else.

Actually the same could be true of the other student and family as well.

Consider this a trial period for both families, now ended, and follow-up with a phone call to discuss whether to continue, wait, or go somewhere else. You can point to their performance so far as evidence of the possibility that since this switch wasn’t really their choice, they may be having trouble committing, and that’s totally understandable. It really is okay to take time to let go of their other teacher—that was a very important relationship, and it is a loss. If their teacher was all on about making sure they had summer lessons, they may not have had much room to make their own decision, or the feelings may not have surfaced until after the busy-ness of wrapping up, saying good-by and making new plans settled down. Maybe they need to be given that option. There are worse things for a music student than a summer without lessons.

You honored your colleague by being available and willing. Maybe they tried to do the same by accepting her recommendation?

You give them the benefit of the doubt by understanding why or that they might have difficulty committing to you, and giving them permission to talk about it, or about any other aspect of your studio that doesn’t seem like it is going to work for them.

You don’t get taken advantage of by being clear and consistent about your terms, so that families know your expectations and limits, and can decide to either accept them, or not sign on.

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