Scheduling make-ups - How to deal with missed lessons?

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Postby Christine » Wed Feb 22, 2006 8:19 pm

Hello everyone,

I have been wondering what others do with regards to "missed lessons". Do you all guarantee make-up lessons, or only for certain circumstances, like illness, or bad weather? Do some any of you state from the beginning (for example, in your studio policy) that there will be no make-up lessons? I have been thinking about this for next year. I would like to offer everyone make-up lessons, but now my list for lessons "owed" to people has grown quite large (so far, they have been "legitimate" excuses) and now I will be doing many extra days of making up these times. If someone signs up for swimming lessons, soccer, or ballet, etc., and misses a lesson, it is considered a missed lesson and can't be made up, so should piano lessons be any different? I was just wondering if anyone had any opinions on this matter, and if it is being "mean" not to offer this service. Thanks everyone. :)
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Postby Beckywy » Wed Feb 22, 2006 9:53 pm

mmm - no, it's business. This is how I make my living, and it isn't for fun or as a favour to anybody. If I am lenient with any student, it is in secret...otherwise I tell the parents, no, and I don't apologize. It is the studio policy.
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Postby Stretto » Thu Feb 23, 2006 12:43 am

In bad weather, I would not want to drive in it myself, so I am more lenient with make-ups due to bad weather and emergencies (for example a car accident or something requiring going to the emergency room). I've never had anyone cancel for these reasons.

Outside of that, for illness, vacation, conflicting activities, lesson fees are still due. Make-ups are only made during my regular teaching hours if a time slot is available otherwise students/parents may try to find someone to trade times with on their own. People have the option of whether they want to be included on a such a "trading lesson times" list. If neither option is available, the lesson fee is still expected and the time is forfeited. Outside of illness, no make-up is given without a 24-hr. notice and the fee is still due. I'm no longer offering make-ups outside of my regular teaching hours.

I charge upfront at the beginning of each month. Charging by the semester though would be an even better way to go. Accepting lesson fees by the week had been the worst for me as those that pay that way are more likely to miss lessons.

Another worst for me has been when students sign up for a sport in which games and practices conflict with the lesson time. Parents want to change the lesson for a month or more and usually want a time during which I don't normally teach.
I've discovered the hard way that when I gave a lot of "favors" in the way of make-ups, pretty soon a large percentage of students each week were coming at times I don't normally teach and hardly anyone coming during their regular time.

In regards to comparing policies for missing piano lessons to policies for missing in swimming, dance, gymastics, etc., yes, I do wholeheartedly agree that piano lessons should work the same so much so that I have recently re-written my policy more along the same lines as those of the local facilities that offer these other activities.

My child's doctor's office has a policy that if one cancels at the last minute or doesn't show up 3 times, they are no longer allowed to use that doctor's office. Maybe a good policy for piano lessons.




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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Feb 23, 2006 8:38 am

This is a continuing problem for most studios. Chances are that, no matter how you handle missed lessons, you'll not be entirely pleased with it, since situations differ and change a lot. That said, in working with the business aspects of one studio here, I learned that the teacher was having a problem with missed lessons. People would not give any notice at all or, in a few cases, would call on the way to the lesson to say they had decided to do something else. They always wanted refunds (not make-up lessons) for the missed lessons.

First, let me point out that, if you accept payment for individual lessons at the time of the lesson, you are setting yourself up for students missing lessons. Anytime money is a little short, or whenever the parents want to do something else with the time, the lesson will be missed and you will be left "holding the bag." In that situation, the parent and student have no motivation whatsoever to follow through on lesson commitments and no motivation even to give you notice! Require payment in advance for lessons, if you want to reduce missed lesson problems immediately.


Here's what we devised to handle missed lessons here:

Lessons were paid by semester only, in advance. No payments at lessons allowed. Make-up lessons would be given at no additional charge, provided that 24 hours advance notice was given that a lesson would be missed. If less notice than that was given, provision of a makeup lesson would only be done at the discretion of the teacher and only with an acceptable excuse (e.g. medical emergency). All make-ups had to be completed by the end of the semester in which the missed lessons occurred; i.e. there was no continuing obligation on the part of the teacher. Usually, the teacher reserved the 13th week of the semester for make-up lessons only, though this was a personal choice on her part. Make-ups could be scheduled at any mutually agreeable time. The lesson was considered to have been given if the student missed the scheduled make-up lesson for any reason. There would be no refunds for missed lessons, ever.

All of this was written into her studio policy. For some tips on how to handle this and lots of other studio issues in your policy, see my article Preparing an Effective Studio Policy. These provisions didn't entirely eliminate the missed lesson problem, but mitigated it dramatically. so that the teacher was no longer completely frustrated with missed lesson issues. :)




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Postby Stretto » Thu Feb 23, 2006 10:42 am

It's good to hear the experiences of other teachers regarding missed lessons and cancellations as it shows that other teachers have the same problems. I think as a teacher it's easy to start questioning ones teaching ability when students/parents don't seem committed to lessons and start thinking, "maybe there's something I'm doing that's causing them to lose interest." If several teachers are dealing with the same issues then a teacher can rest assured that it is most likely not a reflection on the teachers ability or lack of it in keeping a student interested.

Here's a humorous story about missed lessons:

I had a student not show up for a lesson and also not call to cancel. The next week when another student came for their lesson they said, "I saw one of your other students last week at the nature center!" I said, "You did!" The student said, "Yes, they were with their dad and said they were going to the movies next." I asked what day it was and it turned out to be the day and time of their missed lesson. I just sounded interested but never said a word to the student who saw them that they skipped out on their lesson or to the student and parent who didn't come. So just a word of caution to someone who skips a lesson to do something else . . . :)

I had a former student whose grandmother quite often invited them for dinner, wanted to take the grandkids shopping, etc. on lesson nights and the mother called at the last minute to cancel quite a bit for this. I've had other students cancel occasionally for similar activities. I don't mind as long as the lesson has been paid for and that's what they want to do, but I don't want to be caught feeling obligated to do make-ups for these sorts of cancellations especially during times I don't normally teach. Then my normal weekly schedule becomes disrupted in order to accomodate students who want to go to a swimming party, shopping, or out to eat with family. That is why I changed my policy so that I will only offer make-ups for conflicting activities during my regular teaching hours if a time is available. (Also they do have to give a 24 hr. notice). Otherwise the time is forfeited.

I've noticed those that cancel at the last minute or don't show up the most usually really want to take lessons and want their child to be in music and the child really likes it, but the reason for missing so much is typically that these families are way too busy that they just can't "keep up with everything" on their schedule. Those that keep their lessons faithfully are the one's who believe in not having a "full plate" on their schedule. I usually forewarn parents when they initially call about signing up for lessons that this is the biggest problem people have for not being able to stay committed.




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Postby pianoannie » Thu Feb 23, 2006 10:47 pm

My policy is similar to some that have already been posted. I charge by the semester, I give no refunds or credits, and my policy states that I do not offer makeups (although I am willing to do so in extreme circumstances; I just don't broadcast that fact, because parents' definition of "extreme circumstance" is a lot broader than mine!) Students may swap times with another student if they want (I send home a swap list for this purpose).

Bad weather is one of my exceptions. Particularly if school has been cancelled due to snow, I'm not going to insist that people get on the roads to come for piano. But it can be very hard to fit in all the makeups from one snowy day.

I guess I've never really understood the 24-hour notice thing that a lot of teachers require. It seems to me that a genuine emergency would be most deserving of a makeup lesson, and genuine emergencies don't come with a 24-hour notice. Can anyone explain their thinking on that?
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Feb 24, 2006 8:44 am

pianoannie wrote:I guess I've never really understood the 24-hour notice thing that a lot of teachers require. It seems to me that a genuine emergency would be most deserving of a makeup lesson, and genuine emergencies don't come with a 24-hour notice. Can anyone explain their thinking on that?
pianoannie

OK, here's our thinking on it. Our observation was that the majority of missed lessons were for things that the people had scheduled in advance and knew of well before the lesson. The 24 hours notice simply forces people to actually look at their schedules to see if there is a conflict. Emergencies are explicitly accounted for in the policy I related above, but the teacher, not the student or parents, is given the discretion. Weather is almost never a valid reason for missing lessons here in The Land of Enchantment, save for those relatively few people who actually live at high altitudes where there is more snow..

In the Midwest, this may not be true, but here in the Southwest, people tend to think that vacations, going to movies, or attending a Little League game are "emergencies," allowing them to miss lessons pretty much anytime. The whole goal of the policy I posted is to allow for real emergencies and, even, to allow for non-emergency rescheduling, but to give the teacher more control and make missed lessons an occasional thing rather than a constant issue, as it was with some students who were abusing the "system."

I have said in the article on preparing student policies, that I mentioned in the earlier post, that making too many undocumented "exceptions" can wreck your studio policy, making it unenforceable morally and legally. If the exceptions are, themselves, codified in your policy, you have no trouble granting them when they are justified and no trouble saying no when they aren't. Of course, if you simply refuse to give make-up lessons or refunds under any circumstances, as has already been reported once in a post in this thread, you have solved the problem completely. The teacher I was working with found that approach a little too draconian for her taste.

Every teacher has to do things in the way that works best for her. Any suggestions I make on the site are based on personal experience working with a teaching studio. They are intended as helpful starting points for others, not the last word on any subject. :p

Although this forum is about the business aspects of running a studio, not the educational aspects, nobody has, so far, mentioned any educational impact of missing lessons. If make-ups are given, is there no educational impact to missing lessons?
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Fri Feb 24, 2006 6:09 pm

There is definitely a detriment to lessons, when a student misses. <ostly the student does not seem to feel they should practice the 2nd week. After all, there is no new lesson written in the book!
I offer a make up lesson when I have time, even offering a Saturday morning when I do not teach, and if the family cannot make it, then it is not made up.
As mentioned, the students and families who really want the lessons, seem to have no problems. It does seem that a rehearsal for a play, a gymnastics competition, etc. comes up, it is the piano lesson that is missed. When paid for, up front, as most activities are, there may be more commitment.
A music school in the area does not offer any make ups and expects pay for the year in advance.
I do feel sudden illness and icy roads are reasons for me to offer make ups.

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Postby Stretto » Sat Feb 25, 2006 11:12 pm

Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:Although this forum is about the business aspects of running a studio, not the educational aspects, nobody has, so far, mentioned any educational impact of missing lessons. If make-ups are given, is there no educational impact to missing lessons?

One downside to missing lessons is that, although it may not be too big of deal to miss just one lesson, a lot of times what happens is that a student misses a lesson because of another activity, then the next week I end up being sick and have to cancel, then the next week they may be sick. I've had this happen sometimes so that what started out as one missed lessons wound up being 2 - 3 weeks of no lessons. If a student is going to miss a lesson, ideally they should work ahead, start figuring out a new piece, and/or review some past pieces, but many students don't take that initiative.

As far as weather, we tend to get freezing rain so the streets can easily become a solid sheet of ice. Even just a few drops of rain around here and suddenly there are accidents all over town.

I have 2 clauses in my policy. One in regards to emergencies, weather, and illness in which I am more willing to work out a time for make-ups. Then a second paragraph regarding canceling due to conflicting activities in which allowances for make-ups are very limited. (This is because I've grown pretty intolerant of people canceling and making changes due to other activities.)

What I was running into a lot of times was that if several people in a week had other activities that conflicted with their lesson, I was scheduling make-ups on evenings I don't normally teach. So then instead of giving lessons 1 or 2 evenings each week, I found myself giving lessons almost every evening in a week. On any given week, there could be several students wanting to change times for various things and pretty soon "no one" was coming at their regular time.

In regards to my "24 hr. rule", it only applies to those wanting a make-up for missing due to other activities. The reason for requiring a 24-hour notice for cancellations is that the majority of the time, people know ahead they won't be able to come but fail to call until the last minute. As Dr. Zeigler mentioned, it's simply a way to hold them accountable to give advance notice. The other reason I ask for a 24 hr. notice is that a lot of times I arrange my day's schedule around piano lessons, arrange evening meal plans around lessons, decline invitations for activities because I'm giving lessons, clean up the music room, prepare materials for the lesson. If someone cancels their lesson, many times it affects what I would have spent my time doing prior to the lesson. So a 24 hr. notice of a cancellation helps me know how to plan my day more effectively. Also, I may have another student that was wanting to change to that day and if I knew ahead, the other student could use that slot for a make-up.

In writing a policy for cancellations and make-ups the main thing I think is for a teacher to really ask oneself what one doesn't mind doing and what one doesn't want to get stuck doing in regards to make-ups and write the policy accordingly. For me personally, I don't want to give lessons after 5:30 more than 1 evening per week and I discovered that I don't like giving lessons on Fridays so I wrote my policy so that I won't be giving lessons during these times. I actually wrote "no make-ups will be given on Fridays". Here again, I learned the hard way doing a favor for a student that was in another activity allowing them to change their lesson to Fri. afternoons "temporarily" for 4 months because they were so busy that Fri. was the only day they had available. I discovered that I couldn't put my best foot forward on Fri. afternoons in doing justice to the lessons and the student as well as other students who had occasionally come on Fridays were more tired from the week by then.

I don't see anything wrong with a teacher not offering make-ups at all. A lot of other activities like gymnastics, dance, skating, etc., one pays a fee for the semester and there are no make-ups so I don't think a piano teacher should feel obligated to offer make-ups.




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Postby 88keys » Sun Feb 26, 2006 1:48 pm

I have learned (the hard way) that requiring payment by the month is the only way to go. I don't know that payment by semester would work in my area, but levelized monthly payments is the only way for me now! I ran into many of the same problems some said they are encountering. Students would cancel at the last minute or just not show up at all. grrrr :angry:
I finally followed the advice in the How to Teach Piano Successfully book and adopted levelized billing. It makes my life MUCH easier.
That's my story and I'm sticking with it!
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Postby pianoannie » Sun Feb 26, 2006 6:42 pm

Stretto wrote:What I was running into a lot of times was that if several people in a week had other activities that conflicted with their lesson, I was scheduling make-ups on evenings I don't normally teach. So then instead of giving lessons 1 or 2 evenings each week, I found myself giving lessons almost every evening in a week. On any given week, there could be several students wanting to change times for various things and pretty soon "no one" was coming at their regular time.

Wow, have you been eavesdropping on my interviewing sessions? This is almost verbatim one of the things that I explain to parents of potential students if they ask why I do not offer makeups (which I did when I was young, naive, and taken advantage of more easily!) In theory, I was only teaching 2 days a week at that time, but in actuality, I often had students trickling in 5 or 6 days of the week!

And parents would be so pushy about when they wanted a makeup. I distinctly remember a mom requesting a makeup for a Sunday afternoon, and I said I really preferred to keep Sunday as a family day. She indignantly replied, "Well that is the only day Suzie can come next week," fully expecting me to bend over backwards to accommodate her (and Suzie was one of those students who, for all practical purposes, didn't have a "regular" lesson time due to constantly demanding makeups). That mom was the straw that broke the camel's back, and I went to a no makeup policy shortly thereafter.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sun Feb 26, 2006 8:11 pm

pianoannie wrote:And parents would be so pushy about when they wanted a makeup. I distinctly remember a mom requesting a makeup for a Sunday afternoon, and I said I really preferred to keep Sunday as a family day. She indignantly replied, "Well that is the only day Suzie can come next week," fully expecting me to bend over backwards to accommodate her (and Suzie was one of those students who, for all practical purposes, didn't have a "regular" lesson time due to constantly demanding makeups). That mom was the straw that broke the camel's back, and I went to a no makeup policy shortly thereafter.

This sounds very familiar. That kind of behavior was one of the reasons we changed the make-up policy in the studio here to the one I posted.

It suggests another point that needs to be made: when it comes to make-ups, the teacher should control them, not the student or parent. If you allow make-ups, they should be scheduled at your convenience. Whenever somebody wants a make-up on a day or at a time that doesn't work for you, don't explain it to them. Just say, "I don't do make-ups on that day (time)." Make-ups are a privilege, not a right. Make sure your clients understand that fact of life. If you can get that across to them, make-ups can be done without them becoming an irritation or intrusion (if you want to allow make-ups).
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Mon Feb 27, 2006 8:35 am

For good and sufficient reason, some teachers refuse to provide make-up lessons under any circumstances. One question I have with respect to that policy is: how do you handle the situation where students, particularly kids, are ill on the day of the lesson? Presumably, you don't want the student to spread the illness to you or others, but, if you don't allow make-ups in that circumstance, many students will come to the lesson when they really shouldn't. I'm sure my parents would have made me come to a piano lesson, if I were merely suffering from some flu bug, and the lesson couldn't be made up later. Do you really want to encourage kids to come to the studio sick? It's not a good idea to be making constant exceptions to a published "no make-ups" policy, so how do you handle that situation fairly, without inadvertently encouraging your clients to do things which put your health at risk? :)
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Mon Feb 27, 2006 10:23 am

Stretto - you are right about all the prep work - I didn't think of that. I have to clean up and prepare lessons ahead. Two weeks ago, I could have given makeup lessons to two students who had been sick when, when a parent of two cancelled at the last minute. I also have changed plans, or missed some things.

I am sometimes out before lessons so when I get home and get a message that the first lesson(s) are not coming, it is frustrating. Luckily, it does not happen too often. I have not been very strict in this area and think I will have to add a sentence or two to the next letter.

It is more about consideration - as is said, "I do have another life". In other areas, payment is made up front and no makeups are offered. I do know of one dance teacher who offers another class as a make up. I prefer to offer a make up if I can, as it is for the student's benefit.

I think because many teachers teach in their homes, that people see it differently. We need to change the thinking!


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Postby pianoannie » Mon Feb 27, 2006 8:11 pm

Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:For good and sufficient reason, some teachers refuse to provide make-up lessons under any circumstances. One question I have with respect to that policy is: how do you handle the situation where students, particularly kids, are ill on the day of the lesson? Presumably, you don't want the student to spread the illness to you or others, but, if you don't allow make-ups in that circumstance, many students will come to the lesson when they really shouldn't.

You ask a good question Dr Z, so I'll share my reasons for not giving makeups for illness:
1. When I used to give makeups for illness, people would simply lie (and yes I know this for a fact).
2. Yes, sometimes students will be ill, but their illness should not necessitate me working on one of my days off (in the same way that when my children are sick and miss school, I do not expect their teachers to come in and make up missed classes).
3. When I know that a student will be absent, I phone the student who comes before and/or after the empty time slot, and offer to give them some extra time that week. Throughout the course of a year, lesson time lost tends to be balanced out by these lessons that are lengthened.

In general, sick kids at lessons just hasn't been a problem for me. Sure, kids may come with the sniffles or a cough, but I've never had a student show up seriously ill. I do require my students to wash hands before lesson, and I wipe the keys between students. And parents see how I go "above and beyond" in so many areas that they don't complain about being short-changed if an occassional lesson is missed.

My system works for me. I do think another reasonable option is to have one or two days per year designated as makeup days (either on a Saturday or other day you don't normally teach, or scheduled for a week that you aren't teaching your normal schedule). I just found it was too complicated to try to makeup lessons the same week the absence occurred (got into that every night of the week thing I mentioned before).
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