Hear how Music Teacher’s Helper gave Derek of Sydney, Australia the necessary time and opportunity to grow his independent teaching studio to over 60 students.
No written music lesson policy? Here’s part of the phone conversation that motivated me to create mine:
“We’ll have to miss K’s lesson tonight. She has an extra dance rehearsal, and we can’t miss it, because we paid in advance. And there are no makeups.”
Last month I shared how I came to create a written lesson policy. In that post you’ll also find tuition concerns, payment options, registration fees, and what I offer in lessons.
Part II includes the remainder of my policies. These are things other teachers often ask me. I recommend reading several different teachers’ policies for ideas. Take the ones that seem right for you.
Cancellations and Make-ups
I dislike twiddling my thumbs waiting for a student who doesn’t show up. Fifteen minutes of waiting could be put to much better use. A written lesson policy may not guarantee that you’ll never have a no-show, but it can help.
My policy states that if they must cancel a lesson, parents should notify me by phone as soon as possible. Especially since someone else might be able to fill in that time slot.
If a student knows in advance that they must miss a lesson, they can use the Swap List (see below). Or they might use one of the master classes as a makeup. Here is where I place my disclaimer: “Please understand. Tuition remains the same no matter how many of the scheduled lessons the student uses. Unlike some professionals, I can’t take walk-ins or resell the lesson time, nor can I create extra teaching times in which to give make-up lessons. Tuition covers much more than the lesson time itself. Therefore, there are no refunds, reductions or credits for student-missed lessons, nor make-ups available (except in certain cases listed below).”
Master classes cannot be carried over to a new semester and won’t be rescheduled.
If students must miss lessons for an extended time and can’t swap, their slot is reserved if they pay by semester or continue their equal monthly payments. I’ve had students who get involved in a sport or other activity who appreciate not losing their lesson time. And I don’t lose income.
In case of true emergencies (e.g. emergency room visit or death in the family) or a real or contagious illness (not sniffles, tired, had a party or an orthodontist appointment), they can go on a three-week Cancellation List. If anyone else cancels in the three weeks following their missed lesson, they may opt to come then. I tell them there are no guarantees that a time will open.
I teach during bad weather unless it seems to me too dangerous for people to be on the road. Many teachers close whenever the public schools are closed. But I have several adults and home-educated students. So I often stay open. Others are welcome to use the Swap List, go on the three-week Cancellation List, or consider a master class as a makeup.
I offer a Facetime lesson when weather happens. This has worked beautifully. We’ve even had success playing learning games at a distance.
A no-show is not eligible for the Swap List or three-week Cancellation List.
If I’m the one to cancel, I’ll credit a future lesson or try to find time for a make-up. I will do everything possible to contact parents, the students themselves, or their schools ahead of time. If all else fails, I tell them I’ll tape a note to my front door. Therefore, they should always be certain the student is safely inside the house before they leave. And if someone else is driving them, please make sure they know this. No one wants a child sitting alone on the doorstep!
The Swap List has been a much-loved resource among my families.
As soon as students know they must miss a lesson, they can request a current list of participating families. The list is in the form of a daily schedule. Parents’ names, phone numbers and emails are included.
My lesson policy includes Swap List guidelines:
- Notify me if you must miss a lesson. I will email you the current Swap List with names, numbers, and times.
- The parent who requests the swap is responsible to let me know so I can prepare for the correct student.
- All swaps must be done PARENT to PARENT. Students are NEVER to arrange their own. I will not arrange swaps.
- If there is confusion, and two students show up for the same lesson, I will teach the one whose lesson is normally at that time. I will not offer a make-up lesson.
- Students have 30, 45 or 60 minute lessons. If there is a choice, please swap with someone who has the same length lesson. Otherwise, you’re stuck with that person’s amount of time.
What to Bring to Lessons
- An appropriate tote. I’ve had students show up with their materials in various states of ruination. Crammed into tiny totes, awkward boxes whose lids fly open or won’t open, paper sacks or plastic grocery bags. So I specify a sturdy tote larger than the largest book they have. Some teachers provide totes, with the cost absorbed into the registration fee. This can be an advertising opportunity, if you have your studio’s name and logo on the tote.
- A binder with dividers and assignment sheets, which I provide. This should come to each lesson.
- Instrument. If students take lessons other than piano or voice, they must bring their own instrument. It boggles the mind, but I can’t count the times students have shown up for lessons with no instrument. If they come without their instrument, they’ll spend their lesson listening to youtube performances or doing note reading activities.
- All music and materials. When I say all, it’s because of how often things get left behind. If they come with no books, they’ll likely sightread for the lesson. I’ll sometimes show mercy if they are usually responsible. We might play music games.
Many teachers include materials in their registration fees. Some ask to be reimbursed. Others expect parents to go to the music store themselves. If you choose the latter, I suggest calling the store ahead to have them set aside the materials for that student. This avoids the problem of parents purchasing the wrong items, wasting weeks.
Some teachers keep a lending library of materials for students. If this is the case, be sure to keep good records. Music Teachers Helper has a feature for tracking such items and will notify you when they are due to be returned.
The longer I teach, the more I expect students to practice. Non-practice equals boredom and discouragement. Failure.
Almost yearly I revise my lesson policy concerning practice. My incentive programs can help motivate them. But parents must accept responsibility if they want lessons at my studio.
While raising our sons, the rule was simple. Like many things, practice was non-negotiable. You brush your teeth. You do your homework. You practice your instruments. Period.
The goal is to practice each week’s assignment until it is well prepared.
I like to send a calendar to families at the start of a semester. It’s tentative. But it’s better to have that than nothing. Rather than simply the dates, I send mini calendars. I have found that months-at-a-glance stick better than words alone.
I’ve create a one-sheet—a single page with the most-often needed studio policies in brief. You might’ve noticed my lesson policy is thorough (i.e. long!). When I get a new family, we go over the pages together. After that, they won’t need to read seven pages to remind themselves about makeups or cancellations. The one-sheet provides needed information in one spot.
I include the following:
- Contact information
- Fee and payment schedule
- Who to write the check to
- Cancellation and no makeups policy
- Teacher cancellation
- What to bring
- Dates to remember
Page One of Registration Form
- Registration fee
- Payment options
- Choose 30, 45 or 60 minutes
- Pay by semester or in equal monthly payments
- Whether they’d like to be included on the Swap List
- Agree to involvement in practice (I specify what I hope for under “Practice Expectations”).
Page Two of Registration Forms
This is the Student Information form, parts of which must be filled out separately for each student. I include:
- Student’s name
- Student’s school and grade
- Student’s birthday
- Who the student lives with
- Home mailing address
- Information the teacher should know regarding custody, contact, sharing of information, and who is allowed to pick up the student from lessons
- Who to contact in case of emergency
- Best email address to reach them and whether they check email daily
- Best phone number to reach them
- Mother’s name, phone, work number
- Father’s name, phone, work number
- Allergies or other health concerns
- Learning style or issue—to help the teacher
- Behavioral, emotional or other issues the teacher should be aware of
- Extra-curricular activities, including whether these might affect lessons
- Hobbies, interests, likes
- Instrument used for practice: acoustic piano or digital. If digital, how many keys it has and whether they’re weighted, and if there’s a damper pedal. If guitar, I need to know whether they practice on an acoustic or electric.
- Possible times to meet if they play an instrument other than piano, for the purpose of checking out the student’s instrument prior to the first lesson
Page Three of Registration Forms
The form they’ll sign includes:
- Name of student(s)
- This statement “I have read and I understand the document titled Studio Policies for Steinweg Studio of Music 20_ _ Teaching Year in which the following studio policies were covered in greater detail.” I go on to list the main headings of my lesson policy
- A box to check which will allow the teacher to post photos of student(s) on social media
- The statement “I agree to abide by studio policies as stated in the above-mentioned document. I agree not to hold Robin Steinweg or Steinweg Studio of Music responsible for any injuries that may occur to students, family or friends at recitals, in the teacher’s studio or home, or while on the teacher’s property.”
NOTE: the disclaimer about injuries may not hold up in a court of law. You should probably research what your home owner’s insurance covers, and whether you need further insurance.
What About You?
Do you have a written lesson policy? If you have different ideas or include items I don’t have, we’d like to hear from you. We grow by sharing with one another, and your input might be of real value to a reader.
A lesson policy can protect and provide relief to teachers, students and families.
Are your studio policies where you want them? Do you have policies?
If you run a school of music, a studio, or teach in your home, then you are a professional. You are an independent music instructor. A business person. You offer a vital service to your community. Your policies should reflect a level of respect for yourself as such. As a result, others will respect you. They will appreciate that your policies protect their interests as well.
How I came to believe in policies
I taught out of my home studio successfully for fourteen years with no written policies in place. I took a five-year break while my sons were young. When I started up again, it was with a greater need to help our family’s finances. I was surprised to find the landscape had changed. After-school activities had mushroomed, making the competition fierce for time and commitment. Parents or sitters taxied children from one activity to the next, barely having time to grab a bite to eat.
With increasing frequency, I’d wait for students who never showed. Sometimes I’d get a call earlier in the day. If we couldn’t find time to schedule a makeup lesson, I lost the income. The rare times we did reschedule, it always cut into our family time. How frustrating. I sent out notes asserting the importance of consistency. It did not help. My income was cut nearly in half!
One day as I waited for a talented young lady to arrive, her mother called, flustered.
“She has an extra dance rehearsal tonight, to prepare for the recital.” Then the mother flipped the switch that lit my understanding for good. “We really have to be there. We paid for all the lessons in advance, and there are no makeups.”
Wow. Why should I sit here in an empty studio while these other organizations, earning money from a few hundred students compared to my thirty, tapped my source of income?
I turned to other teachers online for counsel. In the process, I learned about running a business in a professional manner. This changed how I pictured and valued myself. I hadn’t given myself a raise in years. I was nervous about launching policies and a pay-raise, fearing I’d lose clients. But my fellow teachers encouraged and bolstered me.
I took a few months to sift through and study others’ policies. I chose the ones that fit me best. When I finally sent them out to families, holding my breath, the response was tremendous. Parents called to congratulate and thank me. They sent their registration fees and first tuition checks promptly. Only one backed out, and honestly, I think the family would not have continued anyway.
Benefits of instituting policies
Immediately and increasingly, my families and the community viewed me as a local studio as opposed to someone “who taught music to a few students.” If a child took lessons with me, it was something they could add to their portfolios with pride. Parents referred others to me. Many paid the full semester in advance, but some gratefully paid the tuition in four equal monthy installments. No more counting and billing one, two or five lessons in the month, every family different. Within a few months my waiting list grew. Gradually other teachers came to me for counsel.
I grew more serious about myself as an educator as a result of my policies. I attended more continuing education courses. I found ways to offer students more. I reviewed my past experiences as a musician, and included them in what I offered.
Now I teach knowing that if a student doesn’t show up, I’m covered. I don’t get bent out of shape with the family. But truthfully, they seldom miss a lesson anymore.
What items should policies cover?
Each private music instructor’s policies are as individual as fingerprints. So I encourage you to do your homework. Read others’ policies. If you associate with teachers who don’t post theirs publicly, ask to see them. Private music teachers are, by and large, a giving bunch, willing to offer a hand up. If you worry that parents will feel your policies are too strict, this might help.
Here’s what I include
What I offer in lessons
I place this near the front, because it illustrates what makes me unique among my local colleagues. I always start with a mention of the lifelong benefits of music instruction. Then I tell them what lessons with Steinweg Studio of Music will include.
I explain that students enroll in a course of study similar to a school, with a semester tuition as opposed to a per-hour rate. The tuition ensures that their lesson time is reserved for them each week.
In addition to regularly scheduled weekly lessons, they have opportunities to attend at least two Master Classes per semester, and to perform in one recital per semester. Other performing opportunities may arise but are also not mandatory.
There is no credit for missed lessons. However, I offer a swap list to make it easier to switch lesson times with other students if conflicts arise. I ask them to try to avoid scheduling other appointments during their lesson time. If a true emergency or contagious sickness arises, they can be put on a 3-week cancellation list. If someone cancels during those weeks, they will have opportunity to take that time.
By giving families options, fewer feel excluded, even if my rates are higher than some in my town. They have seen that I offer more than many others.
I teach 30, 45 and 60-minute lessons. I reserve the final say as to whether students are ready for longer lessons. I wouldn’t want to end up babysitting a 5-year-old student with a 5-minute attention span for a full hour. Students can pay the full semester of x lessons per semester in advance, or make four equal monthly installments. Tuition is due no later than the s
econd scheduled lesson of the semester. Payment after that point will include a 10% per week late fee.
You can decide whether to accept cash or check. Alternatively, if you have an online bookkeeping service such as Music Teachers Helper, families can pay online. They can also be sent email reminders of scheduled lessons or recitals, birthday greetings, and so much more.
I debated long about whether to charge an additional fee and how much. After I added up the amount I spent on extra items, I realized I wasn’t earning anywhere near what I hoped. I list some of these extras in my policies so families can see how reasonable it is.
I have raised the fee a couple of times, and am considering raising it again this year. I make sure that if I do, I provide added value for the student in some way.
This fee is once per school year per student. This is the only time I give a discount for more than one student in a family, since it’s partly to cover bookkeeping, and I do that by family. The fee is due along with the first tuition payment. It remains the same whether or not they start lessons in September.
I explain that it is a nonrefundable fee to help defray the cost of such studio expenses as legal photocopies, Master Class materials, computer software, incentives, instrument maintenance, bookkeeping, recital programs, refreshments and supplies, travel and/or time spent searching for music and materials.
Next month’s policy article, Part II
Next month here on the Music Teacher’s Helper blog I’ll discuss such things as makeup lessons, practice expectations, swap lists, communication and creating registration forms.
If you have further questions or would like to share how you handle your teaching policies, I welcome your comments.
Our policies can provide protection and relief for all concerned.