Make-up Lessons & Why You May Eat a Lesson From Time to Time

At the end of every school year, I reflect on the past several months and think about things I’d like to do differently for the next year. Every year reveals something different that I can change or do better. This year, I learned 18+ students on a recital is not a good idea. 12 is a much better number. I’m learning, too, y’all. 🙂

Every year, I also think about my makeup lesson policy. A lot. Every year, I adapt my makeup lesson policy, especially as my studio has grown and I need to accommodate those changes. 

Makeup policies and defining good and functional ones have always been a struggle for me because I want to teach your child! I genuinely love teaching and I would rather teach than not. I look forward to seeing all the students every week and I’m always a little bummed when I don’t get to see a student due to a scheduling snafu. 

Also, missing lessons is detrimental to progress and it makes it more difficult to sustain steady progress. This is especially true when there are upcoming recitals, auditions or juries. Missing lessons is very disruptive to the schedule, my overall plan for the student and the progress of the student. So again, I’d rather teach than not, especially when there is a plan in mind and a goal we are trying to achieve. 

But I am also running a business and while I would love to teach for free, my income is entirely derived from teaching private lessons and running my studio. I would love to accommodate everyone and be as flexible as I can, but I am also trying to protect myself, my business and my livelihood. 

Also, the scheduling is really a pain. A big one. It’s my least favorite aspects of studio management but I have to do it. The less time I can spend managing the schedule, the better. That means more time devoted to things I love doing, such as teaching and more recently, writing. Dealing with constant scheduling issues, makeup lessons, cancellations, etc., takes time away from doing those things that I love. 

Just to give you an idea of some other things I’d like to accomplish in the future:

  • Finish my Suzuki training. I am only registered through Book 8 and I’d like to take the time to complete the remaining courses. 
  • Complete additional training – Early Childhood Education, Music Mind Games, Supplemental Suzuki Courses
  • Suzuki Certificate of Achievement
  • Work towards becoming a Suzuki Teacher Trainer so I can train other cellists in the Suzuki philosophy and method. 
  • Write a book! My blog and writing that I share every week is my first step in achieving this.
  • Give my own recital. While I think of myself as an educator more than a performer these days, I do miss learning new music, collaborating with a pianist and performing. 

Lastly, I want to have a life, too! Teaching and playing the cello is difficult to separate from my personal life because it is so deeply personal for me. Playing the cello is very much who I am and something I have identified with for most of my life. Teaching isn’t just a job for me and I don’t walk out of my studio at the end of the day and cease thinking about it. I am thinking about it all the time. Thinking about the students, how the lessons went that day, what could have gone better, things I can do differently, etc. But, in order for me to be the best teacher I can for everyone, I do need that personal time. I know it makes me a more effective teacher and a more well-rounded teacher, musician and human being. The last thing I want is to burn out on teaching so my boundaries are in place to avoid that. 

So back to the makeup lessons…

Often times, if I am unable to accommodate a makeup lesson, it’s simply because I do not have room in my schedule. The schedule is complex as I am working with 30+ families, all with different schedules and activities, in conjunction with my own. Sometimes it’s just not possible to squeeze in a makeup lessons. I understand that things come up unexpectedly but  sometimes, I just cannot accommodate a makeup lesson. 

All that being said, here are my makeup policies and hopefully this has provided better insight on why I have chosen these policies. 

Now that I’ve filled you in on my perspective a little bit, below is a write-up from a parent of a child enrolled in Suzuki lessons and her perspective on makeup lessons. 

Make-up Lessons From An Economist’s Point of View  

Vicky Barham
 
“I’m a parent of children enrolled in Suzuki music lessons.  I’d like to explain to other parents why I feel – quite strongly, actually – that it is unreasonable of we parents to expect our teachers to make up lessons we miss, even if I know as well as they do just how expensive lessons are, and, equally importantly, how important that weekly contact is with the teacher to keeping practicing ticking along smoothly.  I think that it is natural for we parents to share the point of view that students should have their missed lessons rescheduled, but if we were to ‘walk a mile’ in our teachers’ shoes, we might change our minds about what it is reasonable for us to expect of our teachers.
 
Like many parents, I pay in advance for lessons each term. In my mind, what this means is that I have reserved a regular spot in the busy schedules of my sons’ teachers.  I understand – fully – that if I can’t make it to the lesson one week (perhaps my son is sick, or we are away on holiday, or there is some other major event at school) then we will pay for the lesson, but that my teacher is under no obligation to find another spot for me that week, or to refund me for the untaught lesson. And this is the way it should be.
 
In my ‘other life’ I am an economist and teach at our local university.  Students pay good money to attend classes at the university; but if they don’t come to my lecture on a Monday morning, then I am not going to turn around and deliver them a private tutorial on Tuesday afternoon.  When I go to the store and buy groceries, I may purchase something that doesn’t get used.  Days or months later, I end up throwing it out.  I don’t get a refund from the grocery store for the unused merchandise.  If I sign my child up for swimming lessons at the local pool, and s/he refuses to return after the first lesson, I can’t get my money back.  So there are lots of situations in our everyday lives where we regularly pay in advance for goods or some service, and if we end up not using what we have purchased, we have to just ‘swallow our losses’.  On the other hand, if I purchase an item of clothing, and get home and change my mind, I can take it back and expect either a refund or a store credit. 
 
So why do I believe that music lessons fall into the first category of ‘non-returnable merchandise’, rather than into the second case of ‘exchange privileges unlimited’ (which I think is one of the advertising slogans of an established women’s clothing store!)?  Speaking now as an economist, I would claim that the reason is that items like clothing are “durable goods’ – meaning, they can be returned and then resold at the original price – whereas music lessons are non-durable goods – meaning, once my Monday slot at 3:30 is gone, my son’s teacher can’t turn around and sell it again. The only way she would be able to give him a lesson later in the week would be if she were to give up time that she had scheduled for her own private life; and that seems pretty unreasonable – I can’t think of many employees who would be thrilled if their bosses were to announce that they couldn’t work from 3:30 to 4:30 this afternoon, but would they please stay until 6:30 on Thursday, because there will be work for them then!

Many teachers hesitate to refuse our request to shift lesson times (because our busy schedules do change), because unless they keep us parents happy, we will decide to take our child somewhere else for lessons (or to drop musical study), and they will lose part of their income.  This is particularly true in areas with lower average income, where it can be particularly difficult to find students. So rather than telling us that ‘well, actually, the only time when I’m not teaching and that you can bring your son for lesson is during the time I set aside each week to go for a long soul-cleansing walk, and I can’t do that on Monday at 3:30 when you should have turned up’, they agree to teach us at a time that really doesn’t suit their schedule.  Teachers who are ‘nice’ in this way often, in the long run, end up exhausted, and feeling exploited; they try to draw a line in the sand.  However, too few parents ask to switch only when absolutely necessary, and too many parents want lesson times when it suits them this week, which is not the same time that suited last week.  If the conflict arises because my child is in the School play, and they have their dress-rehearsal during his lesson time, then I feel that I must choose between the two activities, and if he attends the dress rehearsal my private lesson teacher doesn’t owe me anything.
During May, my eldest son will be missing three lessons because he is going to accompany me on a trip to New Zealand to visit his great-grandparents.  I do not expect my son’s teacher to refund me for those missed lessons, or to reschedule them by ‘doubling up’ lessons in the weeks before or after our departure.  Since there will be lots of advanced notice, I might ask her to consider preparing a special ‘practice tape’ for that period, or to answer my questions via e-mail, but if she doesn’t have the time (the second half of April is going to be really busy for her, and she wouldn’t be able to do the tape until more or less the week we left) and so has to refuse, then that’s fine. I certainly don’t expect her to credit me with three make-up lessons; there is no way for her to find a student to fill a three-week hole in her schedule during our absence.  Instead, I hope that she will enjoy the extra hour of rest during those three weeks, and that we will all feel renewed enthusiasm when we return to lessons at the end of the trip.”

Article Copyright © 2001 Vicky Barham