I’m sure EVERY private music teacher has come across the student that continually cancels their scheduled lessons. And most of the time, at the last minute! For too long, music instructors have been disrespected, in my opinion. A lot of students have the idea that since music instructors love to each, it’s ok to cancel a lesson and not pay for it. Or the student will “expect” the instructor to go out of his or her way to make up the lesson. And for too long, teachers have caved and will politely say, “That’s ok, you don’t have to pay for the lesson.” Or “Sure, we can reschedule it”. But what message does that send to the student? And how does that effect the private music teacher?
The First Problem – The Effect on the Instructor
The first problem is the obvious one, how it effects the instructor’s time and income. What other job has the hours set, then taken away at the last minute without pay? Who would want an occupation that requires hundreds and hundreds of hours honing a skill, with a high cost of education, only to have that kind of instability? I would say, NO ONE! Yet this has been the practice for the private music teacher for decades. My first “paid” lesson I taught was from a music store when I was 17. I went there all excited to teach, then waited, and waited, with a no show from the student. I walked away with nothing except wasted time, deciding I would never teach another piano lesson! Yet here I am over 30 years later still teaching!
The Second Problem – The Effect on the Occupation of the Teacher
The second problem when music students cancel their scheduled lessons without accountability, is it disrespects the occupation of the private music teacher. Whatever the reason for cancelling, to expect not to bear any ramifications is disrespecting the instructor’s time and income. I understand respect needs to be earned, and by allowing this to happen, doesn’t teach respect for your time and income.
The Third Problem – The Effect on the Student
The third problem is how it hurts the student. You may think that by being accommodating is helpful, but it’s actually hurting the student. Why, I can hear you asking? Because by not holding the student accountable for every scheduled lesson, makes it easy for the student to cancel. And if it’s easy to cancel, the student probably will Attending every weekly lesson is very important to the student’s learning progress. What prevents the momentum in learning, is inconsistency. I’ve seen the trend over and over with students that cancel a lot of lessons, even when given make ups, will eventually quit all together. So you’re actually doing the student a favor by holding their feet to the fire, so to speak.
Problem With Most Policies
Just like any business, there needs to be rules and policies. I’ve heard a lot of policies over the years from studios and private teachers. Some will say a credit can be issued if cancelling before 48 hours. That’s fine, but it still leaves the instructor with a scheduled time without pay, even if the student gives a month’s notice! Others will give a make up for all missed lessons, or an “x” amount of make ups. The problem with that is you’re still not getting paid for that time block and using another block of time that could have been used for a paid lesson. Plus it doesn’t discourage cancellations. I’ve heard other studios’ policy that never give make ups. Well, that may be a little too harsh, since there are times when a little leniency should be given.
What’s the Solution?
So what is the solution? Over the last 30 years In my own teaching and instructors on my staff at Melody Music Studios, I’ve fine tuned my policies by trial and error. I’ve had a lot of students get mad and quit because of my policies. I’ve found those are the kind of students that only think of their side, and are usually not great students anyway. My policy is right off the top, no credit for student cancellations! The only time I would make an exception are for extreme emergency situations. My make up policy is “No guarantee for make up lessons. That is up to the instructor’s availability”. That way the student knows he or she may not receive a make up for every cancellation, and it doesn’t obligate the instructor to do so. For instructors that have plenty of time and want to make up the lesson, can. For instructors that have a full roster, there’s just no way of making it up. And blaming it on your busy schedule is perfect and tells the student your time is valuable.
Choosing to offer make ups depends also on the student. If you have a student that rarely cancels and gives you a lot of notice, it’s best to make up if possible. However, for the student that cancels often, it’s best not to make up, even if you have the time. You’re only perpetuating their bad behavior. If you do give a make up, I have found the easiest way is extending time in the following lessons, instead of rescheduling.
So the bottom line is we need to stand our ground with students and not be taken advantage of. You may feel alone, but there are thousands of private instructors, and we all stand behind you! There may be times to be lenient and understanding, but that should be the exception, not the rule. You’ll either lose the inconsistent student (and replace with a better one), or create a habit of consistent lessons, which is best for the student’s progress. Thank you for doing the greatest job on earth, teaching music!
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