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Laurie Niles

Summer Scramble

July 3, 2012 at 11:51 PM

"Your student is here!" my husband yelled up the steps.

Ummm, my student? Now? Which one?!

It's summer, and to say that my teaching schedule is completely scrambled is an understatement. About a third of my students are out of town; another third have requested changes due to their different summer activities like swim lessons, soccer camp and summer classes; and another third are simply coming at their regular time, just like during the school year. Every year I think I can handle this ad-hoc situation, and every year I find my wall-calendar scribblings and memory come up short. Sure, I wrote that Jane is changing to a different time, but I didn't write anything for John. Does that mean he's coming at his regular time, or is he out of town? Or did his mom request a change this week? Maybe I'd better call...

And so I've called people to ask if they are coming, and found them halfway across the country. I've been sure that they were at camp, and then had them come to my door. And occasionally, we get it right!

One thing I've learned, though, is to take my own vacation, whatever the students are doing. Unfortunately it never lines up with anyone else's vacation, and sometimes it means a few months without lessons with me. But when I come back, usually I improve quite a bit, on both the record-keeping and the memory front!

We all need a break now and then!

From Andrei Pricope
Posted on July 4, 2012 at 3:18 AM
What works for me is this:
- Broadcast in advance and repeatedly to parents the start and end dates of the summer schedule
- Ask parents/students to provide three summer day/time preferences and weeks when absent, 3-4 weeks before the start of the summer schedule (for me summer is typically M-F 10-7, Sat. 10-3, no Sunday)
- Arrange (most of) the summer schedule during last two weeks before going into effect
- Confirm summer day/time with students and write it down in student's lesson binder (inside cover) as (eg.): "Summer 2012 lessons - Monday 12:30"; cross out all previous lesson reminders
- Enter summer schedule into smartphone as repeat events until end of summer schedule (e.g. "John Doe VN", "Jane Doe CE")
- Mark all foreseeable absences as "NT" (not today), but NOT delete the actual appointment, so that I don't believe it's a regular open spot and schedule someone else, thus creating an embarrassing conflict later on
- Mark as "TO" (today only) all variations, make ups, etc. as non-repeat events
- Confirm at each lesson that student is coming the following week at regular day/time, as "things" spring up... Mark accordingly
- Confirm with the student any variations by text over each weekend, for the week ahead

With over 60 students over the summer, I cannot operate any other way... Curious if others have a better system!

From Kathryn Woodby
Posted on July 4, 2012 at 1:04 PM
Andrei, you are so organized! Laurie, totally know what you're saying!! :) I use a lot of the same ideas but don't need all of them as my studio is about 1/3 the size. I have finally switched from paper to smartphone calendar and writing it down changes right there in the lesson, which has really helped!
From Paul Deck
Posted on July 4, 2012 at 2:30 PM
I teach chemistry, not violin, but many of the problems are the same -- a complicated schedule of meetings, appointments, classes, task deadlines, etc. It took me a while, but eventually I also discovered electronic calendar and task management using Microsoft Outlook. I can share my online calendar with my wife using the university's exchange server (I think you can do much the same with Google Calendar), and the only thing left (which is not as easy as you might think) is to remember to look at it once in a while.
From Annette Brower
Posted on July 4, 2012 at 11:54 PM
I live by my old fashioned paper calendar that tells me what I am doing every 15 minutes. Due to frequent changes in the summer, I confirm the next lesson with each student every week by writing it in the notebook or speaking directly to the parent.
From Lisa Watkins
Posted on July 5, 2012 at 2:50 PM
How I handle summer schedules: Students sign up for lesson times for the weeks that they are in town. They pay for the entire summer in advance. It's up to them to remember when to come. I ask for a commitment of a minimum number of lessons. If they can't make all the lessons I do practice recordings that I send as an MP3 file and have been doing some make up lessons by Skype. Since of few students skip the summer because of busy schedules, I am thinking about charging for the entire year, including summers. Right now I charge by the semester (2 semesters and summer).
From Rebecca Darnall
Posted on July 5, 2012 at 4:37 PM
I really appreciate your point, Laurie. We all need a break once in awhile, and the summer is definitely a good time to do it! I think too often we as teachers feel our switch is always supposed to say "ON".
Some parents/students might not understand, and that is unfortunate. But what I have found is I am so worried about being "ON" that when I decide to turn that switch to "OFF", my studio is really understanding! It's amazing how I can put thoughts into my studio's head that aren't there! I am very blessed, though, to have a studio that understands.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on July 6, 2012 at 1:42 AM
I use Google calendar and I like it. It allows you to post tasks with due dates. The colors are fun, too. All my fun music events are bright aqua blue. Laurie, I always had trouble getting my students on track for lessons when school resumes.

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