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Fairness in Lesson Policies

*Note: This article is NOT a list of my own lesson policies. I provide a complete “studio policy” to prospective students upon request and certainly make sure all new students have a copy before beginning lessons. This article is more of a commentary about lesson policies in general...

All private music teachers have lesson policies (often referred to as “studio policies,” or collectively as a “studio policy”) that address issues such as payment, missed lessons, rescheduling and holidays. Some have them written out in great detail; some provide basic bullet points; others just informally communicate them to students. Personally, I prefer to have everything written out in detail so as to avoid any kind of confusion or misunderstandings. Regardless, these policies should be fair to both the student (and parents or guardians thereof) and the teacher.

I believe my own studio policies are indeed fair to both my students and myself. By way of contrast, I would like to point out some policies of other teachers and institutions (including community music schools and music stores that offer private lessons) that I believe are not fair to students/parents. I would also like to point out some policies that students/parents sometimes believe are fair to them, but are not actually fair to teachers, according to my own beliefs as well as the general consensus among teachers.


Following are six policies that are NOT fair to students/parents, in my opinion:


1) No rescheduling or make-up lessons in any circumstances

Believe it or not, some teachers and institutions actually have this policy. While I can understand that some teachers may have schedules that are so booked that it is very difficult to reschedule or do make-up lessons, the fact is that there will always be a certain amount of openings due to student cancellations and there is no excuse for any teacher to have a blanket policy like this, in my opinion. Some teachers (such as many of those at Menchey Music) teach only one or two days per week at a particular establishment, and therefore have virtually no options for rescheduling, which obviously puts their students at a disadvantage.


2) No exceptions to the teacher's time-sensitive cancellation policy for illness or emergency

Most private teachers require either 24-hours or 48-hours cancellation notice in order for lessons to be rescheduled. But I believe exceptions should be made in cases of illness or emergency, as long as such excuses are genuine and not habitual occurrences (and as long as some kind of advance notice is provided). Some teachers and institutions do not make these exceptions, which I think is somewhat unfair, especially considering the fact that most professional offices (such as dental practices) with time-sensitive cancellation policies will bend their own rules when illnesses and other emergencies are mentioned.

3) No option of receiving a credit when the teacher cancels a lesson

Some teachers have a policy that states that only make-up lessons will be offered when they cancel lessons, excluding the option of the student receiving a monetary credit or discount. Community music schools and music stores (such as Menchey Music) are often the most guilty of this. I believe that if a teacher cancels a lesson, the student should be given the option of rescheduling OR receiving a credit for the lesson (or deducting a pro-rated amount if the cancellation is made before the monthly payment is due). The fact is that rescheduling lessons is often a major inconvenience to students/parents -- a burden they should not be expected to bear unless they would like to do so.


4) No guarantee of receiving a full lesson if the teacher begins the lesson late

Ok, this is not really a policy that teachers have, but it is a regular practice (or careless mistake) of some teachers to dismiss students from lessons on time when they were at fault for beginning the lesson late. I can't tell you how many times, when I worked at Menchey Music, that I noticed various teachers starting lessons several minutes late and then ending them on time or even early! Obviously, this is not fair to students, as it cheats them out of precious lesson time for which they pay good money. Of course, most folks don't really care about a minute or two here and there, but I try not to cheat students out of any time at all...ever. Now, if a student arrives late, I will end the lesson on time if I have a student in the next time slot. Otherwise, I will normally extend the ending time if the student and/or parent would like me to do so (and if it's not a habitual thing for those particular individuals).


5) No rescheduled lessons or discounts/credits when a student's lesson day falls on a holiday

Teachers/institutions that charge a set monthly fee for lessons are often guilty of this. They try to get away with cheating students out of lessons by stating something like the following in their set of lesson policies: “Holidays are not rescheduled because they are built into the cost of tuition.” Let's take the Menchey School of Music, which has such a policy, as an example: If you are a Thursday student in that program, you will have 51 scheduled lessons in the year 2022 because the studios are closed during the entire weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you are a Monday student, you will have only 47 scheduled lessons because the studios are closed on Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, in addition to the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas, yet you will be paying the same amount for lessons as Thursday students. That is totally unfair!


6) Students must pay for several months of lessons (an entire quarter or “semester”) at a time

Ok, this is not as much “unfair” as it is insensitive to the fact that many people cannot afford to pay for multiple months of lessons at a time. It is also insensitive to the fact that many people operate their lives financially within the concept of a monthly budget. This kind of policy benefits the teacher/institution exclusively because it guarantees that they retain their students for a longer fixed time period. If you are a student that is unhappy with your instruction after one month of lessons, but have paid for three months of lessons, well that's just too bad since partial refunds are rarely given in this type of system. Another problem occurs when students need to change their regular lesson day due to scheduling conflicts, but the teacher/institution cannot accommodate their requests. And yet another problem occurs when students have to suspend lessons for health reasons (such as a broken arm) or schoolwork becomes too time consuming. This system is so wrought with potential problems that I consider it to be generally unfair to students.


Now, since we've covered the dubious lesson policies of some teachers and businesses, let's move on to issues that some students and parents have with lesson policies. Following are seven expectations of students/parents that I have occasionally encountered which are not fair to teachers, in my opinion:


1) “The teacher should hold a collection of make-up lessons for students for an unlimited amount of time.”

The reason I don't think this concept is fair to teachers is that it opens the door for situations such as the following: A student who cancel a lot of lessons says to his/her instructor at the end of a year (or any extended amount of time), “You owe me ten lessons...when are you going to schedule my make-up lessons?” Obviously, this would put an incredible burden on that teacher's schedule. While I do think it is fair to offer a period of time during which make-up lessons can be scheduled, that amount of time should not be unlimited.


2) “Teachers should run late with students who arrive to their lessons late.”

The thinking here is: “If I'm paying for a half-hour lesson, I should get a full half-hour, even if I arrive a few minutes late.” The problem with that kind of thinking is that it does not account for the fact that lessons with most teachers are scheduled back-to-back, which obviously means that providing a full lesson for a student who arrives late will delay the following student, which would be unfair to that person.


3) “Teachers should not charge students for canceled/missed lessons.”

The thinking here is: “Why should I pay for a lesson that I did not receive?” However, that kind of thinking does not account for the fact that students reserve weekly time slots in teachers' schedules that cannot be filled by new students. Therefore, the income that a teacher would have gotten if a student does not pay for his/her time slot is completely lost. Unlike hairdressers who can still make money on a canceled time slot, private music teachers cannot take walk-ins for lessons!


4) “Teachers should hold lesson slots for students without payment.”

Students/parents sometimes think this way when they want to take an extended time off from lessons (for example, a month off during the summer for vacations). The problem is that if a teacher holds a lesson slot for a student, he/she makes no money on the slot during that time period. Some teachers will do this for students, depending on how booked up their schedules are, but it is a gamble for them because they could end up losing money by turning away new students who could have filled their temporarily empty time slots. I've found that independent teachers (not associated with an institution or larger business framework) will be somewhat flexible for long-time, committed students whenever possible. However, they should not be expected to be so!


5) “Students should be able to reschedule lessons when less than 24-hours notice is provided, regardless of the reason for cancellation.”

As mentioned previously, I do believe teachers should make exceptions to their time-sensitive cancellation policies in cases of illness or emergency. However, they should not make exceptions otherwise, in my opinion (and usually don't). Students/parents have to own up to their own mistakes in scheduling (and failures in notifying teachers of cancellation in a timely manner) and not expect their teachers to bear the inconvenience of rescheduling because of their own ineptitude in managing their lives. Although I consider myself to be a gracious, understanding person, I also believe in personal responsibility and accountability. So, while I may bend a little when it comes to this issue, it certainly won't be much! I believe it's fair to give a one-time “free pass” with a gentle warning for a first offense, but then stick to the rules after that.


6) “Students should be able to schedule make-up lessons when they fail to show up for lessons (with no notice).”

I'm sorry, but this is just ridiculous. If a student is a “no show” for a lesson, he/she should never expect to be able to schedule a make-up lesson. Obviously, mistakes happen, but the burden should not be put on the teacher to rectify the student's error. Again, although I consider myself to be a gracious, understanding person, I will not budge on this one after possibly a one-time “free pass.”


7) “Students should be able to pay weekly, rather than monthly, for lessons.”

The reason this is potentially unfair to teachers is that it opens the door for situations such as the following: A student cancels a lesson one week and then shows up the following week with payment for only the current week. When asked to pay for the previous week's missed lesson, the student says, “Why should I have to pay for a lesson that I didn't actually have?” If you read #3 above, you will understand how this is unfair to the teacher.

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