A Sample Policy for Public Use

August 25, 2005 at 07:36 PM · I'm giving this to all of you teachers to copy and use if you like. Have your parents sign and return it, and give them a copy for their own records. Do it!

Hello, and I hope you are all ready to enjoy a new year of learning and music-making. I’m very excited to meet with all of you this fall and can’t wait to see where our journey takes us this year. I have enclosed my updated policy for the 2005-06 school year. If you have any questions or concerns, I would love to talk personally with you about it.

Steele String Studio Policy 2005-2006

Materials: You are responsible for the purchase of any materials needed for the school year. This will include books (I will specify which), theory flash cards, staff paper, and assignment book. A metronome is a mandatory practice tool. Ask me for the best places to purchase these items, and I would love to point you in the right direction.

Practice: The foundation of any successful music program is the amount of quality time spent in practice. I will provide feedback and direction each week, and I only require that your child makes the time to practice a minimum of 100 minutes per week, monitored weekly by a signed practice log. This works best when it’s spread over the course of the entire week, not just the day before the lesson. As a parent, you can help your child succeed by creating a schedule that includes practice each day, so that it becomes a natural habit. Do this, and you guarantee progress.

Payment: This is due monthly, on the first lesson each month, and includes xx% sales tax. Make checks payable to Steele String Studio. Each 30-minute lesson is $xx.xx. If you are ever uncertain about the amount owed for the month, feel free to call or email me, and hopefully I can clear that up.

Cancellation: Since your payment secures your time slot for the year, missed lessons will not be refunded for any reason. I have included the calendar of fall lessons, so that you may plan accordingly. The Fall 2005 semester contains 12 lessons. You may also contact another family to switch lesson times if you have a conflict in schedule. I can provide you with contact information. Again, if you ave any concerns or questions, I would be glad to talk with you personally.

Termination: Should you choose to terminate lessons, you will still pay for the month in which you terminate, and I need at least two weeks notice.

I trust that in incorporating this policy, we will all be happy to see a much more fruitful year, full of dedication and motivation. I’m so glad you have chosen to invest in my studio, and I’m looking forward to enriching your child’s education.

Thank you!

Emily Grossman

Replies (56)

August 26, 2005 at 12:52 PM · “You may also contact another family to switch lesson times if you have a conflict in schedule. I can provide you with contact information.”

Not a good idea, IMHO. Individuals wanting to change their lessons should have to do it through the teacher. If others are affected by the change, it’s the teacher that should be contacting them.

August 26, 2005 at 03:42 PM · I've never seen someone be so hardcore over cancellations... stuff happens... none of my teachers ever cared about cancellations.

August 26, 2005 at 03:56 PM · I have never seen a teacher charge sales tax. What was this about?

August 26, 2005 at 05:03 PM · It looks much like the policy of Ronda Cole, the well known Suzuki "teachers teacher" at U of MD.


August 26, 2005 at 05:09 PM · Thanks a lot Emily! When I ever start teaching, I will!

August 26, 2005 at 05:27 PM · I expect certain provisions to be knocked down by the Supreme Court of Alaska.

August 26, 2005 at 07:31 PM · Sarah, you scared me for a minute. You don't live in the US, though, so perhaps things are different over there. It's a business. I have to file taxes, both sales tax and federal income.

Guys, think about college courses and other activities in which you pay for the semeseter. You don't miss class and expect to be refunded, do you? I should give you the music articles I've been reading, as well. I just read a great one written by a student's parent called "Make-up Music Lessons from an Economist's Point of View." It's in the American Suzuki Journal, Fall 2001. Music Lessons fall under the category of "non-durable goods". You can't turn around and sell a slot that has been vacated. No, I'm not offering make-ups either. If you worked a job and your boss came up to you that day and said, "You can't work from 3:30-4:00 today, but would you please come make up that time on Friday by working an extra half hour?"

There is no way I can find a student to fill a three-week hole when one leaves for vacation.

My schedule is full, and I now have a wait-list. This year, after my hair grew back from pulling it out so much last year, I decided that if this doesn't work for some, they can leave and I will get someone else. It sounds mean, but even your "friends" will walk over you if you let them. I haven't even publicized some of my best stories, but you can check out my January 2005 blog entries and find a couple.

You can run your business however you like. I've run the gamut in policies. It's finally come down to this by the urging of my own husband and the united front of the other teachers in town. See, the best part is, if we're all using this standard, then it will become what's expected.

From a student's perspective, I had a teacher for eight years that kept the same policy, except that she had us pay for May's tuition at the beginning of the school year as a non-refundable deposit.

August 26, 2005 at 09:40 PM · Emily,

I think you have a strong grasp on what to expect from the kids in your studio. By demanding dedication and commitment from your studio you will weed out those who are not serious about learning. In return, I believe your studio will eventually develop into a profitable and satisfying experience for you and your students. Don't expect less from the kids just because they are young, rather expect more from the parents because they should understand that this is an investment in education...not a favour.


August 26, 2005 at 09:34 PM · PS

In case I've given the impression that I'm a cold-hearted miser that loves money (okay, yes money's good), I would like to add that through increased emphasis on attendance, productivity will multiply. We can all benefit from financial accountability.

I'll give you a free knitting lesson, if any of you are interested.

August 27, 2005 at 07:05 AM · Woah. In a word: vile.

I would not ever send my daughter to you! I want a music/violin teacher, someone who is sensitive to my daughter: not a dictator. Your note is focused on money, not music, and not people.

I have studied with some of the best, and paid high fees. No one dictated such terms.

If you were someone in high demand, then perhaps market forces would apply, and you could be firm with your "policies". Are you the Julliard institute, which issues degrees? If so, you might be able to dictate terms. But there is always your reputation as a person to consider. You will get more bees with honey than with vinegar.

Whatever happened to nice people? I suggest you focus on YOUR quality and reputation, rather than the other way round.

Isn't freedom of speech and the internet great?

August 27, 2005 at 07:37 AM · Emily, the sales tax thing...I meant that I have never have seen it written as an added expense. I have always just built it into the price of the lessons, but I suppose either way is fine. I just think seeing it written as a separate fee adds to the "moneymoneymoney" feel of the policy.

I do agree with not offering make-ups to a certain degree, but I don't think I could charge a kid who suddenly came down with chickenpox as they are doing ME a favor by staying home. I would rather not teach a lesson now and then that was scheduled rather than constantly get every flu and heebiejeebies out there.

But I teach public school (when not in University as I am at the moment) as a main source of income so my opinions are going to be different than if a violin studio was my job.

August 27, 2005 at 08:00 AM · Sarah, another violin teacher was audited last year, and she was told by the sales tax department that they preferred that the sales tax was specifically added to the original fee, so that it was perfectly clear that she was in fact charging sales tax. That's why. There's no other really logical reasoning. The tax people want it that way, and we do whatever the tax people want.

I don't get sick.

August 27, 2005 at 08:52 AM · It's getting such bad reactions because of the wording as much as anything it tries put in effect. It's written to employees rather than customers. Dissatisfied employees. Also, people are going to ignore some of it and tell you to sue them. The termination part at least. It would be dumb to sue them.

Also, you aren't going to enforce a change in many peoples' behavior. If you have a waiting list of people who'll submit to your terms, then technically no problem. I don't know how bad the problems were it tries to address but overall as a piece of writing it's a bit inhumane. Like a violin teacher. Now where's that thread about what did you hate about your violin teacher... Also, it sounds like the teachers have unified and are going to twist some arms. Who knows. I see the good stuff too, and understand the problem with attendence. From the other side of the fence I mean :)

August 27, 2005 at 03:49 PM · I'm sorry, but I find your post to be the offensive one, Ron. "Vile"? Hardly. But using such emphatic language, full of bland cliches (vinegar/honey) to defend...what? Parent's rights to treat the teacher however they see fit? Students rights to not practice? Paying for lessons whenever you feel like it? Cancelling on a whim and utterly ignoring the damage this does to the student's progress, consistency, AND the teacher's schedule and pocketbook? If you studied with the best, I'm sure none of them would accept any of these things. And, I'm sorry, but if they did, then they weren't the best. They weren't even serious.

And no, the policy doesn't strike me as someone who's concerned exclusively with money. The cancellation and termination policies are as much about a student's consistent attendance and, therefore, progress as they are about not unexpectedly losing income. As for income itself, music teachers are NOT unskilled labor, NOT your employees, NOT babysitters, and most emphatically NOT just doing this as a cute little side thing while the significant other has the Real Job. They are highly skilled professionals (or should be, of course) who are paid commensurately with their experience and proven track record. They offer a rare service and should be paid, and treated, as such. When they spell out their policy in advance, in a manner designed to avoid misunderstanding during some mini-crisis, the policy is about as far from vile as one gets. It is businesslike, professional, and honest. As it involves a business - a profession offering services for, yes, Ron, MONEY - it is intended NOT to avoid this Terrible Gauche Issue, but rather to see to it that two "fell and mighty opposites" don't come to imprecations and blows over it.

In short, I agree wholeheartedly with everything Emily has put into the policy. The sales tax thing isn't my style, but then again, who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of tax collectors in Alaska?

And for those who object to cancellation policies, ask yourselves whether you think the music teacher's bills will ever unexpectedly decrease in proportion to the expected-but-lost income from students who happen to not feel like having a lesson that week. Can you suddenly tell the phone company or landlord that you fully expected to make a payment that month, but what with one thing and another, you'll just skip this month and pick up your obligations the following month. Oh, and you're not going to carry this month's expenses forward, you're just not going to pay them at all. Don't you think you'd see the inside of a court room pretty quickly under those conditions? So why is the service provided by the phone company worthy of greater respect or professionalism than that provided by your teacher?

In fact, my only suggested change, Emily, is that cancellations due to unavoidable and unforeseeable situations be subject to make-ups at YOUR convenience. And that 24 hours notice is required, but that the lesson is still paid for. Simply rescheduled when you have the time. In my studio, if I run into a conflict myself - for whatever reason - and am unable to make a lesson, I make sure that the make-up lesson is guaranteed and at the convenience of the student (within reason, naturally, since I won't inconvenience Peter to convenience Paul, so to speak). If the student cancels with advance notice, we reschedule at a mutually convenient time. But yes, lessons - ALL lessons - are paid for at the beginning of the month precisely to ensure this kind of consistent attendance.

August 27, 2005 at 09:52 PM · Oh, this is great. I'm one of the only regulars at this board who has never been involved in heated debate, and now I'm the source.

Ron, your post kinda made my stomach knot up and my heart race a bit. And then I chuckled. Yeah, I'm gonna have to work on that vile image I've presented. First, I'll take off my pointy hat and put the broom back in the closet, and then I'll think about taking the thumb screws off my desk. ...No, I think I'll keep the thumb screws.

You would only have to meet me to understand that I'm a pushover. Just look at the photo in my bio! I only created this document as a last resort to cure headaches, excessive fretting, and sleepless nights.

Jim, I would absolutely love it if you would rewrite my policy with kinder, gentler text. I struggled with that part.

Emil, what about if I offer a reschedule if two lessons are to be missed due to illness? Is that reasonable?

I'll try not to be sick to my stomach the rest of the day because I read this thread. It's way too nice outside.

August 27, 2005 at 10:14 PM · I had a teacher that had 2 makeup sessions per year built into his schedule. I think it was one in Dec. and one in June. So if you missed a lesson due to illness, you could schedule a makeup on the prearranged date,at his home, at his convenience. It worked out pretty well.

August 27, 2005 at 11:09 PM · I initially posted that I thought the policy was hard core. I still think the wording is strong, but I do not agree with Ron. I see a reason for being tough on cancellations, even though as a student I never personally had to deal with that.

If Emily is that busy that cancellations really mess up the schedual, I think it makes sense. But if you only have 15 or so students, you can afford to be more flexible. I do not think that you need Juilliard credentials to be credible as a teacher. However, it would be a shame to scare away people who might otherwise be happy to study with you.

That all depends on how busy you are. If you're teaching from 9-9 every day, then I totally see a need. If this is not the case, some leniancy could definately be shown.

August 28, 2005 at 12:38 AM · Since you asked...:)

Greetings from Steele String Studio!

Please note our new policies, effective immediately.

Payment: Payment is monthly, payable in full at the first lesson of each calendar month. My monthly fee is $xx. Please make your check payable to "Steele String Studio."

Additional costs: Sheet music and other learning materials will be provided to your child free of charge. You must purchase a metronome, if you do not already have one. A metronome is $xx and is a one-time purchase.

Cancellation: Missed lessons cannot be refunded. I set aside times at the end of the year for make-up lessons, but I cannot guarantee a spot will be available. If your child must miss a lesson, please let me know as far in advance as possible.

Termination: If you choose to terminate lessons, please let me know in advance so that I can attempt to fill your child's time slot with another student. Payment for any lessons missed due to termination cannot be refunded.

Practice: It is important that your child practice. This helps insure your money and time is well-spent. I require that each student practice at least 100 minutes per week. It will help your child to progress if that time is spread out over the week, rather than done all at once. We require each parent to sign a weekly statement confirming their child has practiced 100 minutes. As a parent, you can help your child succeed by creating a schedule that includes practice each day, so that it becomes a natural habit. Do this, and you guarantee progress.

We are implementing these new policies in the hopes that we will all see an even happier and more fruitful year. Steele String Studio is looking forward to enriching your child's education.

Thank you!

Emily Grossman

Steele String Studio

August 28, 2005 at 12:15 AM · Well, it looks like you're all ready to go into business, Jim!

All right, for some good humor, I want to share a blog from one of my not-so-good weeks last year, just to give you all a chance to understand exactly where I'm coming from. The tone, I will admit, is a little exasperated (I don't claim to be perfect), but I'm glad I wrote it so that I wouldn't forget, come the beginning of the school year. I wrote it after a bad drive home from Pennsylvania after the holidays:

The only thing more stressful than a 4,500 mile road trip through Canada in the winter...

...is returning to a studio of pure chaos. This week has been one that tries the soul of the violin instructor. I have just spent the entirety of last week driving through several blizzards, ice storms, and animal-infested mountain passes to make it back to my home town in time to begin this semester's lessons. In those six days on the road through Canada, I had plenty of time to think about life in general and the possibility of not having one anymore, as we avoided many near-death experiences, including one involving a herd of puppies and ice--but I won't go into that story. My Honda started making a mysterious groaning sound back in Illinois, which progressed into a shimmy somewhere in the Yukon, but somehow it still managed to roll over 200,000 as we made the last 150-mile haul to Soldotna. I arrived home a changed person, thankful for a bed and heat and food and good friends. Then, I began the phone calls to round up my students for the week's lessons.

"Can we change all five of my children's lessons to Thursday?"

"We won't be making this week, we're driving to Anchorage."

"My daughter has finals this week, so we won't be coming."

"My mom gets off work an hour later now, so we can't make the 5:00."

"My son isn't inspired to practice anymore. We're quitting."

"We had to move, and he's been so sick, and his grandmother forgot to explain that he broke his thumb, you know, and we're going to cancel while we wait for another miraculous healing."

I lost four students this week. My house sitter didn't sit after all, and left the door open and the lights on. Yes, in Alaska, in December, she left the front door open. And then the piano tuner forgot to tell me that he raised his price from $80 to $125 until I saw it on the bill. This is no exaggeration of the week I've had, not to mention that absolutely no one practiced while I was away. I felt completely steam-rolled. I have written policies explaining that cancellations are not excusable, nor refundable in any of the previously mentioned situations. Can they not understand that I came through with the reliability of a postal service worker, that neither rain nor snow, nor sleet nor puppies on ice could stop me from being there for them? Pitiful excuses, all of them. I have been frustrated and angry with the flakiness of people in general. How hard is it to keep a commitment?

I've learned a thing or two from this. After being taken aback by the first weekly cancellation and kicking myself for not charging her for it and letting myself be walked on like that, I braced myself. When the third similar phone call came, I used this valuable phrase that I had memorized and repeated several times in advance: "I'm sorry you can't make it, I'd hate to see you pay and get nothing for it, but if this is what's best for you, then I understand." It was silent and awkward for a moment, and then we closed our conversation. I hung up knowing I'd made my point. It felt tacky and pushy and wonderfully unbudging. Sure enough, I was rewarded the following day when the mother left a message saying that they would be able to make the lesson after all.

Note to self: stand firm more often.

P.S. Write a formal termination policy that sticks it to last-minute quitters.

August 28, 2005 at 12:33 AM · Just doing my part for a less bloodthirsty Alaska.

P.S. If you include the cost of materials in your fee, you don't have to try to collect multiple checks. Surely it can all be broken out later. Also, I wouldn't want to send people out to buy a metronome who'd never heard the word before. Maybe you could keep some minimal ones around to sell. Probably less hassle. Is that right, or am I just full of it?

August 28, 2005 at 12:55 AM · Actually, if I got some kind of resale permit, I could do it. The Man won't even let me resell without going through some sort of hassle. I need to check into that. Usually, I point my students to websites and give them catalogues with circled items. We also have a really helpful store in Anchorage. I wouldn't send a dog I liked to the store in town.

August 28, 2005 at 02:24 AM · Standing firm is what I seem to be having trouble with. It's harder than it sounds!

August 28, 2005 at 09:29 AM · Emily, I figure that cancellations on a student's whim or due to poor planning are the only ones where I am justified in keeping the prepaid lesson fees. If a student is sick, or is somehow unforeseeably and unavoidably detained, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. That is, unless they come down with some exotic and short-lived disease every week, like Acute Paranoid Lessonitis. Or unless their gerbils/hamsters/pet woodchucks keep dying precisely three hours before the lesson time each week. In which case I suddenly develop a blazing case of Cold-Blooded B-----d Syndrome (CBBS, for short) and explain that all sales are final. Something like this actually did happen with two FORMER students, albeit not actually involving rodents of any size, unusual or otherwise. Well, not that I know of, anyway.

As for giving the students the benefit of the doubt, this involves a SINGLE makeup lesson but (and this is super-important to me) at a mutually convenient time and place. I honestly don't see why you should give two make-ups to cover the lost time of one lesson.

And, of course, if you cancel because you don't feel like teaching that day - or even because you have a truly valid reason - I'd say fairness demands you subsequently inconvenience yourself to offer a lesson at a time and place of the student's choosing. But, again, one make-up lesson for one missed lesson. Not a two-for-one deal. Of course, as this puts me at the mercy of others' equally crowded schedules, I do try to keep lessons missed due to my own conflicting commitments to an absolute minimum. If I'm out of town for a concert, for example, I know about it far in advance (at least weeks, sometimes months) and will try to move students into days immediately prior to or following such a business trip. When even this is unfeasible, I either try to have an assistant take over for the missed week - so the student's playing suffers no ill effects from inconsistency - or, in absolute no-win situations, plan on missing a week. But, again, I try to keep that option in reserve for Armageddon.

For me the anathema of rescheduling at anothers' convenience has become pretty important. What with moving down to DC, while maintaining studios in Rockville (@60 minutes by metro) and Silver Spring (@45 minutes by metro), going out to the studios for one or even two students who've been rescheduled at their convenience is simply not worth the time. I'd be spending four hours - plus the extra time I always seem to end up giving students in each lesson - and end up being paid, essentially, for only half of that time. So if I can tack on extra hours when I'm in either location anyway, or if the student can make their way to DC, I make every effort to accomodate their schedules. But even with only twenty or twenty-five students, this rapidly becomes an illustration of how, sometimes, good will and good intentions are just not enough. There's just too many schedules to juggle, and everyone really does have enormous loads of stuff to do. Myself included.

August 28, 2005 at 01:38 PM · I think the two make-up lessons concept refers to how many make-ups would be allowed in a semester, not how many would be offered for a missed lesson.

I decided that I'm going to offer a make-up week at the end of the semester for anyone who missed a lesson from illness or emergency. During that week , I will book lessons for those students.

August 28, 2005 at 02:42 PM · When I was looking for a teacher, one told me that she reserves Saturdays for make-up lessons, as in "ALL" make-up lessons are on Saturday.

August 28, 2005 at 03:14 PM · I wouldn't give up my Saturdays.

August 28, 2005 at 06:06 PM · Emily, I agree with your policies, and also with the general idea of giving students a very clear and detailed explanation of them. The more detail you give them, the less room there is for ridiculous disputes and problems.

Pieter, I have to disagree that if you have 15 students you can afford to be more flexible. It might seem like all that other time when a teacher is not teaching is just extra time that's available, but at least for me, that isn't the case.

As someone who does a good deal of free-lancing, runs a website, and has two small children, I have to expect that my students will show up as planned. There's nothing like picking up both of my kids from separate schools, driving them to the babysitter and then having a student call and say, "We aren't going to be able to make it today, can we come tomorrow?"

If they make arrangements in advance, I can be somewhat flexible, though I can't guarantee anything.

It makes a great deal of sense to have a policy, if not exactly like Emily's, one that reflects how you want things to be. Because without it, a great deal of chaos can happen with your schedule as a teacher!

August 30, 2005 at 09:40 AM · Hi Emily:

First, let me say sorry to have upset you. This was not the intent.

I do not consider mysef a writer, but as I get older people are telling my writing can be powerful. So, I must learn about myself. The pen is mightier than the sword: this might be true.

A hardcore letter will illicit a hardcore response. The harder the business line you take, the more demanding will be your customers.

Cancellations, frustrations with parents, etc, are all part of the territory. Just like the cold and snow in Alaska. So either you accept the cold, or you move on. The question is how you deal with your territory, ie. people. Do you let things run off you like the rain from from your roof, or do you let them pile up like snow and wait for a big thaw? It's your choice. Ultimately, the only person who must deal with your frustrations over your students is you. No letter to anyone will help you in this. And a few dollars in your pocket from a student who leaves you for good over your terms is a hollow reward.

I doubt seriously your letter will change or prevent anything. Sh-t happens, it's a daily part of life, and why most of us have toilets. People ain't gonna change just 'cause you wrote a letter, and the letter ain't gonna help you get over the frustrations. In fact, even presenting the letter to people will cause you uneasiness, else why would you be asking for support from the forum, from total strangers?

My daughter and I take lessons from a man who is a prof and pro SO member. We have no letter, pay monthly in advance, and do not ask for makeup lessons. Instead, the man reciprocates in various other ways: such as helping us get an excellent 1/4 size at 1/2 price from the shop; front row tickets to concerts such as Hillary Han for 1/2 price; offering extra lesson time when he can; etc. So, we build the relationship - it is very rewarding for everyone.

How do you think your letter would affect the colours of this picture?

BTW, I lived once in Yellowknife, in case a northern fraternity may mean anything.


August 30, 2005 at 09:53 AM · Ron,

Yes, it is true that your pen has cut me more than a sword ever has. Words are not to be wielded clumsily.

You are obviously an ideal family for your violin teacher, so these issues have probably never occurred with you in your relationship to your teacher. What a blessing you are! I would tell you this myself if you were mine, and we would have a happy time of it with our weekly lessons, with never an issue to be raised. I have students like that, too, and I give them candy and stickers and sometimes bake them cookies. Policies exist for those other people out there who need them. I will make every effort to use the sweetest words I can find in the future in my interactions with my clientele.

I wasn't asking for support. And I haven't lost a single student due to the terms.

Yellowknife? Why did you leave Yellowknife, too cold? Those winters can get pretty vile.

And now for a random tidbit from the lore of Emily: I once lived with no running water for two winters up here. Sh-t happened, but not at my house.

August 30, 2005 at 10:13 AM · Ron your writing is so powerful ! But she wasn't upset. Sorry.

August 30, 2005 at 10:06 AM · Emily,

I agree with most everything in your letter, however I sort of agree with Ron as well.

IT is possible to have the same core content of the policies you would like to adapt, but write it up in a more flowery and humorous way. Tell parents the sales tax thing in a side note is from another teacher being audited (or tell them in person when you give over the letter). Explain that this is your sole income and since you cannot opt to pay bills on a whim, you need to tighten up your payment and cancellation policy.

I am not a confrontational person either, so I find for the most part trying to talk to people and reason and explain my motives works best. If you remind these parents that they are not the only ones trying to schedule a life and pay the bills....maybe they will think twice before they cancel so Johnny can go play with his buddies.

I also agree with Ron in that you somehow have to be able to say "enough!" and not just let them walk on you. People will test your limits for their convienance. It will get easier each time you say NO to a reschedule or cancellation.

It isn't easy and this is just the downside to a studio. People aren't comfy discussing money and the neglectful duties of parents, but....unless you want to run a charity studio, it has to be said from time to time.

August 30, 2005 at 10:29 AM · You know, there's a town way up north, at the very end of the road, called Deadhorse.

August 30, 2005 at 10:44 AM · It's night of the living dead for 60 some more posts. Just shoot 'em in the head.

August 30, 2005 at 10:47 AM · The thing is, I'm surprised no one has come down on that type-o yet.

August 30, 2005 at 11:27 AM · Emily, just wanted to ask you (and other teachers out there) whether you think limiting makeup lessons to only two is feasible. My logic was that missed lessons = inconsistent oversight and thus inconsistent progress, not to mention lost income. So, unless a student is habitually cancelling on a whim or at the last minute, I make up lessons without limitation, so long as I know in advance what obligations are coming up for students or for myself. But maybe I'm being too lax?

August 30, 2005 at 03:53 PM · I think the problem comes with makeups when parents start seeing it like this: I paid for a lesson, but cancelled at the last minute, but because I gave you money, you owe me a makeup lesson. Or, if they know they can make up a lesson, sometimes they are more inclined to play around with the schedule, which can be really tough on a teacher.

Not all parents/students are like this, by any means. And I find that the more trust you have built, the more flexible you can be. But in the beginning, especially if you have a lot of students, you sort of have to "train" students how to treat you.

September 1, 2005 at 01:56 AM · Hi Emily:

Well, I'm no blessing and no angel: but, my daughter is surely! She is everything one could wish for in a child.

Back to violins, we have two primary reasons for our relationship with our prof. One, we are in this for the long haul, so the relationship is important. Another, the prof has a wait list for students and a high reputation. So, he is choosy about students. So, we accept matters, lest we can't find another good teacher/player.

I suggest this is the level you should strive for in builidng your teaching practise. Meanwhile, you will need to find the resources within you to cater to your students, until you can turn the table round to put you in control. Anyone in biz anywhere will tell you that building is very hard, and that the customer always comes first.

So, good luck!

September 1, 2005 at 04:21 AM · Emily, I'm so glad that you wrote what you did when you did. I also agree with many of the points Laurie and Emil made. Earlier this week, I got tired of students not taking lessons seriously and decided to have everyone pay for a month in advance. Many of my students are adults, so I can't appeal to their parents. Some of these students feel that they will come for a lesson if they feel like it and when they feel like it. One issue is money and another one is respect. I am neither a professional performer nor a professional teacher, and I certainly need money, but I can't stand to let people walk over me any more. I use this anology to guide me: I take weekly yoga classes sponsored by the county government and given at community centers. I love and respect my yoga teacher. She has been my personal and spiritual guru for 16 years. I pay the county for a semester in advance. If I miss a class, the community center and my teacher still get paid. My teacher has an unofficial policy of letting us take makeup classes at another session she teaches at the community center, but we don't switch back and forth casually. I'll admit that I will probably be flexible about enforcing my makeup policy. I know that certain students are very reliable, but they occasionally need to cancel at the last minute because they get sick or we have a snowstorm. (This isn't Alaska. The whole city goes into gridlock at the mere suggestion of snow.) I would be receptive to letting these people reschedule once in a while. I would also enforce a similar policy on myself. If I need to cancel at the last minute, I would certainly let my students take a makeup lesson. I have another area of flexibility. I sometimes give a free lesson in exchange for services for me. I've had students who are IT professionals, physical therapists, or home handymen, and we all benefit from occasional barter. I respect my students' time and I expect them to respect my time.

September 1, 2005 at 04:46 PM · Hi Emily!

It is always best to be firm up front. You can always be situationally flexible later and determine who genuinely had a conflict, 1 time illness, etc. or who is not taking things seriously. I personally have students that I am very flexible with and others who I must remain firm with lest I be taken advantage of. It's always easier to take the cork out of the bottle later, rather than try to put it back it!

My time is valuable, or at least it is to me. Time spent in my away-studio and away from my children is wasted if a student chooses to cancel at the last minute, or not show. It is also wasted money because I still must meet my obligation to my sitter, whom I would not need if a student had not reqested that time. Therefore, if a lesson is missed due to illness, I offer a make up lesson, as schedule time is available. If a lesson is missed because dad forgot to tell me he was going to Anchorage for world wide wrestling, I would probably not offer that option.

I have talked with all my parents and let them know that while I can understand things like bill due dates coinciding with lesson due dates, they must understand that I also have obligations to meet, and that I am depending on them to be able to do so. It's the most difficult conversation I have to have, but it has seemed to work.

Personally, I wish I didn't have to deal with the money at all, but wishes and free lessons don't put gas in the car to get to the studio!

September 1, 2005 at 06:15 PM · Hi Mellisa, glad you could come out of your igloo to join me this fine day! I like your advice and cork illustration. Hope your lessons are going well this fall, and you should let me know any time you're interested in relieving my wait list. Sure you aren't taking any more in Sterling?

September 1, 2005 at 06:24 PM · Hey Emily!

It truly is a gorgeous day! I suppose I should get out and start getting the garden in before it gets too cold.

I don't actully have a list right now, I've been sending them to you. Give me a month, and I'll decide if I can fit any more in. I'm still working on the home school schedule and getting ready for youth orchestra. I'm trying to learn every part (even cello!) this year, so that I know them all and can better help the students with things like phrasing, bowing, etc. It may be more than I can handle, but give me a challenge to hit head on!

September 1, 2005 at 08:49 PM · Wow I didn't think the thread would get that big.

I thought the policy was pretty good. I don't like to make a big deal out of my own policy, but I do make people sign it, and it's very similar to the one given here.

Some of the key differences are that I do have people contact each other through me. I have people pay per lesson, just to avoid the entire cancellation thing.

As far as practice goes, I tell parents to maintain discipline with young ones, but I do leave it up to older students to practice. If they don't practice, it's pretty easy to tell, and they know it.

We've all known when our teachers knew when we didn't practice much. It makes you feel badly and like it was a waste. That's enough punishment as it is.

September 1, 2005 at 09:14 PM · I think some of the stronger feelings on this thread were from people that really don't need this sort of policy. These parents and students understand the value of musical education and the commitment that learning an instrument requires. They value lesson time and they value the teacher. Simply the fact that they take the time to read this discussion shows thier dedication to the pursuit. So, a strictly enforced policy isn't really necessary for that student.

Other parents think that it would be neat for thier child to learn an instrument, but then don't insist on practice time, or respect for the teacher, or any number of other problems that arise in a lesson time. This is frustrating for the teacher, obviously, but will quickly turn the student off of any instrument. A firm policy will often be helpful to encourage this type of parent into being more disciplined with their child. Not always, though.

Well, I've stirred the pot enough for now! I'm off to the garden. Peas await....

September 1, 2005 at 09:58 PM · Not too many more good pea days, or running days, for that matter, Mellisa. Rumor has it the northern lights were out last night.

And no harm in stirring this pot; it's not even nine days old yet.

Off for a trip around the lake before lessons at 3:00.

September 3, 2005 at 05:42 AM · I'm so glad that I started my pay-for-one-month-in-advance policy. My student who takes the prize for being unreliable about showing up for lessons and giving weak excuses did it again. I don't feel nearly so bad now because I'm getting paid no matter what he does. If I were a student, I wouldn't want to throw my money away by missing lessons, but not all students feel this way. BTW, I remember a thread started by a former v.commie who regretted that she hadn't been firm the first time that a student's parent cancelled a lesson, because he then did so repeatedly. Almost everyone agreed that you need to be firm right from the start.

September 3, 2005 at 06:42 AM · How's this for firm? I got a phone call today from a mom whose self-employed husband will now be indefinitely unemployed because his insulation business gets all of its supplies from a sole manufacturer in Louisiana. His poly-whatever is all underwater. She has to go look for a job now, and doesn't know if the lessons are going to pan out.

I said, "Tough, you signed that contract, so I'll see you in court!"

Okay actually I told her I'd be flexible. Couldn't even bear the thought of talking business with her when she was so out of sorts like that.

September 3, 2005 at 07:53 AM · Emily, you had me going there for a minute, and then I thought, "No way Emily did that!"

The difference there is these particular students are a delight to work with, not the ones that don't show becuase they wanted to watch WWF or WWE or whatever it's called now.

I guess that disasters like this aren't local, they're global. Who would have thought that someone here in Sterling, AK would be wiped out by this storm? It was a tough call for me, too!

September 9, 2005 at 06:57 AM · As a long term student and business person myself, I'd like to make some suggestions (take or leave).

Most policies in regards to paying for lessons I've seen require payment in advance of lessons either in one month or quarterly payments. I personnaly have not seen tax listed as a separate billing item, but I've not done lessons in Alaska as of yet.

For make up lessons, I've seen a general policy that make-up lessons are provided if there is at least a 24 hour notice, and that the make-up lesson has to be scheduled within the billing cycle (1 month or quarter) on a mutually agreed upon time between the student and teacher. There was no policy about moving someone else's schedule to accomodate a make-up lesson, these had to happen in an existing open slot or fill in a canceled slot. I have never seen an offer to exchange personal home phone numbers of other students to work out a horse trade. I would not want my number shared at any cost. If it could not be mutually agreed upon the lesson is subject to just being lost at the student's expense. (Some exceptions here at the company's discretion, but not the rule).

I haven't seen a *requirement* for minimum practice hours per week. I've seen *strongly recommended to take the best advantage of the lessons* but no requirements. If you teach adults like me who work full time, this is extremely difficult at best. Encourage strongly, but madatory practice will turn people off.

Remove the word "I" from the policy. Since this policy is a business policy, then replace "I" with the company name. It is much more professional and helps with perceived greed, arrogance, etc that can be viewed by others. This will help nip many things in the bud before they begin.

For the materials section, I'd reword this to state that a materials list (books, equipement, etc) and places to purcase (with contact information) is available at the place lessons are held. Price listings would be helpful, but I'd put prices on as reference only and that the stores can change prices at their own discretion. If you can, see if you can work out a small discount with local businesses that supply these materials. They may do it for the *free* advertising and recommendation from your business to theirs. A selling point could be to work a "package" discount for new students (starter packages with instruments), existing students by grade (books and blank sheets), etc.

I'd also make a note on what the office/business hours are, holiday schedules and how holidays work with lessons that fall on the holiday day in reagards to rescheduling or whatever. Also specify the dates of the billing period (fiscal or calendar year method). Remove the *hopefully clearing things up* with questions on payments. Simply state what to do if there are questions regarding payment without a reference about *hope*.

Hope this helps. :)

September 9, 2005 at 08:38 AM · Smack!

September 9, 2005 at 08:08 AM · Thank you so much, Mendy, for the in-depth analysis of the published policy. After considering the amount of time and mental energy involved in your response, it is with great regret that the Steele String Studio must inform you that all further comments and insights are moot, since the said policy protocol has already been implemented, unchanged.

Unfortunately, recent investigation of the demographics of local music stores and potential discount offers have proven futile, but future studies may be conducted. We will eagerly alert you of any further opportunities for discounted supplies through our competent music store staff.

It has been called to the attention of the Steele String Committee that policies mandating specific practice guidelines and minimum requirements are harsh and otherwise unnecessary for the well-being of the student. Future consideration will be given to prioritizing the feelings of the student over the functionality of practice and its potential benefits. The Steele String Studio will continue to seek a kinder, gentler environment for teaching and encouraging students to feel good about themselves, regardless of their ability to read a single note or fix their bow hold. It's not productivity that counts, after all; it's comfort.

Attendance is a highly debated topic, and while it may be difficult to please all persons involved in attendance policies, the customer needs to know that they are the only ones that need pleasing. The Steele String Studio plans to make every effort to hire only those teachers with unlimited budgets, who are willing to devote the entirety of their lives to the love of music, willing to sacrifice any odd hour to reschedule convenient lessons for those with continually changing schedules and higher priorities.

Your thoughts are important to us, and we will make the highest effort to assist you and your needs in any way we can. For further enlightenment, please refer to the content of the previous 49 posts. Thank you, and have a nice day.


The Steele String Studio

September 9, 2005 at 08:39 AM · Good stuff.

September 9, 2005 at 11:33 AM · Mendy, I thought your suggestions were great.

We have to keep in mind that different things work for different people and as I have now taught in 6 different cities around the globe, I can tell you first hand what works in one place won't in another.

THere is no difinitive answer. We all just try to find what works for us, now don't we?

September 9, 2005 at 02:01 PM · Emily,

Congratulations! You Passed.

You're ready to work for the gov't. You've learned the language well.

It's Content, not Reality that counts.

September 9, 2005 at 05:56 PM · Bravo Emily!

I just used your post as a shining example of how to change writing styles in a blink. (We homeschool)

Content was, of course, excellent....we are still laughing.

Keep writing.

September 9, 2005 at 08:04 PM · It looks much like the policy of Margaret A. Ditto Ditto, the well-known Suzuki "teacher's teacher's teacher" of the U. of Southern North Dakota.

September 20, 2005 at 03:19 AM · Ok well this isn't policy. Ok, it is. I was someplace the other day and I saw a violin teacher's flyer posted on a bulletin board. For cost, it said sliding scale based on the parents' income. Something to consider, especially if you don't have a full load. I keep seeing people saying here they didn't start when they wanted to because they couldn't afford lessons.

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