Rescheduling Private Lessons: How To Be Fair and Flexible

Andrew Vait

Jun 12, 2017

It is a Tuesday afternoon, and I have a full day of teaching private lessons ahead. I have commuted to my teaching space, and I am waiting for my first student to show up. And I wait…and I wait.

Every teacher has some experience (read: an overabundance of experience) with students cancelling or no-showing to lessons. You may require that your students pay in advance for a month of lessons — in this scenario, you have likely outlined your cancellation policy, and it isn’t likely very flexible. It may look something like this:

Any cancellation, no matter how far in advance, is a lost lesson with no exceptions for makeups or refunds with little to no wiggle room for the student — or the teacher, for that matter.

Does this sound familiar?

Policing A Policy

In my teaching career, I have struggled endlessly with a firm yet fair approach to rescheduling missed lessons. I taught at a myriad private lesson music schools before starting my own private teaching practice, and the missed lesson policy for those schools was invariably parallel to the aforementioned: any missed lesson is a lost lesson.

As a young teacher, I recognized that this policy felt unfair, but I nevertheless took advantage of a system gamed in my favor.

Of course, there are arguments for this policy: a student is paying for a block of time that can’t be filled on a moment’s notice, or even a couple of weeks in most cases. The teacher has already spent the time organizing their schedule and have already committed to the commute for the day when a cancellation occurs. My former music school director likened it to paying for Comcast: “You wouldn’t go on vacation and ask Comcast to refund you for a week away.” Or a college class — if you skip class, you’re not going to go to the admissions office and ask for a refund for that class. Still, this system always felt unfair, and it was difficult to impose on parents who didn’t share the school’s enthusiasm for said-policy.

Conversely, my performance career has dogged my teaching career with more conflicts than I can recount. For years, I maintained a single teaching day — Tuesdays, as it were — and I would do untold somersaults to keep my Tuesdays open for teaching. In the rare event I was forced to miss a Tuesday for a performance or tour, I would insist on making up every lesson, so as to not miss out on the income. As my performance career blossomed, I found myself missing more Tuesdays than even I was comfortable with. The stress of finding “makeup” days in addition to my scheduled teaching day (Tuesday) eventually became too much to bear. A paradigm shift was in order.

A System That Works For Everyone

It is a teacher’s primary responsibility to create an infrastructure rooted in trust and respect that flows both ways; from teacher to student and vise versa.

In my private practice, I have moved away from collecting monthly tuition; for myself, as a performer whose demand is steadily increasing, and in today’s quick-paced world with kids and adults alike pursuing a multitude of interests, it is hardly practical for me to maintain a weekly lesson schedule. Instead, I give my students the option of paying for a one-off lesson at a commensurately higher rate, or an option of purchasing four lessons at a slightly reduced rate, to be redeemed anytime my student and I find an agreeable time to meet at my home studio.

If something comes up and the student isn’t able to attend, I take care of other business. We live in a mobile world, and as a performer, educator, and entrepreneur, there are endless tasks to which I can attend in the event of a no-show. To pretend otherwise is to create a scenario in which the teacher’s time is viewed as invaluable and the student’s time is viewed as disposable. This is not a recipe for mutual respect and it is unlikely that students will be easily retained.

The payments I receive are more sporadic, yes — but the difference in income is more than met with the opportunity I am choosing to take outside the classroom. This is, of course, a sliding scale system, wherein your consistency in availability should dictate your personal policy practices.

What policy works for you? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

< Memorizing 101: Tips for Teachers and Students How To Get Started Teaching In A New City >