There are two people who must attend every piano lesson: the student and the teacher.
Step one for having a professional piano studio is having a well-defined attendance policy — your own — and letting your clients and potential clients know how you manage your time.
It’s like ‘do as I do’ for you to explain your policies on punctuality, holidays, teacher misses and storm days. When your students and their parents see how committed you are to being there for them, it will sound reasonable when you explain the commitment you’re asking of them (the topic of Part II, Piano Student attendance policies that avoid teacher burnout).
Piano lessons can be expensive for young families. When they sign up, they are making a long-term financial commitment. If your first policies on attendance reassure them that you will be there, they will feel confident that with you they will get value for their investment.
Are you a Well-Tuned Piano Teacher (TM)?
Are you a well-tuned piano teacher? There are several layers to this distinction. Well-tuned piano teachers have:
- a deep love of music, and knowledge of repertoire (piano and otherwise), music notation, piano technique and artistry, and the desire to keep learning,
- people skills that are constantly evolving to meet the needs of clients and students, and
- a keen business sense
Today let’s focus on business: developing a personal attendance policy that enables you to deliver the most professional piano lesson experience possible. In the article below, I quote the exact wording I have in my DIY Piano Handbook. (Click here to learn how to print yours).
Put your policies into writing
The printed word has more authority. A leaflet can be effective, issued at the beginning of your teaching year to new and returning students. That’s how I started before I progressed to printing my policies in the first half of my two-sided DIY Piano Handbook/Playbook.
Here are some thoughts on what you might want to include in your policies:
Address the matter of starting each lesson on time. Because your clients are paying you based on time, you’ll want a reputation as a punctual teacher. State from the beginning that you want your students to arrive early so their lessons can begin on time. Here’s how I word it:
Be early! Students should arrive at least five minutes early. Time cannot be made up for tardiness. “If you are not early, you are late.” Consider this: a student who is five minutes late on a weekly basis can lose well over two-and-a-half hours of lesson time in the year.
I also address punctuality for group lessons:
Group Lessons Occasionally lessons are arranged for a group of students to learn theory, history, play music games and perform for one another. Please be punctual, as it is very difficult to get the lesson on track with tardy students trickling in.
This simply highlights that being on time makes things run smoothly for everyone.
Some families are chronically late. While I can’t change that, at least I’ve set up the expectation that all of my lessons begin on time (I am ready in the studio), and end on time, regardless of when they start. In my studio I have a digital clock on my piano and wrap up my lessons — cheerfully — precisely on time.
What if the teacher is late?
If I’m unable to begin a lesson at the exact start time, I give the student their full time. I might start a timer on my phone. Then, every following lesson will also begin three minutes late (or the number of minutes I was late) and every student gets their full time. This is very rare. I prefer to run my schedule on time, as this encourages my students to always be punctual.
Extra time worth it?
Is it a kindness to students to give them a little extra time? That’s up to you. In my experience, the most professional teachers have the ability to begin and end at the agreed-upon times, so that the following lesson may also begin and end on time.
I secretly suspect that teachers who give extra time just to be nice will come to regret it. You’ll see it as “niceness” credit and hope that your clients in turn will be nice back to you. If they aren’t, you’ll be hurt that you’ve given them so much yet they’ve not returned in kind.
You’ll risk your clients expecting more time even though you’re not paid for it, so if you ever do end on time, they’ll count it as less than they’re used to receiving. Giving more than you’re paid for is a precedent you should hesitate to set. It is far more professional to kindly say, “That’s it for this week! See you next time!” at the agreed-upon end of the lesson time. I secretly suspect your students will respect your time (and you) more.
2. Holiday Misses
Before the lesson year begins, you’ll want to decide when you can and can’t teach. If your country has a holiday, you’ll need to explain to parents how you will handle the miss.
Monday lessons. Several countries have more holidays on Mondays than any other day of the week. There are several ways around this:
- Give Monday students fewer lessons and charge less. It could be a type of financial break for specially-selected families.
- Give Monday students longer lessons each week. They’ll get fewer, longer lessons and pay the same. For example, 45 instead of 30-minute lessons, or hour instead of 45-minute lessons. You’ll have to work out the minutes and math to make sure it evens out.
- Take Mondays off as your chance to get other things done.
Halloween. Technically, Halloween isn’t a holiday, but it is a very special day for many children. There are several ways around it. Choose what is right for yourself and your students.
- Scheduling a day off (with a make-up or not charging) is a compassionate approach that your families may appreciate. I used to teach on Halloween but after I had my own children, realized how fleeting childhood is and that families need the time to dress up and visit grandparents and neighbours.
- If you don’t celebrate Halloween and want to teach, maybe you could offer lessons and make-up lessons to students who don’t celebrate it, either. This would put your teaching schedule ahead in a different way. Offer future make-ups to the regularly-scheduled students who choose not to come.
Whatever you choose to do for holidays, put it into writing so families know. Here’s how I word it in my current policy:
Monday Lessons and Holidays Halloween and Remembrance Day are usually observed with lessons made up later in the year. There are many Monday holidays throughout the year. No Monday lessons this year.
I address each holiday twice. First, in my written policy, which is distributed at the beginning of the year. Then, in the week leading up to to the holiday, I’ll send off a courtesy follow-up email explaining it once again.
3. Teacher Absences
Explain to parents and students how you plan to handle personal misses. Remember, most families run on a tight budget and parents work hard to afford piano lessons. They want to be reassured that they’ll get what they’re paying for.
- Explain how you will notify them when you are unable to teach because of illness or an unexpected circumstance.
- Explain your plan for making up the missed time.
Here’s how I word it in my policy:
Teacher absence/illness All days cancelled by the teacher will be made up in full. To cancel, I will contact families in one of the following ways: an email, a phone call, and a notice on my door.
When I’m not well, Step 1 is to email my day’s students in a group email saying I’m cancelling lessons and asking them to RSVP that they’ve received my message. If I don’t receive a response from a family, I’ll do Step 2, call that family. If I’m still unable to reach them, Step 3 is to put a notice on my door that lessons are cancelled due to illness (I do Step 3 anyway, just in case).
Remember that Step 3, the note on my door, is only a last-attempt/failsafe to prevent a child awkwardly walking into my house and finding me sick in my pyjamas. All of my studio parents already know that they should wait to see if their child is safe inside. If the child sees the note, they’ll have time to safely return to their parent.
When the teacher misses, it should be understood that you will make up the missed time.
4. Inclement Weather
When Mother Nature shows her wild side, what is your plan? Where I live, winter storms are an occasional reason to cancel lessons.
However, I’ve learned over the years that it makes sense to let families decide whether or not they will attend during a storm. Some of my students walk. Others have vehicles that can handle the weather. Some days it’s stormy in the mornings, but totally clear by lesson time in the afternoons. If possible, I’ll teach as many students as I can on storm days, so I’ve kept my policy wide open:
Storm days Lessons are still a go, even if school is cancelled. Parents travelling from a distance will decide whether it is safe to attend.
Every time school is cancelled on one of my teaching days, I will email the day’s clients and remind them that lessons are still ‘on’ and ask them to let me know their plan. I also remind them that if it is not safe, that I will make up any lesson missed due to inclement weather.
Video chat lessons are also a viable option should students be unable to travel. It is definitely a choice I’m going to look into more.
More in Part II
This article has addressed the first matter of attendance — the teacher’s — and ways of reassuring your clients that you intend to give them what they’re paying for. In Part II of this Fine-Tuned Piano Teacher (TM) series on Attendance Policies, I will address the other half of the equation, your students:
- Student misses
- Fill-in lessons
- Participation in a switch list
- Make-up lessons
Have you seen Rock the Boat?
Rock the Boat, a brand new book of Early Elementary piano works with note and rote options. Each piece has a teacher duet!
- Click here to see the Rock the Boat book launch
- Click here to view Rock the Boat and listen to sound samples
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