The dreaded question: Jane can't make her lesson on Thursday, when can we make it up? Whether you are teaching a back to back schedule or you have set hours for family reasons (or any reason at all), it's a question that can cause us teachers internal stress. The stress comes from being conflicted. We want to have the time with the student, but not at the expense of our open, unstructured "free" time that probably isn't really free. Spoiler alert: I don't schedule makeup lessons anymore!
Over the years I have offered one makeup lesson per semester, a group performance class in place of a missed lesson, moving a student into another cancelled spot, having a swap list, etc...basically I have tried everything. It's messy and I don't like messes. But? Welcome to life, and it's part of being a private lesson teacher. Wendy Stevens has a great reference for What Your Tuition Covers. It sure puts things in perspective! Lessons are more than a simple block of time that the teacher spends with the student. It's your responsibility to ensure you are communicating your value to all of your clients. This comes in various ways:
- Newsletters highlighting studio events
- Highlighting teacher achievements and accomplishments
- Highlighting student achievements and accomplishments
- Presentation of yourself in a professional manner each week
- Creating rich and unique performance experiences
- I'm sure you can insert multiple things you do here that add value to your clients lives!
Resolution: You are going to get this question, so determine how you will respond and what options you have in place. Set your boundary with kindness, compassion, understanding and plan out your response to the question that WILL be asked, most likely multiple times throughout each academic year. Be concise, and don't justify yourself. Clear, proactive communication will be key here. And, collecting tuition in advance (that's another conversation.)
I give people two options now, so it's their choice if they attend, or miss. Here's the handout for a Video Lesson (if they know they will be gone in advance) or an Online Lesson if someone is not feeling well or a sibling is home sick and mom/dad can't bring everyone. Sometimes last minute requests pop up, to which I usually respond with "Have fun at your concert!" or "Totally understand. I look forward to seeing Jane next week at our regular time." If it's a legitimate missed lesson for a concert, mom just had surgery, etc...then of course I respond with compassion, understanding and say something like "I will give you first right of refusal the next time I have a cancellation." I never make promises I can't keep, so am intentional in my communication when requests like this pop up.
Policy Review: Each year we have parents sign this agreement. Then, each quarter we send out an email with an attendance and payment reminder to keep things front and center. It's imperative you are up front both verbally and in writing when it comes to your boundaries. When interviewing students, the attendance and payment policies should be discussed in very clear terms, and not glossed over. Then, you follow up with written communication that is the exact same. It's unrealistic for parents to have their contract with you memorized, so don't be offended or take it personally when they forget and ask anyway. In particular, if the parents had lessons in their childhood, they probably have an experience they are comparing to, unintentionally or not. Makeup classes and lessons are acceptable in some activities, and with some teachers.
Plan ahead: In the summer I typically teach one or two extra lessons because I like some flexibility during the school year. It's hot in Texas, so I might as well be comfortable in the A/C. I am proactive in my communication that I will take one week off in the fall, because I am displaced living in the south. My northern blood craves fall and I openly tell my clients that in order to continue to live here, it's imperative for me to 'feel fall' at the end of September/October. Then, I usually have one padded week so that if I need some time off, I take it. A day here, a day there....a week or two at a time. Last year my dad was very sick and I was able to take two weeks off, teach one week of online lessons and be with my mom to help her for 3 weeks. It was fantastic. You may need a 'sick day' or a personal day or just a simple day off. Those extra weeks you teach are for YOU to use however, not your clients so be sure to be clear about that.
What have you done that works great for you?