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How to Say “No” and Enforce a No Make Up Lessons Policy

How to Say "No" and Enforce a No Make Up Lessons Policy

Now that you know how to move to a no make-up lessons policy, it’s time to learn how to implement your policy! I hesitate to use the word “enforce” because the word has a rigid ring to it. And the idea of getting rid of makeup lessons is NOT about being mean and rigid. It’s about creating healthy boundaries in your life so that you can create margin in your life to give to the people who need you, like your kids, your spouse, your family, your friends, and those that know and love you no matter what! You can even give that margin/time back to your piano students, but you can only choose how you give it if you have it. Unfortunately, giving make up lessons without boundaries frequently means that you have no margin.

How do I stick to my no make up lessons policy?

I have heard teachers ask, after they moved to a no make up lessons policy, “How do I actually enforce this? I have such a hard time saying, ‘No!'”

Before I tell you a wonderful secret about saying no, can I tell you something that may surprise you? I have always struggled saying no. I used to say yes to everything and I used to think that was the right thing to do. I used to do everything when I was a teenager and in my early 20’s. Someone asks me to accompany them at church? “Yes!” Someone else asks me to accompany them and practice the same night? “Why, yes!” A third person asks me to play a duet with them and arrive 1.5 hours before the first practice, “Why, yes! Of course. Why not?”

What does saying “No” mean?

Whenever I say no to something, I am saying yes to something else. Learn to control your make up lessons policy | composecreate.comBut at this point in my life, I have to say no. I have to say no a lot more than I say yes these days. And incidentally, there’s a beautiful little saying that has helped me a lot and may help you:

Every time you say “yes” to something, you are saying “no” to something else.


Every time you say “no” to something, you are saying “yes” to something else.

That perspective has helped me a lot. Now, when I feel badly about saying no to something now, I ask, “What am I saying yes to?” Most of the time I realize that I’m saying yes to my kids or yes to my mental health, or yes to less stressful living. That makes me feel a lot better about saying no to anything!

But my story is not the main focus of this article. I just wanted to assure you that this advice does NOT come from a self-confident, extroverted, “I always know what I want and I’m confident in every decision I make.” That’s not me in the least.

I’m there with you. It’s hard. But that’s why I want to share something super practical about saying no…especially when someone asks you for a make-up lesson.

The secret to answering, “I want a make-up lesson!”

I was reading Eugene Petersen recently in an excerpt where he talks to pastors about how to protect their time. Whatever you think about church and pastors, Eugene hit on something KEY for all of us and I’ll edit it to help you see what I mean. He says:

The appointment calendar is the tool with which to get unbusy…It is more effective than a protective secretary; it is less expensive than a retreat house. It is the one thing everyone in our society accepts without cavil as authoritative.

When I appeal to my appointment calendar I am beyond criticism. If someone approaches me and asks me to pronounce the invocation at an event and I say, “I don’t think I should do that; I was planning to use that time to pray,” the response will be, “Well, I’m sure you can find another time of the day to do that.” But if I say, “My appointment calendar will not permit it,” no further questions are asked.

If someone asks me to attend a committee meeting and I say, “I was thinking of taking my wife out to dinner that night; I haven’t listened to her very carefully for several days,” the response will be, “But you are very much needed at this meeting; couldn’t you arrange another evening with your wife?” But if I say, “The appointment calendar will not permit it,” there is no further discussion.

The trick, of course, is to get to the calendar before anyone else does.

Let me translate this to the piano teaching life:

If someone asks you to give a makeup lesson and you say, “I was thinking of taking my kids to see a movie,” the response will be, “But you owe us a lesson and can’t you find another evening to do that with your kids?” But if you say (and say it kindly with a smile), “The appointment calendar won’t permit it,” then there is no further discussion!

If someone asks you to give a makeup lesson on the weekend and you say, “I was thinking of going to the store or reading a book since I haven’t done that in weeks,” the response will be, “But we pay you for this time and you owe us time since we couldn’t be at lessons this week and you can read or go to the store any time!” But if you say (again, do it kindly with a smile), “I’m sorry, the schedule won’t allow it,” then there isn’t much room for discussion, is there?

The 21st Century secret to saying no

Again, there isn’t much room for discussion, is there? That weird silence that follows? Just wait. That “But, I think you can make it work” comment? Just say it again, “I’m sorry, my schedule won’t allow it. ”

Don’t over-explain. Ugh. I do that too often.

I call this the 21st century secret because we’re all too busy in this century. And there’s nothing more powerful in people’s lives these days than their schedule. So learning to use the sacred schedule to help us seems to extremely effective these days.

But don’t try to articulate your schedule. Just be firm and kind when you enforce your make up lessons policy. If they keep asking you or give you a hard time about your make up lessons policy, remind them of the options that you offer like the swap lesson, or the performance class, or remind them that you can work for them during their lesson time (like with lesson plans, choosing repertoire, creating worksheets).

But if you don’t have time in your normal teaching schedule to give the lesson, then don’t cave and give away time in your personal schedule. Do you see the difference? Separate your teaching schedule from your personal schedule. and then protect your personal schedule! Parents protect their personal schedule and you are the only one that is going to  protect yours! You decide when you want to work. Don’t let it be decided for you.

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  1. Anita E Kohli September 27, 2016 at 10:03 am

    Great article Wendy! I did this as I had no space for make ups this month in my regular working hours, but I have booked the student next month, during a flex week.
    So far I have been able to stick to a 100℅ make up policy using flex weeks, at no cost to my personal time. I learned that from a post of yours, so THANKS!

  2. Megan September 27, 2016 at 10:10 am

    Good article. Here’s 2 more tips I use: I’ve “retired” from Wednesday morning and Thursday nights. To keep from scheduling someone at those times, I filled in my schedule with blocks saying “work”. Otherwise, in an excess of helpfulness, I’m liable to put a student in those “blank” spots.
    Thing 2 is try to treat the piano teacher like a valued employee. If I were the boss, would I have my employees work through their dinner hour, or interrupt their days off to do my work? Not a chance! So I treat myself the same way.
    With time, a strong policy will weed out the troublesome students who aren’t really your people anyway. You’ll be left with a studio full of reasonable adults and their children and you’ll be able to get your job well.

  3. Wendy Stevens September 27, 2016 at 10:48 am

    Yes! I couldn’t agree more, Megan! That “busy” or “work” label in my calendar is something I’ve used too and it helps remind me that I truly AM busy during those times and shouldn’t try to slice and dice my time for lessons at that time.

    Great point about a valued employee! You are so right!

  4. Wendy Stevens September 27, 2016 at 10:48 am

    Yay! I’m so glad to hear that, Anita! I’m thrilled to know that you were able to implement those ideas and are less stressed because of it! 🙂

  5. Sally Palmer September 27, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    But what do you say when they say “okay, I’ll just play for one less lesson next month.” ???? I am tuition based, but I’ve had parents who show up the next month with tuition where they themselves had decided how much to subtract for the missed lesson.

  6. Bradley Sowash September 27, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    Good advice as usual Wendy. This was a good time for me to hear it as I have an extremely pushy mom on my hands.

  7. Melinda September 27, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    Beautiful! I used that reasoning when I explain why I was moving to a no make up lesson policy (this is my first year-thank you so much!!!), That with my studio as big as it has grown, I simply don’t have any other times available to teach than what I already have taken. What a simple idea to help carry that message through. Of course, I offer make ups when I have to cancel, or for instance l, when Halloween is on a lesson day, and sometimes I feel like it sends mixed messages, but hopefully it all sorts itself out.

  8. Swan September 27, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    Thank you Wendy! This has always been difficult for me, too. An older teacher I looked up to when my kids were little advised me to phrase my Studio Policy as “I have reserved your lesson time for you. No refunds, make-ups, etc, etc” so I effectively, with that wonderful wisdom over all these years, was able to remind parents that if I am gone, I make up. If I am there and you are not, that is not my problem. Something else in your life was more of a priority for that day and time. But I do state that I will email lesson notes if it’s last minute or assign double work if they know in advance they are missing. I rarely have misses…

  9. Wendy Stevens September 27, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    Hi Sally,

    Ah yes, you need to read this article: https://composecreate.com/repeating-myself-about-piano-policies-what-my-ob-taught-me/

    They’ll get it if you are consistent and firm! 🙂 But read that article…it will encourage you!

  10. Amy Chaplin September 29, 2016 at 7:20 am

    Wendy….do you listen to Michael Hyatt??! 🙂 He also talks a lot about “creating margin in your life so there’s room for what matters most”. It was nice reading some translate this to piano teachers. It’s so important!

  11. […] your no make-up lesson policy means you “Create margin in your life to give to the people who need you…you can only choose h… There’s  more where that came from but you’ll have to read Wendy’s […]

  12. Wendy Stevens October 1, 2016 at 11:34 am

    Hi Amy,

    Yes, I’ve listened to a few things from Michael. But my husband was the first person in my life who introduced the concept of “margin” and it’s become something that we’ve been passionate about for our family together. It is so important to have margin and so few people have it these days. The more people that are talking about it, the better it is for all of us! Thanks for linking back on your Friday Finds! Those are always fabulous!

  13. Marian October 4, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    Sally, (and anyone! I love this site of Wendy’s don’t you?) I have a very full afternoon piano schedule and work at home for an engineering company in the morning. My policy (having read Wendy’s treatise and spoken to other teachers) is this: Tuition for piano is X a month, paid for the new month the last week of the old month. It is the same whether you have 4 or 5 weeks. If you come to all 5 lessons, you are ahead. If you need to miss a lesson for important family activities or emergencies, you may consider your fifth lesson as a makeup. There are no makeup lessons, as my schedule will not permit it. Tuition is X, whether you come to 1 or 5 lessons. No refunds. You are not paying for individual lessons (as is Sally’s familiar difficulty) but for a spot on my calendar. It is up to them to make the most of it. I appreciate the extra activities family have (as I have recently had to tell one mom) but if it takes priority over piano, that is their choice. I then mentioned a less appealing arrangement and price if they prefer to pay by the individual lesson. When put forth in this concise, firm but friendly manner, my parent (apparently) was happy again. Saying all that, once you have firm boundaries in place, one may bend a little here and there if your time and schedule permit, and you have your own reasons for wanting to help a particular family. It is easier to be firm first, rather than be easy and then try to firm things up. Because vacation time for Thanksgiving and Christmas is important to me, and I suppose most everyone, I give us all a break, with the reminder that full price months will resume in January.

  14. Karen Clark October 5, 2016 at 8:39 am

    The only reason I don’t go to a “no make-up” policy is because I don’t want sick students coming into my home. Parents will bring them with a fever, sore throat, or even stomach flu if they think they’re going to be losing money on a lesson. How do you discourage this under a “no make-up” policy? (I am particularly concerned because of personal health issues.)

  15. Wendy Stevens October 5, 2016 at 10:45 pm

    Hi Karen,

    I know what you mean and I’ll tell you that I started doing this when I was pregnant and was taking a medication that weakened my immune system. So, I sent an email to parents explaining how careful I needed to be and asked them to be especially conscientious about this. All of my parents were at the time, but if I did have someone who was not, then I’d probably tell the parents that “unfortunately, if a child shows up and is ill, then I’ll have to send them home” and do a quick screen as each student came in and then would have to be confident in enforcing it. It’s YOUR health which affects many other people. So, don’t hesitate to be bold because it’s not just about you! 🙂

  16. Amber November 1, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    Thank you, Wendy! I appreciate this post. As a piano teacher, mom, and wife of a pastor, I whole-heartedly agree with this article. I used to have a more relaxed make-up policy, and, consequently, my students were more relaxed about attendance. It was a disaster.

  17. Jordan Daniels November 11, 2016 at 7:38 pm

    I understand the point of your article in saying no to certain request, however, I disagree with having a no making up lesson policy for one particular reason.

    What if you, as the teacher, are sick and need to ask your students to make up their lessons at another time? Is it fair for them to have their lessons rescheduled at your request, but not the other way around? I understand risking using your own time personal time in order to make up for a lesson. If it comes to that, then I would agree, just tell the student no. However, if your personal time is not at risk, then I believe it would be fair to reschedule a lesson.

    Perhaps a good solution to this problem is to only allow for say 3 make up lessons a year. That way, a student won’t take advantage of you and continually ask for make up lessons, and you will be also be justified if you have to reschedule your student’s lessons for whatever reason.

    Overall, interesting article!

  18. Lona April 29, 2017 at 5:24 am

    I am having the same problem as Sally Palmer. I’ve just had an adult student pay us for her tuition minus three lessons (!!) for times when she will be away. I have explained our policy to her in the past, so I find her action passive aggressive and am now considering how to respond.

    How do you respond when someone simply deducts payments from their payment? Has anyone else had this happen?

  19. Wendy Stevens April 29, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Hi Lona,

    I’m sorry this happened to you! I think you would just need to have a conversation with her about how this won’t work with your business structure. You can kindly tell her that all of the tuition needs to be paid and then remind her why…that it goes for much more than just the price of the in person lesson time. I think it would be the same kind of conversation that you’d have when you explain it to someone before they do that, but you’ll have to end it by asking her to pay the remaining tuition.

    As I talk about in the Best Stress-free Practices for your Studio, you need to frame everything as much as possible with their point of view in mind and acknowledge and empathize with their position. So saying something like, “I know it might seem like you aren’t getting anything for those lessons for which you have to pay and you’ll be absent, but I can assure you that you are! Here’s why. Your tuition pays for more than…”

    I wouldn’t escalate it to tell her that you’ll have to find someone to replace her until she doesn’t pay or doesn’t respond.

    I hope that helps!

  20. Pamela Friske April 3, 2018 at 10:51 am

    Great article Wendy !!! I have a policy that states no make-ups or credit unless it is the teacher (myself) who has to cancel. I build in 1 or 2 weeks into the semester that I do not charge tuition. Then if I get sick or need to travel, it is already been addressed. If I don’t use the weeks I sometimes end a week early or give the students a free lesson. My policy states that students are paying to reserve their lesson spot for the whole semester. Typically I have a waiting list. I try to get my students to pay the whole semester in the first 3 months. I am always willing to work on an individual basis with students who may need longer to pay or need help. I have found this policy works very well. That is not to say I haven’t had to reiterate the policy to a few student moms. I tell them if a spot opens up and someone cancels I will notify them. I like Wendys idea to have them send a video of their piece and work on it during their lesson. Super idea !

  21. Debbie Scott July 26, 2018 at 9:08 am

    Hi everyone! Wonderful comments on this very important issue. I provide two makeups for the entire school year for illness with 24 hours notice and compassionate reasons only. I had a situation two months ago that I would love feedback on. My mother passed away and I had to cancel some lessons. I was quite dissilusioned when only one of my 25 students told me to not worry about making it up. All the others expected a make up. I did the make ups at a great loss to my personal time. I feel a personal connection to my students but this make me realize that it’s a business transaction and they want their money’s worth. Quite an eye opener for me! I’m thinking of adding to my policies that I am allowed one cancellation, no make up, for compassionate reasons. Hopefully, I wouldn’t have to use it. Any thoughts here? Thanks!

  22. Wendy Stevens July 26, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    Hi Debbie!

    I’m so sorry to hear about your mother’s passing away last year. And I’m sorry that your families weren’t more generous because of it.

    I would encourage you to think about not offering any official “makeup lessons” but schedule a few flex weeks (or at least 1 per semester) that you can take whenever something like this or illness for you comes up. The idea is that you put a cushion of at last 2 weeks at the end of every semester and then if you have to take time off during the semester, you choose to teach on one of those additional weeks that you can easily tack on because it’s already there. So, in this case, your official policy would be “no makeups” for students’s issues, but you could always always allow for swaps and such things (or offering a compassionate exception in some cases like you wish they would have done for you). BUT, you would know (don’t annouce this to your students) that you have a week that you could use at the end if you need to.

    Here are some in depth article about this concept of “flex weeks”:

    I hope that helps. I don’t think you’ll regret doing it this way. You must take care of yourself and your energy level and emotional stability in order to have energy for teaching. So there’s no reason to feel badly about this kind of policy.

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