Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Policies Retooled, Part 1

"There is no more important document describing 'the professional you' than your studio policy," said The Piano Education Page. I have read more than 400 policy statements over the last weeks. According to Google, I have 134,000 more to go and I have grown a certain distaste for them. The books I have read assure me that spending a lot of time on this document results in clear communication and prompt payment. It starts to sound like if I word my policy just clearly enough that there will never be a misunderstanding or conflict. This is not my knowledge of the world to date.

I was rereading my own studio policy last month and I decided I wasn't really the teacher it sounded like. It read more like a ten commandments decree than a covenant between two parties interested in sharing a long commitment of music together. So I changed it. But then, I was curious about what other teacher colleagues used and opened a real dilemma for myself.

Many of the policies I have read online sound so harsh. In one case, if you muddied her carpet, she'd charge you for its cleaning. In another, he threatened to dismiss you from the studio if your nails had dirt under them. Ever. No excuses.

In the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, piano teachers can access a piano lesson guideline online. Here is some information from their site.

Most piano teachers use a “studio policy” to communicate the specifics about the logistics of piano lessons. This is, in effect, a legally binding contract between the piano teacher and the piano student (or parents).

Below you will find some items that might be found in a piano teacher’s studio policies.

FEES – the manner in which you must pay for your piano lessons should be clearly communicated.

TUITION: Piano teachers require their students to pay for their piano lessons in many different ways such as: once a month, once a quarter, or at each piano lesson. Some piano teachers charge an “hourly rate” while others charge a “monthly rate” (in which you pay the same amount each month for your piano lessons even if there are Holidays in that month).

REGISTRATION FEES: New piano students may be required to pay a one-time (or annually reoccurring) registration fee.

LATE PAYMENT FEES: The deadline for payment of fees should be clearly explained. If you fail to meet that deadline, there may be a penalty for late payment.

BOUNCED CHECK FEES: If you write a check to your piano teacher for your piano lessons, and if that check gets returned to your piano teacher due to insufficient funds, you may be required to reimburse your piano teacher for more than a simple late payment fee.

MATERIALS: Some piano teachers will provide their piano students with all of their piano music for a fee. Other piano teachers will ask that you pay for each item as needed.

FESTIVALS, COMPETITIONS, AND OTHER EVENTS. If your piano teacher has you participate in other activities in addition to your private piano lessons, there may be an extra fee for that (which may or may not be paid directly to your piano teacher).

PIANO LESSONS CALENDAR. The times when your piano lessons are to be held should be clearly communicated.

PIANO LESSONS EVERY WEEK. Most piano teachers require their piano students to enroll in piano lessons on a continuing basis from week to week.

SUMMER PIANO LESSONS. Many piano teachers do teach during this summer months. This is usually due to two main reasons. First long breaks from piano lessons can really set back progress. Second, their piano teaching is most likely their main source of income, and they probably need that income to continue in the summer. If you decide to not take piano lessons in the summer, some piano teachers will require you to drop out of their piano studio and re-enroll in the fall.

HOLIDAYS AND VACATION. Most piano teachers will include which days are considered “Holidays” and Vacation days. You may or may not pay a different amount when your piano lessons happen to fall on one of these days.

MISSED PIANO LESSONS. If you miss a piano lesson for some reason, the studio policy will often communicate the consequences of your absence. Some piano teachers are generous about offering makeup piano lessons as long as you contact them before the scheduled piano lesson (often at least 24 hours in advance), but other piano teachers will not offer private makeup piano lessons. This too is understandable since your piano teacher has reserved a spot in their schedule for you, and if you choose to not attend that meeting for any reason, that time is still reserved even if you are not at your piano lesson.

RESCHEDULING PIANO LESSONS. Some piano teachers give you the option to reschedule one of your piano lessons if you know in advance that you will be unable to attend your piano lesson at the normally scheduled time. Most piano teachers will not reschedule piano lessons on a regular basis. This is usually done infrequently.

TERMINATING PIANO LESSONS. All piano teacher policies should contain instructions regarding how to end your piano lessons if such a need arises. Most piano teachers require a minimum two-week notice. This usually means that once you provide notice (usually required in writing), then you are responsible for paying for your piano lessons two weeks after that notice has been given even if you do not attend those piano lessons.

PRACTICING. Some piano teachers put specific practicing requirements in their piano teacher policies.

LEGALITY. The policy may or may not be signed by the parent, teacher, and/or student that they understand what the rules are and that practice will happen.

So, I did have all my bases covered. For those of you curious about my former policy, I'll leave it on my website, for a few more days. Tomorrow I'll share my new one with you here.

Some of my colleagues have a multi-page document for the rules and regulations of their studios, often because they teach in their home, and sometimes because of some people who have taken advantage of them. I certainly understand multi-teacher studios with hundreds of families having strict and legal policies regarding payment.

Yet, some teachers have policies for worries that are perceived but have never really happened to them. I believe that most people who are studying here for lessons have good intentions and honest souls. They don't want to be bilked for lessons not received or gouged by big fees either.

So, is a policy document legally binding, looked over by an attorney, and a necessity? Is it am implied agreement between two parties regardless of paperwork? The legality of our teaching does not depend on a triplicate document, with a notary public does it?

More tomorrow...

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