Sunday, May 3, 2009

Absent, Again

My daughter needs me to accompany her for a clarinet piece on Monday. The high school is having an ensemble festival in which she is participating. I will have to miss two hours of lessons, four students, to play. I'm really looking forward to performing with her. Unfortunately, the high school assigned the times without asking whether it worked for the parents. So, I have let the four families know that I have some make-up time available on Thursday afternoon, and I thanked them for their flexibility. Performances, teaching and seminars have taken me away from my regularly scheduled lessons more than once, so I have a pretty liberal absence policy. Here's what it states in actuality.

"ABSENCES - Teacher Missed lessons will be credited to you or rescheduled. Student Missed lessons will be made up at the teacher's discretion. The studio is a full-time career, and there are no make-up slots available. You are responsible to come to your scheduled lesson. Once-in-a-lifetime family events, medical emergencies, musical absences (participating in band concerts, etc) and snow emergencies will be considered on a case by case basis. (Too much homework, tiredness, play rehearsals, going to the game, unpreparedness and forgetfulness ARE NOT excused absences.) This is in line with others in my industry: dance, sports, other lessons, etc. If you miss due to a vacation, you will still be charged. Consider this part of your vacation expenses. I hope you understand the need for professionalism in this regard. I do NOT want you to come when you are ill. Please do me the courtesy of a telephone call for any reason."

I have some terrific families who have been so forgiving and understanding while I wear my many hats. In return, I try to do likewise. When teachers talk amongst ourselves, I believe that many of them do not have a snow or musical absence contingency. I know that absences are a sticking point for many teachers; they believe they are playing second fiddle to the many other parts of the families' lives. On the absence policy, they state "NO MAKE-UPS", period. Your time is paid for 3:00 on Wednesday, for example. If you don't come, they got paid to practice.

Many karate, sports, and dance lessons are now paid by credit card-billed automatically on a monthly basis. (I know, I can't believe it either.) If you miss, there is no credit or make-up given. Even my dentist has tried to implement an appointment policy. If you miss too many sport practices, you're benched! I am still old fashioned and take a check (or cash); a credit card machine would raise my fees more than I believe my parents should pay. I've had only two checks bounce in almost eighteen years; my families receive a statement monthly from me similar to their gas or electric bill. They are almost never behind in their payments to me, they may forget a month, but then it is reflected in their next statement with a $10 late fee.

On the other hand, some of my colleagues make up every lesson missed by little Johnny and are doormats. They try to hard to be easy to work with, and the parents DO take advantage. They do make-up lessons over breaks and well into the summer sometimes. I just can't. I think my best move is to send out my policies every August and so everyone has the opportunity to reread my philosophy. Then there is less misunderstanding when the issue arises.


  1. It IS a sticky wicket, isn't it. I try to be as flexible as I can, but sometimes there's just no time in a piano studio that's a full time job as it is. I finish lessons on May 14 for the school year, then 2 nights of recitals on May 18-19. May 20 to the end of May I leave as a buffer for makeup days for snow day cancellations. I think there is a way to remain professional and yet not put people off. Just read a business article on how businesses need to "cozy up" to the customer in tough economic times. Good thoughts - Serve the needs of your customers wherever you can.

  2. When I started having a policy sheet in my 4th year of teaching full time, it changed my life. All of my deadbeat students either quit and were replaced by students who cared about their lessons, or they changed their ways. It's amazing how much better the teacher/student/parent relationship can be when respect is part of the equation.


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