Make-Up Lessons, Excused Absences,
Cancellations, and Rescheduled Lessons
Excused Absences and Cancellations
Excused absences - - the teacher allows the student to miss the lesson and not pay - - and cancellations - - the student announces he will miss the lesson and will not pay - - have the same effect on the teacher's wallet: less money.
I believe that neither of these situations should be an acceptable part of a teacher's studio policy.
Moreover, the teacher is in charge of that study policy, which includes scheduling procedures. Those students who do not believe that the teacher has the right to conduct her business by her own standards may study with another teacher. Likewise, those students who do not like the standards the teacher has set also may study with another teacher.
Sounds good in theory, yes? But what about in practice? Doesn't a stern policy drive away students in droves?
In my experience, no. The structure is an indicator of professionalism and is a sure-fire way to handle requests for exceptions.
For example, if someone asks for an excused absence or states that he will be canceling a lesson, remind him of your policy. If he begins to splutter, I have found the following murmured statement very effective: "Oh, dear. I hate to see you pay and get nothing!" This usually brings him around. It is worth it to him to continue study with you and to make other arrangements.
What if a family states they are canceling for the summer? Again, state that you will be happy to make up the lessons in advance, but that cancellation is not part of your studio policy. At this point, the student will say one of three things: (1) I'll reschedule; (2) I won't reschedule; or (3) I'll quit. If the student refuses to reschedule, you say that you can abide by that decision but that you cannot guarantee there will be a spot in the schedule in the fall. And then you fill that spot without a qualm if you are able to do so. If the student quits, of course, you do the same thing!
My money's on option number one, even if yours isn't, because I've been doing this a long time and know it works!!
With cancellations and excused absences out of the picture, let us turn to make-ups and reschedules. (If you choose to allow cancellations/excused absences, that is, of course, your privilege since you are in charge of your business.)
Make-ups and Reschedules
There are a number of options for handling these. Below are the four common types of make-up systems.
- No Set Make-Up Policy. Make-ups and reschedules are offered on an individual basis according to the teacher's decision. I feel that this is a mistake. You open yourself to constant hassles and negotiations. You also make yourself vulnerable to complaints of favoritism, which all teachers should avoid. Let's discard this one right away.
- No Make-Ups or Reschedules. Teachers who have an "absolutely no make-ups under any circumstances, not even illness" policy swear by it while other teachers feel it is unnecessarily severe. A less-severe version: annually, give each student one "free pass" to use for a make-up lesson. Other lessons missed, for whatever reason, are not made up but the student must pay.
- 24-Hour System. In this, the student may have a make-up or reschedule for whatever reason, provided 24 hours' notice is given. If less than that, no make-up. Go by the minute. If the lesson is at 5:30 on Thursday, you must receive notice at 5:29 or earlier on Wednesday. Make sure your answering machine or voice mail has a date and time stamp. Illness is the one exception: if the student wakes up sick or comes home from school during the day, a make-up is allowed. If a sibling or the parent is ill, the parent must make other arrangements to get the student to the lesson, as no make-up will be granted for this. (No, this last is not overly harsh. I always have used this system and never have been confronted by parent upset by the sibling/parent illness issue.)
- Illness Only. Make-ups are offered only for illness, regardless of hours' notice. With this approach, unless illness is involved, the student must choose between the lesson and the other activity. The hazard here is that students/parents are tempted to use illness as a cover-up for non-illness conflicts. You know your families; are they prone to taking advantage of you? If so, this option will be dangerous.
How do you schedule make-ups and reschedules? Here are some suggestions.
Any of these specific-day provisions may be used in conjunction with the 24-Hour System or the Illness-Only System. There are also many variants on these systems.
- As available. Put the make-up/reschedule in any available schedule hole. Advance notice is always nice, as sometimes you have an ill student whose spot could be used as a make-up for another. Most teachers use this system.
- Unattractive time. This is a corollary to the "as available" make-ups. Set aside one place in your schedule for make-up lessons. Those needing a make-up will come at this time, whether in the same week or in another week if the make-up slot is already full. If the make-up time is sufficiently unattractive, such as the last available slot on Friday or early on Saturday morning, few students will use it, preferring to choose the lesson over the other activity or simply to forfeit the fee and receive no lesson. Of course, you also are inconvenienced by this unattractive time.
- Specific day. Offer a monthly make-up day, such as the last Saturday of the month. Those needing make-ups that month attend that day. The lessons can be a group lesson or individual lessons. The drawback here is that the teacher is using free time to give make-up lessons. And, students who miss more than one lesson receive only one make-up, unless you want to allow them to have make-ups for as many months as it takes to reach parity; a pitfall here is that students with poor health or other reasons to need rescheduled lessons fall into a downward spiral where they always have a lesson to make up! This option is popular with teachers who also teach group lessons and/or who bill by the term.
- End-of-term week. During the week after the end of the term, give all make-up lessons for that term. Some students may have more than one lesson that week, perhaps, or doubled lesson duration. This means teaching in your vacation time. Again, this one is used by term-billing teachers, including those who teach group lessons.
- Fifth week. Use the fifth week in the month as make-up week when the student's day falls as a "fifth week" day. Tuesday students needing a make-up wait until Tuesday falls in the fifth week; it may be this month or it may not. This works well for teachers with levelized billing, as the teacher never gives no more than four lessons per month to any student. The rest of the fifth week, the teacher has time off or uses it for professional development or personal practicing, composition, etc. It does, however, increase calendar juggling and introduce more opportunities for errors.
- Swap system. Many teachers use this. It puts the burden on the person who wants to change; the teacher is not required to make phone calls. This is especially useful when it's a request for a reschedule for the student's convenience, as during soccer and baseball seasons. (If you have been teaching for at least a year, you know that some parents think nothing of asking to disrupt a teacher's schedule so that the child is not 10 minutes late to soccer practice. For some reason, that soccer coach's 6-week demands are more important than the piano teacher's 48-week commitment.) Here's how the swap system works: When a parent calls, the teacher gives him names and phone numbers of other students who have lessons at similar times during the week so the parent can make his own arrangements. Some teachers go so far as to issue all studio families a roster of other students who wish to participate in a swap system. (Those who do not wish to be asked to swap or wish to retain their privacy are not placed on the list.) When parents see how difficult it is to arrange a trade, they often decide to honor the lesson appointment. On the other hand, parents may find another student whose schedule is a close match and which makes swaps a breeze.
- Sibling bonanza. If you teach several members of the same family, another way to handle make-ups is to give the time to the other person.
- Double session. Double up for the make-up lesson at another time: either a double-length session or two lessons in one week. This may require moving the lesson to another time, but sometimes you will have a sick student or some other schedule adjustment so a time just before or after is available for a double lesson.
As long as you teach, you will have to deal with this problem. Find some method that works for you and stick with it. Make sure it is a prominent part of your studio policy. Enforce it with 150% fairness.
copyright 1998-1999, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
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