Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Back in March, I wrote a post about how we handle student payments and policies about attendance (Collecting the Benjamins). Because of the interesting responses from teachers, I thought it would be good to review two aspects of this subject again–payment policies and cancellation policies, and to summarize teacher responses. We would all appreciate it if you would be willing to “add a comment” at the end of this post, reflecting on your own thoughts and experiences. This is one topic we all deal with and are happy to learn more about from other experienced teachers. Below are summaries of responses from teachers writing about the earlier post, as well as ideas from my own experience.

(By the way, thanks to Valerie for her recent comment about the Music Ace free demo; see her comment at the end of the post about Online Music Games.)

1. Payment policies.

Betty: Teaches a year-round schedule and students either pay annually, semi-annually, quarterly, or if monthly, she divides the annual rate into 10 parts and they pay this amount monthly for 10 consecutive months. Students can leave with 30 days notice.

Jan: Charges a flat monthly rate based on the number of lessons in a school year divided by the number of months. It’s basically a tuition payment rather than directly relating the payments to the number of lessons in a given month.

Tina: Students pay for the lessons in each month at the first lesson of each month. She has Music Teachers Helper send invoices the first of each month, which works for most students; some need reminders.

Toby: His students pay monthly tuition.

Joe: Requires signed agreement and payment in advance.

Mine: I teach in two places currently. One place has people sign up for a semester (though some people manage to sign up for less); they pay the office and the office pays me based on lessons taught. Students can withdraw before the 5th lesson; otherwise they are committed for the semester. In the other location, students pay me directly, either 4 lessons at a time, or they pay at the first lesson of the month for the whole month. Student commitment is monthly; unfortunately, someone could drop lessons at the beginning of any month.

2. Cancellation policies.

Betty: With 24 hours notice, she’ll keep the payment but reschedule the lesson. There are 40 lessons in a year, and if they miss some or can’t reschedule, they lose those lessons.Jan: No refunds or rescheduling for missed lessons. She explains that  [···]

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I read an interesting post today by a teacher who was so frustrated about her student’s that she was in tears. Many of the subsequent posters were sympathetic and offered sympathies equal to “it isn’t the teacher’s fault if the children don’t practice, the parents are always on the cell phone,” blah, blah, blah!

Not wanting to steal John Stossel’s thunder “Give me a break!” this teacher has thirty seven students that are performing in the recital and she is focused on the few that can’t make it or are not doing well.

Students are like clay – they need to be molded and shaped. It is true the parents can be the biggest influence, but to pass the buck solely to the parents, and have a pity party for one teacher is just not reasonable.

My son’s music teacher is far more inspiring than I have ever been and he garners so much respect from the children he teaches that it is actually the children leading the charge to practice. 

As far as parents at lessons talking on cell phones, this probably has little or nothing to do with the student practicing, and at this point, is just an accelerant to the already present frustration.

Teachers should make it their resolve to bring the lessons to life, be inspiring and most of all be inspired. Remember what made music your first love. I doubt that any of us are playing instruments because our parents nagged us so enthusiastically that we just couldn’t wait to play again. My brother and I are still grounded in two sates as a result of refusing to practice. He plays three instruments and composes music and I play both the radio and the piano.

There is a saying in football “Any given Sunday, any team can win!” This is true on every day for every student. On any given day any student can become inspired.

To all of the frustrated teachers who feel that the parents are not pitching in, the students aren’t practicing and they are just plain discouraged, I say “Carpe Diem!”

Make today the day that you handle your student’s challenges with grace and view them as opportunities not obstacles!

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Any expert will tell you that the best source of new clients is current clients. Over the summer is a great time to get new students and to showcase your achievements.

There are several ways to promote your expertise as a teacher and your student’s achievements.

1. Late in summer as school is ready to resume is a fabulous time for a recital

2. Ask parents to sign a waiver allowing you to make a video of your best students in each category from beginner to advanced. You can use this video to show potential students, speak at community groups during the summer or post on your website

3. Offer an incentive plan for referring students. For example, if a student refers a new student and the new student completes a month of paid lessons, the referring student should receive one lesson free or a gift certificate to a music store

4. Offer a family introductory special if one member signs up at full price the second family member will be half price for the first month

The above steps are very proactive ways to reach new students, but the most effective way to increase your teaching base is to ask for referrals.

Many professionals use a note in red ink on invoices or correspondence to thank existing clients for their business and ask for referrals.

Another very handy phrase to use at the end of a lesson is: “Do you know anyone that is interested in taking lessons?”

By asking on a regular -but not annoying- basis, you are certain to spread the word and increase your teaching base. Persistence breaks down resistance, always has always will. So by focusing on increasing your teaching base and using your current resources to expand you will realize your goal.

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