30 Day Notice & Trends
Stephen R., California
I’m curious to know how many teachers require a 30 day notice in their policies if a student (parent) decides to stop lessons and also how many teachers require the last month’s payment up front before starting lessons? I’m thinking maybe I should begin doing that! Is that advisable?
I have noticed a trend with students leaving, that they need to take a “break” for awhile due to school, money or other reasons! From my experience, a “break” is their subtle way of quitting. I have only had a couple students come back after a break in all my years of teaching.
Jan D., Ohio
I am making some major changes in policies and payment in the fall. I’ve been teaching for more than 20 years and scheduling, collecting payment, and students quitting with no warning seems to get worse and worse every year.
I’m going to break up the year into two semesters and a summer session. The summer session is going to be more flexible with different options for getting in a required minimum of lessons to keep their spot in the fall. I am now going to base the fees for the two semesters on the lessons scheduled from September through May.
The fees for the summer will be based on the minimum number of lessons they are required to attend/pay for to keep their spot in the fall. If they don’t take over the summer or pay to hold their spot, they are going to the bottom of the almost non-existent waiting list, only meaning that they won’t have much choice in scheduling (most of the time, but not always, the ones who take off over the summer don’t come back and have been high-maintenance students anyways). I’m going to offer a discount for paying by semester (which is really close to what they are paying now). If they choose to pay by the month, they won’t get the discount and will be required to pay first and last month. For students who pay by the semester, payment for the next semester/session will be due a month before the semester/session ends which will serve as their 30 day notice if they choose not to continue.
For private students who need to be “flexible” with their times (I do have some who legitimately can’t schedule lessons at the same time each week because of work schedules), I am going to offer a package of five or ten 1-hour lessons that must be taken within a certain time frame or forfeited. For some of my advanced students who are independent and just need help from time to time, the one time, one hour lessons will have a higher price tag than any other option. The more work required of me to schedule, to do recordkeeping, etc., the higher the price.
For the last 8 years, I have divided the number of lessons over the year by 12 months, but when students quit at the end of May, they have really received more lessons than they have paid for because fewer lessons are scheduled over the summer due to my vacations. I am fed up with students not taking and not paying over the summer because they don’t want to pay for a service they are not receiving. I have explained the policies until I can’t do it anymore – I believe most really understand but they are trying to get more than they have paid for. (My husband had the same problem with people trying to get more than they paid for in the custom home construction business, as well.) So the fees for September and May are going to be higher than students have been paying but the fees from June through August are going to be less. I’ve just redistributed the payments so I am compensated fairly for the lessons I have actually taught when they decide to take a “break” over the summer.
This all sounds very complicated in writing, but when I put a registration form on paper, it is very straightforward and I will be getting paid for the number of lessons I am actually teaching.
And, yes, I agree – taking a break means quitting almost always. The only students I can remember in recent years who came back after a break are 4 of my very dedicated Indian students who go to India for a month or two in the summer.
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
I’ve had a 30-day discontinuation notice in my policies for a while, but it was pretty much un-enforceable, and many people chose not to honor it. Last year I changed a few of my policies to eliminate that issue and to help with initial retention:
- I now require auto-pay from all families – of course I have to pay the associated credit card fees for this, but a few clicks and I’ve collected everything for the following month
- I also require a minimum 3-month commitment up front
- Families agree that they will be automatically charged for the 3 months at a minimum, and for the 30-day period following their notice to discontinue.
Since I have their agreement to charge their card for these, I do not need to collect the last month up front. This has made it much easier to manage a larger studio.
Jo D., Australia
I teach 4 x 10 week terms each year which is inline with Australian school terms. I ask for the term fee upfront at on or before first lesson and if they wish to pay off fees they sign a form to have direct debit for the commitment of the term fees. This works well in my studio.
Lynn S., Illinois
I’m a relatively new Simply Music teacher, and am also experiencing comments from students about taking time off during the summer.
I would think it’s natural to take some time off for vacations, etc. But it’s also a concern that they may not come back.
I too would like to know how many of you require a 30-day upfront fee, along with the lesson fee. Do most of you tell students that you require a minimum of a two (or three) month commitment? I had just
had an unusual situation with several new students dropping out in the first month for various reasons… two senior who had difficulty physically with their hands… a young boy whose mother would not
commit to helping him practice… and a couple who refused to pay me a month in advance, so they just quit.
Carrie L., Michigan
We ask them to give us the last month of notice.. so they need to pay for the following/next month.
We also ask new students to do 2 months to start.
Our students do September- June regular lessons and July/August we have a ‘summer’ schedule. . they can pick/choose which weeks they want.
Mark S. M. New York
When you say they can pick/choose what weeks they want in the summer, do you let group students each pick their own weeks or do you have them choose as a group?
The last few years, I’ve allowed lessons to decide if they may want some time off in the summer, but always as a full lesson, so a private student obviously chooses for him/herself, but a group has to choose as a group. Since I have different groups that want either no time off or some time off or more time off in the Summer, I give credit for the time off all chosen together, because that way those who want no time off just get what they pay for and the others get a bit of a break. But since I’m giving that tuition break, I make them choose as a group so that it’s fair for me, too, in terms of teaching the lessons I’m paid for. If group members choose differently, a teacher has to work more lessons than if they all chose the same, so that’s why I’m curious.
Patti P., Hawaii
I’m going to focus on the concern that they might not come back. I teach year round, but I do always take a couple of weeks off in the summer to regroup. I let my studio know in advance when summer break occurs.
I start talking to families in the spring about fall schedule, which begins in August for my studio. This gives them a chance to let me know if they don’t plan on continuing and it also opens up the discussion of summer plans.
In order to secure their time slot for the next session, the tuition needs to be paid by the first day of the month (in my case, August) as usual. I have, in the past, had them pay a deposit for fall lessons by the end of June, though I have not felt the need for that for a number of years. My biggest attrition rate rate now is military families moving away.
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
The Forum topic about 30-day notices, taking ‘breaks’ and new students quitting brings up a topic I’d like to start a discussion on:
Do you think that the more technology develops, the less time people are willing to commit to long-term endeavors like piano lessons?
It seems to me that there are some trends occurring in our culture toward that end. Here are a few that I have noticed since I began teaching Simply Music several years ago:
- More no-shows for FIS’s
- More people not following through on their word (“I’m going to pay online today”; “Yes that class time will work great”; I can make it to the introductory session on Saturday”) – the old “check’s in the mail” syndrome
- Fewer parents/students willing to sign up and commit to performance events, even though they express interest in doing so (even with reminders and discussions about the benefits, etc.)
- Higher commitment to ever-increasingly competitive sports clubs and other activities
- Parents concerned more with moving forward vs. solidifying the playlist
- People running in so many different directions that committing to piano lessons and practice becomes too difficult for them
I don’t mean to be negative; just pointing out that perhaps some foundational conversations need to be steered more toward addressing these trends. ??
In my mind, I see a culture having so many new things thrown at them via technology, and more things available instantly, immediately, that people are becoming more competitive, less patient, and developing a ‘need’ for instant gratification. More digital and less human.
I also see parents pushing their kids into an increasing array of activities, which are becoming more competitive to the point where little kids have sports and activities every single day of the week. I see parents making choices based on comparisons to what other people’s kids are doing. I hear more parents expressing a desire to have their children try out more and more things to see what they ‘take to’.
In a general sense, piano lessons don’t weave very well into these trends. Maybe we could focus a discussion on the question:
What kinds of conversations should we be having with prospects, parents and students to keep piano lessons and learning music alive as an important and worthwhile investment of time and money, possibly to the exclusion of other activities?
A few ideas:
- Neil’s conversation the past few years on the types of people we will need in the future (more artistic/creative/innovative, less “knowledge workers” focused on facts and data – see Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind)
- Very strong consistency with the relationship conversation
- More consistent conversations about the many benefits and blessings of being musically expressed, and the lifelong nature of these benefits
What are your thoughts? Do you see the same trends?
Missy M., Nebraska
Yes, I totally think you have your thumb on some of, not only these issues, but also the reasoning behind them. It IS something that is moving through the culture as a whole. This may be a challenge, but it also may be an opportunity we didn’t ask for! We all know that giving piano lessons isn’t just about learning to play the piano. There are all kinds of life-lessons within this journey that we have the privilege to display and share with others, even coach them through.
I for one, have decided that I am not the teacher for everyone. I am learning to be more articulate about:
1) who I am personally
2) what I have to offer (strengths) as a perspective on music
3) what my “specialty” and “focus”- is even within Simply Music cirriculum
4) how to clearly set a culture in my studio for the outcomes I am equipped to affect
5) how to recognize people that are a good fit for me to teach. ( Like you said, are they teachable? busy? uncommitted?)
I find that I enjoy what I do more NOW because I am not trying to reach everyone or convince anyone of anything.
I spend less time defending myself ,piano method and the way I teach.
I set the culture more at the beginning and along the way.
I pry a little bit further with people when they inquire for piano lessons so they (and I know) what we are getting into.
You personally have been great at developing these patterns in your own studio and setting an example for the rest of us to consider – yet I think you are right that we need to travel this road a bit more so we all as teachers are SECURE, ARTICULATE, and FOCUSED.