To Give or Not To Give Make Up Piano Lessons

To give or not to give make up piano lessons - options to consider | composecreate.com

Inevitably, every few months, the subject of giving or not giving make up piano lessons comes up on all of the piano teaching forums. Every teacher certainly has the freedom to choose what is best for their studio and personal lives, but I find that there are a number of teachers that are currently unhappy with their makeup policy. I’ve seen countless teachers complete their semester of teaching only to have several more weeks worth of teaching because they are giving makeup lessons. I’ve heard of other teachers reluctantly scheduling makeup lessons during their personal or family time, making daily life difficult for their entire household.

So, what can a teacher do to be happy with their teaching schedule and minimize the number of extra days they teach? Here are some things to consider and some possible solutions:

Make Up Piano Lessons – Options

1.  No Make Up Piano Lessons

A growing number of teachers make it their policy never to give make up piano lessons unless they are the ones that cancel lessons. The reasoning behind this policy is that the teacher is scheduled to be present for the student’s lesson at a specific time. If the student cannot make it, then the teacher cannot schedule a new student for that one solitary lesson. The time is reserved for that specific student!  If you feel badly about offering no makeups, you can spend that lesson time making lesson plans, worksheets, or other plans for that specific student so that you can tell the parent that time was still being used for the student. Many teachers who have a no makeup policy have swap lists or extra performance classes so that parents can help makeup those times if they feel the need.

In my policy, I have the following paragraph under “Missed Lessons:”

Because specific times are set aside for specific students, a student who does not attend a lesson will simply miss the benefit of that lesson. I will then use that time or other times to plan for the student’s progress, locate materials, etc. Remember that your tuition pays for more than your weekly lesson. See Where Does My Tuition Go?

If you have difficulty in seeing the need for no makeups, consider this: You have reserved a specific number of minutes for each of your students and you should not be required to offer 2x that number of minutes with a makeup simply because they cannot be there. If you schedule even a few makeups a week, you will lose hours of time that could be spent with your family, exercising, or relaxing, which is something piano teachers need to do more often!

You’ll definitely want to read this tongue-in-cheek, humorous post: “Top 5 Reasons You SHOULD Give Makeup Lessons.”

2.  Swap Lists

This can be used by a student to swap lesson times with another student.  This is helpful in case of doctor’s appointments, being out of town, or even sickness.  Of course, if you use a swap list, you will want to get parents permission to include their name and phone number on the swap list you will distribute (I do this on the yearly “agreement to terms” form).  Also, you might want to be specific with your rules for securing a swap.  Mine include the following:

  • I must be informed prior to and after any swap is made.  (This helps me make sure that a 45 minute lesson is being swaps for a lesson of equal time.  This also helps me make sure that any back to back lessons that need to be preserved will indeed be preserved.)
  • No make up lessons will be given should confusion from this arise.
  • Should 2 people arrive at once, I will teach the one whose lesson is normally at that time.

3.  Phone Lessons (during the student’s regular scheduled time)

I have been amazed at how effective phone lessons can be.  I find myself asking a lot more questions about the music during phone lessons than I would normally ask.  This helps the student get to know the piece even better than they might during the regular lesson.   Of course, there are things that you can’t do in a lesson (like check fingering), but I often ask the student to evaluate these things since I cannot see them.

4.  Skype or Facetime Lessons (during the student’s regular scheduled time)

These are by far the most effective kinds of “makeup lessons.”  I often give these lessons if a student is not feeling well, but is not too sick to be in bed.  Skype is a free service which allows you to have both an audio and visual connection to the student.  It requires that both parties have a Skype account. Facetime is also free, but requires users to own a Macintosh device (iphone, ipad, or macbook).

5. Performance Classes

You may want to offer all of your students the opportunity to attend a few free group or performance classes in the year.  This can help parents feel like they are getting a makeup for a missed lesson since the class is free.

6. Building in an Extra Teaching Week

You can also build in an extra teaching week to your schedule so that students who never miss a lesson will get an extra lesson and those who miss lessons will have one official makeup.  However, you must account for this extra week of teaching…it’s a break that you are forfeiting and you’ll be teaching for free that week!

7. Sickness Options

Some teachers may opt to only give makeup lessons for lessons missed due to illness.  This seems like a reasonable policy, but you might want to make sure you have specific guidelines so that this policy is not abused.  For example, “What is sickness?”  “Does a headache count?” “Do allergies count?”  You might also make sure that you specify how many lessons can be made up for sickness or how much advance warning is required for the makeup.

8. Give Lesson Time to Siblings

This is the option that I find myself most often using.  When a sick or absent student has a sibling that takes piano lessons with me, I will offer the lesson time to that sibling, often making their lesson twice the normal length!  I use this time to do ear training, composing, playing games, and other activities that we don’t always have time to do.  I offer this option because parents feel that their money is not being “wasted” if they are able to still take advantage of the lesson time.

9. Best Practice? Use a combination of options for make up piano lessons.

I have a strict “no makeups” policy that I have abided by now for over a decade. However, I don’t think any of my families think that I am a mean or inflexible person. It’s important to communicate whatever policy you implement in a friendly, but firm way. It’s also very effective to offer parents a combination of options. For example, in my policy I tell them that they can minimize their missed lessons by using: 1. Swap list, 2. Phone lessons, 3. Skype/Facetime lessons, and in the past, I’ve also had 2 “free” performance classes scheduled just before a recital one in the fall and one in the spring). So, my families see that I offer ways for them to be flexible when they over schedule their life or have a scheduling conflict. But, I never let a parent transfer the stress of their scheduling issue to my life. I have enough trouble with my own schedule!

These are just a few of the many things that you can do in your studio to help minimize the number of extra weeks that you teach.  Remember that no one controls your schedule but you!  Be bold and confident when you make decisions about protecting your family time, your free time, and your life in general!

Do you have any other suggestions for make up piano lessons?  Please feel free to share them in the comments. You might also want to sign up for the ComposeCreate email newsletter so that you can have business advice, new ideas, and inspiration come to you without any effort!

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