Updated: Sep 12
Do you feel overwhelmed by your current make-up lesson policy and holiday lessons?
Parents and music teachers often have antithetical views about what is “fair” regarding make-up music lessons. For teachers, the lesson is their regular income and if the student can’t swap with another, the teacher loses their income for that lesson. Much as we all want to help our students, teachers who are “nice” and always offer make-up lessons, can end up exhausted, resentful, and often struggling to fit all the make-up lessons into their schedule. On the other hand, many parents feel if they have paid for a “lesson” and their child can’t go, then they are entitled to a make-up lesson or refund. A dilemma which has sparked many debates in social media posts!
After 39 years of teaching, I recently changed my studio policy for both holiday lessons and make-up lessons, so here are a few thoughts which you may like to consider for your own studio.
First, let’s look at holiday lessons. I’ve always offered holiday lessons, particularly in the long summer break, both to have a steady income as well as to ensure students don’t have too long away from playing their instrument. As families go away for holidays at different times, this has meant a reduced weekly load in holiday times, which works well if I want to have a few days off here and there.
During the pandemic lockdowns, I found nearly all families wanted holiday lessons (online), as parents searched for ways to keep the kids occupied at home. By the end of last year, I was feeling very over-worked and not enjoying teaching as much as I usually do.
This year, I announced to parents that I would no longer be able to offer holiday lessons, with the exception of part of the summer vacation (lessons available at the start and end of summer vacation, but I have a whole month off in the middle). There were a few disappointed families, but they all understood I needed some time off.
At Easter, I had my first real “holiday” between school terms – in Australia we have a 2 week break at Easter. It took me about 4 days to wind down, but then I really enjoyed having the free time and not having to worry about lesson preparation or teaching. After the Easter holiday, I came back to teaching feeling refreshed and looking forward to seeing my students again.
Why didn’t I do this before? How could it have taken me 39 years of teaching to figure this out? Probably because I’ve always put my students’ needs before my own, but I’ve realised that they benefit from me having a break too!
The economic aspect
To offset the reduced income from not offering year-round lessons, I also needed to reform my make-up lesson policy and payment schedule.
Previously I was quite flexible with payments, allowing parents to pay either per lesson or for a group of lessons. I was also very generous with make-up lessons if there was a valid reason for the student missing the lesson.
My new policy is to request payment per term/quarter. The important difference here is that I am charging a fee per TERM not per LESSON, so some terms may have 9 lessons, some may have 11 but overall, there will be approximately 10 lessons per term (in Australia we have 4 school terms of approximately equal length). This term fee (payable before the first lesson each term) guarantees the student a place in my studio schedule on a specific day/time for that term.
Make-up lesson policy
The next part of my new policy was to account for allowing no make-up lessons. I explained to parents that it is inevitable that lessons are missed, and when calculating the total term fee, I have allowed for missed lessons - whether by my students or by me. Therefore, if a student is absent, there is no make-up lesson. Similarly, I can miss up to one lesson per term for illness without crediting fees. Hence each term the number of lessons may vary. This encourages attendance as they want to get the best value for their term fee!
If you are changing to this type of policy it helps to remind the parents that they are paying to reserve a regular time in your schedule, not for a lesson as such, so if they don’t use that time, the lesson is forfeited.
So far, it’s working really well!
Again, why didn’t I start this earlier in my teaching career? It is so much easier only collecting fees once per term, and everyone paid on time! The no make-up lesson policy also means families are more committed to their music lessons and think more carefully before cancelling music to attend another activity.
There are still cancellations for illness, but now it isn’t a problem if it is last-minute notification, as I don’t need to fill their place - they have paid for the term. When a lesson is cancelled, I generally use the lesson time to make some more resources for that student. A situation which hasn’t arisen yet is if a student misses a number of lessons due to illness, which I will approach on an individual basis to ensure the student’s learning is not compromised.
Of course, there are many other options, and teachers need to find what works best for them and their students. A few options for make-up lessons are:
Let students find a swap – this works well if the teacher has an online booking system or can also be done via swap lists
Make-ups in summer holidays only
Group lesson offered once per term/quarter in place of individual make-ups
Student sends a video of their playing for their teacher to review
Limit of one make-up lesson per term/quarter
A final word
I realise that my new policy will not suit everyone as we all have different requirements according to the demographics of our area, the ages of our students, and whether our studio is full. I am fortunate to not need new students and often have more enquiries than places available. I am also very lucky to have lovely families who understood the need for the new policy and who fully support me. The important thing to remember is to communicate your policy clearly to your families; many teachers ask families to re-sign each year, saying they agree to the “terms and conditions”.
If you feel your current policy for make-up lessons and holiday lessons isn’t working for you, maybe it’s time to consider some changes?
Karen North has been teaching flute and class music for over 35 years. She is the author of the popular method series "The Young Flute Player" and has commissioned many new works for intermediate flute repertoire in "Lyrical Flute Legends" and "Inspiring Flute Solos." Karen has written a book "Fun & Games for Music Lessons", and is currently working with specialist consultants on repertoire books for Violin, Clarinet and Saxophone.