The Case Against Offering Make-up Lessons

When I first started teaching I knew nothing about operating a business, establishing professional policies, or setting personal boundaries to help maintain sanity and avoid burnout. That’s probably why I hated teaching. Thanks to the influence of many wise teachers who have mentored and advised me since then, I now have well-formulated policies that enable me to invest my energy into teaching and planning creative endeavors for my studio. It’s amazing how quickly conflicts over the business-side of running a studio can zap you of enthusiasm. I was reminded of this recently when one of my studio families expressed disapproval of my make-up policy (if a student cancels, his spot will be made available to other students for make-up lessons; otherwise, no additional make-up lesson times are offered).

As tempting as it is to get defensive when someone disapproves of a policy or decision, usually the best course of action is just open communication. I don’t ever want to be unfair to any of my students or their families, but sometimes our perception of what is fair differs greatly from one another. These wise words found in Romans 12:18 are great to keep in mind! “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” My goal is to promote peace and understanding. The issue of make-up lessons is a difficult one for many of us. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it recently and thought I would share with you the e-mail that I composed in response to the family I mentioned above:

Dear [Family],

Thank you for taking the time to talk with me and let me know about your concern with the studio policy regarding make-up lessons. One thing that might be helpful for you to know is that the monthly lesson fee factors in not only the regular lessons, but also the group classes, recitals, additional opportunities, lending library, and various other overhead costs (insurance, professional association fees, taxes, etc.). I reserve the specified lesson time for each student as set by the studio calendar at the beginning of the year, and I am committed to providing every student with a comprehensive music education. One of my goals is to provide a great value for every family, which is why I put in so much additional time to plan events, work on creative projects for the students, help them with compositions, and so forth.

As I mentioned to [parent], my policy is that I will gladly offer canceled lesson spots to other students who would like to schedule a make-up lesson for a lesson that they have missed. If I know that you are interested in scheduling an additional lesson, I will keep that in mind and let you know when I have a cancellation. Sometimes families feel that the additional lesson would be beneficial; other times, due to schedules and other responsibilities, people prefer to just skip the lesson and resume the following week. Also, for those who are interested in doing a lesson long-distance, I offer Skype lessons by computer. This has worked well for extended vacations so that students can still benefit from the weekly accountability and new assignments. I’ve even done a lesson over the phone before! In short, this time is yours, and I’m willing to get a lesson in however we can.

It would be nice if I had the flexibility to re-schedule lessons whenever a student is unable to make it (sickness, vacation, weather, etc.), but since I don’t have that much time available, I’ve set in place the current policies (as posted on the studio website). And since my income for lessons is derived from working with the same student over a period of time, I can’t just offer refunds and fill unused times with one lesson at a time. These studio-wide policies apply to every family, and I make it a point to be fair to everyone in maintaining the same standards. Again, my hope is that you will always feel like you’re getting a great value for your money.

Hopefully this will help give a little more explanation about why the policy is the way that it is. Feel free to let me know your thoughts as well. I love your family and having [child] as a student, so I want to be sure that we are able to communicate openly and understand each other. Also, here are the times that I mentioned to you that I know I have available right now if you want to schedule an additional lesson: [times]. Let me know if you want to take either or both of those slots. I can also let you know if any others become available.

A couple days ago, I was catching up on music blogs and was thrilled to find a link on Sandi’s blog to this article about make-up lessons written by a parent: Make-up Lessons From an Economist’s Point of View. Ultimately, as Independent Music Teachers, we have the freedom to establish policies and run our businesses in the way that works best for us and the needs of our studio families. Some teachers may not mind offering make-up lessons whenever requested, but I suspect that most of us would be better off (for the sake of ourselves and our students!) adhering to a no make-up lessons policy.

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