When the time comes that certain students have to leave lessons, there are times I am bit low for a week (maybe even longer) about it. My significant other used to think it was largely about paying the bills; “Oh, it will be okay. You’ll find a new student soon enough.”
One of my peers is a compassionate, empathic, deeply caring teacher. He is much like myself. I was talking to him after he lost one of his students and we found that we have the same experience. He expressed it quite well; “That happens to me too. People don’t realize how much you’ve invested in that student. You grieve. There is a loss.” That helped me find words for what I was feeling, and then explain those feelings to my significant other.
So it is very hard, when you realize people don’t understand that emotional investment. And it gets worse when a parent or student chooses to disrespect it on various levels. You may have a rapid disconnect from your investment of energy. Depending on how the situation occurs, there may not be a good emotional resolution.
A recent situation has cropped up for me, forcing me to look at this issue again. Perhaps the community here at MTH can offer advice. I have a special needs student enrolled in my studio. The student has a condition (like MS or CP) that makes playing a stringed instrument an extreme challenge. The student’s father called me after finding my business card. This student had taken lessons with another teacher, and had made no progress. It was uncertain whether this was the teacher’s fault, or a result of the student’s condition. The parents concluded it was the fault of the previous teacher.
The father called, “I have the feeling, I just KNOW that you’re the one to help my child.”
Nothing like a little pressure, eh?
I met their child, we did a test lesson, and the student enrolled. I taught their child from my home studio, meaning the student had a slightly reduced rate over the local stores. So the parents opted to enroll for hour lessons. I realized that it was possible for this student to play music. Getting to that goal would be a long uphill fight, but if this student wanted to play music as badly as I believed the student needed to, it was possible.
The process was draining at times. The student’s confidence was low. The student would constantly feed themselves internal chatter that they would always be “bad” because they had not started their instrument sooner. We changed instruments several times just to deal with physical limitations. The student learned about my life, and I learned about the student’s world. It was a miracle that this person was alive at all. This student had to practice twice as hard as my other students, just to do the same things. I wished I could somehow enlighten the rest of my students on how much they take for granted. This student was challenged, but there a massive practice effort between lessons out of sheer love for music.
Eventually after many hours of hard work we performed one song together at this student’s place of worship. It was amazing for both of us. We performed again at two different open mics.
By now, I am sure you are getting an idea of how much of myself I have invested. I really do care that this person is going to be a musician on some level.
Unfortunately, last month, due to other obligations (class work), this student got into the habit of calling or emailing me at the last minute to cancel the lesson. When I sent the monthly invoices, the student’s mother took it upon herself to not pay me a month’s tuition since the student had canceled so much. I re-sent her a copy of the lesson policy, and reminded her that the lesson policy doesn’t work like that. She needed to pay for all the missed lessons the previous month.
This student has been with me for two years. We’ve had absences before, and the mother knows that tuition is paid even when people miss. I had to let her know that opting for “non-payment” of an entire month’s tuition was not an option. I balanced that fact by offering makeup lessons would be scheduled. I’ve had no reply, and the student canceled their lesson with me this week.
I was shocked. And heartbroken that my overall investment has been treated so lightly. I have found that once people start acting in this way, it is my experience that they are not far from simply ditching me along with whatever bill they have racked up at my studio. (Perhaps I am wrong about this particular situation.) However, that behavior makes the outcome even more difficult. I have to wonder what the parents think this teaches their kids about responsibility? Especially when their child gets stuck in the middle and I am forced to drop the child from enrollment due to non payment, which appears to be happening here.
A balancing point is that I find that a higher power is usually clearing space for me to work with someone else, and perhaps the situation is resolving itself for a reason. And sometimes, I am offered another reward in place of the money lost. However, I still find myself experiencing a grieving process. And there is often initial financial hardship when these parents simply refuse to pay. I find myself scrambling to honor financial commitments I have made.
So I find myself needing to ask this community….how would you handle this situation? Do you find yourself feeling a loss when certain students leave? How do you handle a student who is dealing with a parent who refuses to pay? Comments and advice on this post are most welcome.