Should I Offer Make Up Lessons?
Found in: Studio Policies
Mark M., New York
Exploring the possibility of giving (within limits) makeup classes, I looked in Simpedia saw a bit on the topic, but thought it worth bringing up here. If those teachers out there who *do* offer make ups in any way can either explain how you manage the logistics of doing so or provide a link to your makeup policies if you have them online, it would be much appreciated. Thanks.
Carrie L., Michigan
I offer make-ups only in extreme circumstances (have to go away to Dr care, hospitalized things like that). But I do allow students (or parents in their place) to come to another student’s lesson around the same place. I will sometimes do make-ups if I know way in advance that a student will be on vacation and I can fit them in.
I wish I would have adopted and followed this policy when I had less students so students wouldn’t have come to expect make-ups… they now no longer ask, but with a full schedule it’s very challenging.
Elaine F., South Carolina
My policy states that make ups are at the discretion of the teacher. That way, if someone is ill AND I have the time (at my convenience) I can offer a make up. I generally have 2 or 3 spots a week that are available. Often the parent can’t make that time– but I have made an effort and this builds good will. I seldom offer make ups for school field trips or vacations– only for events out of parents control like illness. I remember well the years paying for my kids’ lessons when they were home being sick. So I like to do this more of a mother to mother gesture than a business one.
It has worked fine for me- but I can see as I get busier, it will be different. My plan then is to offer a lesson during the summer when I am less busy and they are too. I think I’d limit it to 1 or 2 make ups per year.
Kim N., Texas
I started out with only a few students and was willing to do make-ups when asked. I’m a nice person and eager to please J! My policies have always stated that I wouldn’t do make-ups so I started off not having integrity with my word (Teaching From the Future concept). Now I am very thankful to have a much busier studio and I recently started enforcing my no make-up policy out of necessity. With all that I have going on personally and professionally, I found that even adding an extra lesson a week for a makeup caused a domino effect on the rest of my schedule which then caused extra stress on me and my family. I have had to respectfully say “no” a couple of times in the past few weeks. It hasn’t caused a bit of problem and not a soul has quit.
What I do offer is two general make-up sessions per year. Those that have missed a lesson can come and work on some general things (comp and improv/arrangements/games) that aren’t level specific. I haven’t actually done my first general make-up session but I know other teachers have.
It’s always harder to give something and then take it away. My suggestion is to picture yourself with the number of students that you want in your studio and then decide if it fits for you to do make-ups. For those of you just beginning to teach you may have a hard time imagining 5 students, let alone, 50. It will happen!!! I was a complete piano novice, as in I didn’t know how to play anything on the piano but Heart and Soul. After being licensed, I started my first students in May of 2009. My student body has grown steadily to 30 over the past seven months. Figure out what the future is going to look like and work backwards!!
Make-up Music Lessons from an Economist’s Point of View
By Vicky Barham, PhD (from the Tennessee Music Teachers Association online journal)
I’m a parent of children enrolled in Suzuki music lessons. I’d like to explain to other parents why I feel – quite strongly, actually – that it is unreasonable of we parents to expect our teachers to make up lessons we miss, even if I know as well as they do just how expensive lessons are, and, equally importantly, how important that weekly contact is with the teacher to keeping practicing ticking along smoothly. I think that it is natural for we parents to share the point of view that students should have their missed lessons rescheduled, but if we were to ‘walk a mile’ in our teachers’ shoes, we might change our minds about what it is reasonable for us to expect of our teachers.
Like many parents, I pay in advance for lessons each term. In my mind, what this means is that I have reserved a regular spot in the busy schedules of my sons’ teachers. I understand – fully – that if I can’t make it to the lesson one week (perhaps my son is sick, or we are away on holiday, or there is some other major event at school) then we will pay for the lesson, but that my teacher is under no obligation to find another spot for me that week, or to refund me for the untaught lesson. And this is the way it should be.
In my ‘other life’ I am an economist and teach at our local university. Students pay good money to attend classes at the university; but if they don’t come to my lecture on a Monday morning, then I am not going to turn around and deliver them a private tutorial on Tuesday afternoon. When I go to the store and buy groceries, I may purchase something that doesn’t get used. Days or months later, I end up throwing it out. I don’t get a refund from the grocery store for the unused merchandise. If I sign my child up for swimming lessons at the local pool, and s/he refuses to return after the first lesson, I can’t get my money back. So there are lots of situations in our everyday lives where we regularly pay in advance for goods or some service, and if we end up not using what we have purchased, we have to just ‘swallow our losses’. On the other hand, if I purchase an item of clothing, and get home and change my mind, I can take it back and expect either a refund or a store credit.
So why do I believe that music lessons fall into the first category of ‘non-returnable merchandise’, rather than into the second case of ‘exchange privileges unlimited’ (which I think is one of the advertising slogans of an established women’s clothing store!)? Speaking now as an economist, I would claim that the reason is that items like clothing are “durable goods’ – meaning, they can be returned and then resold at the original price – whereas music lessons are non-durable goods – meaning, once my Monday slot at 3:30 is gone, my son’s teacher can’t turn around and sell it again. The only way she would be able to give him a lesson later in the week would be if she were to give up time that she had scheduled for her own private life; and that seems pretty unreasonable – I can’t think of many employees who would be thrilled if their bosses were to announce that they couldn’t work from 3:30 to 4:30 this afternoon, but would they please stay until 6:30 on Thursday, because there will be work for them then!
Many teachers hesitate to refuse our request to shift lesson times (because our busy schedules *do* change), because unless they keep us parents happy, we will decide to take our child somewhere else for lessons (or to drop musical study), and they will lose part of their income. This is particularly true in areas with lower average income, where it can be particularly difficult to find students. So rather than telling us that ‘well, actually, the only time when I’m not teaching and that you can bring your son for lesson is during the time I set aside each week to go for a long soul-cleansing walk, and I *can’t* do that on Monday at 3:30 when you should have turned up’, they agree to teach us at a time that really doesn’t suit their schedule. Teachers who are ‘nice’ in this way often, in the long run, end up exhausted, and feeling exploited; they try to draw a line in the sand.
However, too few parents ask to switch only when absolutely necessary, and too many parents want lesson times when it suits them this week, which is not the same time that suited last week. The only time that I would feel entitled to discuss shifting a lesson time is if the reason I can’t make the lesson is because (i) I have to do something for the Suzuki school and the only time at which that other event can happen is during my lesson time; (ii) my teacher were to ask us to participate in some other activity (e.g., orchestra, etc.) and that other activity were to create the conflict. If the conflict arises because my child is in the School play, and they have their dress-rehearsal during his lesson time, then I feel that I must choose between the two activities, and if he attends the dress rehearsal my private lesson teacher doesn’t owe me anything.
During May, my eldest son will be missing three lessons because he is going to accompany me on a trip to New Zealand to visit his great-grandparents. I do not expect my son’s teacher to refund me for those missed lessons, or to reschedule them by ‘doubling up’ lessons in the weeks before or after our departure. Since there will be lots of advanced notice, I might ask her to consider preparing a special ‘practice tape’ for that period, or to answer my questions via e-mail, but if she doesn’t have the time (the second half of April is going to be really busy for her, and she wouldn’t be able to do the tape until more or less the week we left) and so has to refuse, then that’s fine. I certainly don’t expect her to credit me with three make-up lessons; there is no way for her to find a student to fill a three-week hole in her schedule during our absence. Instead, I hope that she will enjoy the extra hour of rest during those three weeks, and that we will all feel renewed enthusiasm when we return to lessons at the end of the trip.
Article Copyright © 2001 Vicky Barham
Vicky Barham, PhD, is the mother of two children who are enrolled in Suzuki music lessons in Canada. She also teaches Economics at the University of Ottawa. The TMTA webmasters became acquainted with Dr. Barham through the Internet and were so impressed with her sound and logical expressions about the business of music teaching that we asked permission to publish her ideas for all to share. Her ideas are expressed in two articles on this website. Thank you to Dr. Barham for sharing her expertise with us.
Mark M., New York
I read this article some time ago in Simpedia. It’s good food for thought. However, and I believe this will be useful to express to all teachers:
Not only is economics is a far more varied field than most people realize, it is also a field that, like music instruction (and far more areas of human experience than most people realize), has a high degree of dysfunctionality in its currently most dominant and accepted ways of thinking. Prevailing economic theory not only sanctions but encourages unsustainable and otherwise harmful practices.
None of this means that what this economist says about makeup lessons is wrong, but it certainly means that it must be taken with a grain of salt. Until there is a revolution in economics to parallel the one Simply Music is trying to make with music education, until, e.g., ecological economics becomes the prevailing economic paradigm, not much should be given tremendous weight simply by dint of it having been said by an economist.
Every one of us refrains from directly billing for countless hours of our time — prospecting, marketing, training, lesson planning, accounting, etc. If we feel we earn an appropriate amount overall for the overall time and effort we put into our work, not much else matters, and the rest is all just details, just business models and how we prefer to look at things.
This economist obviously prefers to look at the notion of makeup lessons one way. It is a valid way, but that’s just it, a way, not the way, not the one right way. It is a preference only. Likely, the SM teacher body is well aware that it’s a preference shared by many SM teachers, which is fine, but it’s also why I asked for feedback from teachers who do offer makeups, since the kind of information I was looking for — the kind of information that would prove useful to those teachers interested in makeup policies — would not be forthcoming from teachers who policies exclude makeups.
[/answer author="Nicole O., California"]
I used to offer 4 time slots for Makeups on the last Friday of the month. This worked fine because I don’t have regular lessons on Fridays. This year, however, I decided that I would like to do “other” things at the makeup. So now, I only offer one makeup a month and it’s for all levels, ages, etc. Last week, I taught the students four basic rhythms (4 beat cycle) and once learned, I gave each a drum and had one student come up to the piano to play a SM song. The drums were a nice addition and made it an ensemble. I had parents participating as well.
My policy is simply that if you missed a lesson during the month, you’re welcome to attend.
Sandy L., Nebraska
I agree, Mark, there is no one right answer. I appreciated the thoughts in the article because it made some good points, but I have to tell you that as a piano lesson consumer, I have greatly appreciated make-up lessons. Here are some thoughts:
There have been times when it has been unavoidable for my son to miss a lesson. My family finances are rather lacking and paying for his lessons is actually quite a sacrifice for us. When a teacher is offering a make-up lesson, that person occurs to me as a kind and caring teacher who has our best interests at heart. In this and in other policies, the teacher is walking the line between taking care of her/himself and nurturing the relationships that really form the foundation of our studios.
As a teacher, I offer make-up lessons, but my studio is very small, so the options are limited. As one of my son’s teachers did, I allow students to pre-schedule a make-up with a different group than their own. The group has to be reasonably close to their own level. I just blend the student in with the other group. Whoever is a little further ahead now has the opportunity to teach, so when a make-up student attends a group, either he or the other students are blessed with the opportunity to solidify their own learning by teaching something they know that the other person needs to know. In addition, whoever is a little behind now has the opportunity to see what is coming down the track. It really can be presented as a win-win in so many ways. It’s a little unexpected opportunity to spice things up, change the dynamic, get students and parents to meet other studio families…. I don’t want to go on and on, but I think if I took the time I could!
As I said though, my studio is small, so options are limited. If the student who missed a lesson cannot make it to a different group, they will just have to miss that week and get the assignment from me or a classmate. I have so many other things going on in my life that I cannot just offer to make up a lesson at the convenience of the student/parent. But when I do what I can, it seems to foster good will.
Private students could be another matter, especially if they are paying a different fee. I would probably offer make-ups at my discretion, or maybe say that make-ups are only in groups. I have not yet encountered that, but now will probably add to my own policies. J
Since the relationships you build with students and parents are one of the most crucial elements in retention, whatever you decide for your policy on this just needs to be presented kindly. It’s when parents and students feel you care that they can appreciate your policy, no matter how strict. And too lenient a policy can cause you to occur to them as a pushover and/or undervalue you.