More Thoughts About Private Lesson Policies

There are a number of good posts in the blogosphere on the policies of private music teachers. I’ve written some thoughts here, but here are some other issues people seem to be asking about.

Q: Why not just accept payment week by week?
A: I’ve found that students who pay week by week, almost without exception, are more prone to quitting. It’s sort of a signal that they’re not even willing to commit to a month with you. If parents were to ask why they have to pay for a month in advance (and I don’t ever remember being asked) I would tell them:
     – I have to pay my studio rent once a month.
     – Your payment reserves your time slot. I have a waiting list, and some of my current students may be interested in your time slot.
Also, if someone misses paying for a week, then you have to collect for two weeks at the following lesson. If they get further behind, things get awkward.

Q: What is considered sufficient notice for private lesson cancellations?
A: 24 hours. This gives me time to call another student for a make-up (or make-ahead) lesson. I will admit to being relaxed with this policy at times. But again, paying for the month in advance is a great way to make sure you get paid for every lesson whether it was cancelled or not.

Q: Which methods of payment do you accept for private lessons?
A: Cash or check. Students or their parents pay me directly, and I don’t have access to credit card payments. (I suppose if someone really wanted to pay me with gift cards from Starbucks or iTunes, I would take those too!)

Q: Do you make students/parents sign a private lesson contract?
A: I’ve never had them sign anything, because honestly it’s not as though I’m going to take anyone to court. I can certainly understand why a bigger operation with a co-op of teachers would require such a contract. I do have a policy sheet which I discuss with new students.

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6 thoughts on “More Thoughts About Private Lesson Policies

  1. Hi there! I am not a classroom music teacher yet I manage my private music studio with ten students. Yes, I have encountered these concerns when I was still starting and I may say that I almost gave up. Luckily, my friend introduced me to a website that offers help for music teachers.

    MusicTeachersHelper.com was able to provide all that I need as a music teacher. From lesson plans, scheduling, billing to providing me my own site, they have been my reliable ally since then.

  2. I don’t make the parents sign the policies either because it just seems…weird. But I do have problems with parents not reading the policies! Maybe if they had to sign it, they would for sure read it. Do you have that same problem?

  3. Hi Earl and Rebecca,

    Yes, MusicTeachersHelper.com is a great site. My initial post on this subject was inspired by a discussion there.

    Logic would make us think that people would read something they have to sign, but that’s not realistic either. I get a ton of parent signatures from school paperwork which I know the parents haven’t read, or at least haven’t followed through with. Don’t we all sign and agree to things we haven’t read through?

    Just the other day, I gave a info letter to all the teachers at my schools. One teacher walked up to me with the letter IN HAND and asked me questions about every single detail about the event. I wanted to knock on her skull and tell her to go take 60 seconds to read the doggone thing and then come back to me if she still had unanswered issues.

    So, I agree with you that having parents sign a contract is weird and a little pointless. But I wouldn’t fault anyone for doing so.

  4. Hi everyone. Just found this forum today. An unpleasant thing happened today which has caused me to review my own payment policy, so I thought I’d share it with others. I’m a drums/percussion teacher, with a few home students and a lot more whom I teach in a private basis at a local primary school.

    I charge by school term, and ask for payment by the forth week (this generally means week five after people inevitably forget). At this point students’ lessons have to be forfeited until they pay for the term. This term a student didn’t pay, and kept forgetting to remind his folks. I admit I had got complacent about contacting parents directly; it had simply not been all that necessary before as the committed students made sure the message got home. This student had not been any trouble before but eventually I called the parent and the payment was made. Unfortunately, the parent had not realised that lessons had been forfeited inbetween times. This morning I was called up by a very angry parent, who’s argument was that I had never reminded her to pay, and that she’d never paid late before. I’ve only taught for my job for a couple of years, and had never had a confrontation like it. I was at a loss for the right thing to say during the interview, and the parent burst into tears and hung up on me at the end.

    On one hand I feel the payment is valid – lessons were not paid for, so lessons were missed. I used to have much more trouble getting payment from students before I wrote a policy. On the other, I feel like a louse for having upset someone who I hardly know, and concede that I was wrong for entrusting the reminder message to the student.

    Outcomes are that I have decided that I need to insist on payment before the terms lessons can commence, which is at least cut and dried, and not open to debate or interpretation. I have also learned that a private teacher in a school environment needs to make the conscious effort to engage families. It is far too easy for us to forget that the parents are part of the equation when we don’t have regular access to them, such as when lessons are conducted at a school. All in all, though, a stressful and embarrassing lesson how to conduct secure and equitable business. I wonder if anyone else has had similar experiences.

    Thanks for reading. 🙂

  5. Hi Omar,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Although I’ve never been through that situation exactly, I do know what it’s like to have emotional conversations with parents, so I can identify with how you must feel.

    Without going into too much detail about your policies, I’m curious how late the parents’ payment really was. Are they supposed to pay any time before the fourth week? Is that fifth week a grace period? On first glance, I’m wondering if the parent might have thought that the payment isn’t even due until week 4, and that they were only a week or two late.

    Another thought: Could it be that your “school term” payment is too long a period of time? I’ve generally had success with charging monthly. Since most people are paid on a monthly basis, it’s easy for them to factor lesson fees into their monthly budget. But if a lesson period spans three or four months, it seems they would get hit with a pretty big bill all at once. Is monthly payment not an option? Again, without knowing the nitty gritty details of your policies, it’s hard to comment precisely.

    Anyone else have any thoughts for Omar?

  6. For private teaching in schools, I find that charging on a half-termly basis works out best.
    It means that there is only 6 weeks commitment at a time rather than 12 of a term but seems to fit in better for school teaching than monthly billing. I deliver an invoice to my students on the first lesson of the half term and the majority bring a cheque in an envelope or post one to my home address the following week. In my studio policy, http://williamhay.co.uk/faq.pdf I state that payment is due within 14 days and so far I haven’t had any problems with any transactions. The monthly/half-termly commitment level of commitment seems to work well too.

    A colleague I know who uses teaching contracts has actually taken a parent to the small claims court and won!

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