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I started teaching guitar in classes only and then a private lesson practice started to grow from that. Now it is about half in private, half in classes. The private lessons were charged per lesson; but I began to have that problem of people canceling at the last minute and then I would not get paid. So, I instituted a monthly tuition with a contract and with the stipulations for how to re-schedule a canceled lesson.

However, there is a problem. About 8-9 times a year there is that extra lesson in the month, due to a longer month. My students meet with me every other week or (what is usually) twice a month. Sometimes it works out that it is 3 times a month. When they were paying per lesson, the parents didn't notice this -- as it was every other week. Now they are noticing it and it is becoming a very uncomfortable issue for me to ask that they pay for 3 lessons rather than 2 as it's a long month. Because lessons are one hour it "looks" like a LOT more money to them and some of them have made uncomfortable remarks to me.

How do the rest of you handle this situation?

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Replies to This Discussion

I'm not sure why this is happening so often. With 52 weeks in a year there should be 26 lessons. i.e. Two months with 3 lessons and ten months with 2 lessons. For some students, there would be 27 lessons in a year. e.g. In 2010 there are 53 Fridays and 52 Mondays to Thursdays. Therefore, half the Friday students would get 27 lessons.

You could take the view that having a monthly contract benefits you by giving you regular income and give the students the extra lessons for nothing if the calendar works out that way (but no guarantees). As a student, I suppose I might be happier signing up for a contract if there was some benefit to me.
I also do a monthly tuition but my lessons are all once a week. My policy is that there are four lessons in a month; that occasional extra lesson day is time off though I may use it as a reschedule day. I mainly do this to keep my bookkeeping and billing simple - a month is four lessons, period. For you i guess that would mean that a student might go three weeks without a lesson instead of two but at least you'd know for sure what your income for that month is and avoid the awkwardness of prompting for the third lesson payment.
I charge tuition by the year, 40 half-hour weekly or 20 one-hour bi-weekly, over a 40 week period, September to June. Every student gets a yearly schedule with their dates highlighted. Some months have 5 or 4 weeks (or less for December and March for school breaks) but over the ten months from September to June it works out to 40 weeks. (I book my summer session separately.) In other words, it averages out so that longer months are balanced by shorter months.

Nice round numbers like $680 per 40 week year (plus annual $25 registration fee). Tuition is for enrollment not attendance.

Peace, Mike.
When I first started, I wanted to avoid this kind of thing, so I planned to do what Deidre described. Personally, my schedule is so tight that I quickly realized that I could not do reschedules or make-up lessons. That's when I changed how I thought about it.

I no longer charge by the lesson for anything. I charge a monthly fee to be a student in my studio, like a membership fee of some sort. In exchange for the monthly fee, I will schedule sessions where I will teach the students the skills and knowledge they need to play the guitar and train them on the application and integration of those skills.

At this time, I am trying to get more students into the group program I offer (more benefits to the students, more students can benefit from the sessions), and so I am quietly discouraging the idea of private lessons (mostly by pricing them very high, as they represent a higher demand on my time and other resources). In the group program I'm running right now, there is a high degree of flexibility for scheduling. The students have more than one session each week to choose from, so they choose the one that fits their schedule best. Some prefer to only come once a week, and they will often use the extra sessions to "double up" the week before they go out of town or something like that, and they seem to really like it. Any week that a student is not able to make it to any sessions, or that I have to cancel sessions, I provide a lesson that is in what I call an "alternate format". Most often, this is written material that is geared specifically toward their goals and current progress level. Sometimes it is accompanied by an audio component, and sometimes a video component. The potential is for any combination of those items, and this way I can be sure that they are getting what I think they should be getting during the weeks that I am not seeing them face-to-face, and they aren't paying for "nothing".
There really is no easy answer to this and I encourage you to be strong, but polite with these parents who have made uncomfortable remarks. Unfortunately, some parents view the guitar instructor as an eccentric wannabe who never made it. These belittling "grumblers" feel that whatever an instructor charges is too much. Take heart though, not all parents are like this as I'm sure you already know. So don't let the grumbling, fault-finders bring you down Donna. You are an educator! Be proud of that!

What my instructor and I have done with our contracts is to state up front that for the months when there will be three lessons, three lessons will be paid for. We also give a calendar of payments that shows what months will have three lessons in them. For cancelations, I either make it up later in the month or credit it to my student towards the next month as long the cancelation is done at least 24 hours before the scheduled lesson, or they had a provable family emergency. My instructor, however, doesn't accept any cancellations that aren't scheduled a week in advance with him, unless you have a family emergency and prove it.

Another option that a friend of mine uses is still to charge per lesson, but he has the same cancelation policy that my instructor has. This all but stopped his students from canceling on him and he's had no complaints from any parents.

Be proud of what you do Donna. I hope some of this may have helped.

Best of luck to you,

Matthew J. Leptich
I teach many students on a weekly basis and I adopted a Monthly Tuition Policy several years ago. I love it. My policy states that I do not offer to reschedule lessons or offer credit to students for any reason other than if I am absent. I have not found a better way to earn a consistent living and manage my time. My students respect the fact that my time is valuable, they take their lessons more seriously and we are all a lot happier with the results.

Here's where my plan differs from yours: I give each student a payment card at the end of the month which asks for the tuition for the next month, and I adjust the tuition based on the number of weeks that I am teaching that month. It doesn't take me very long to fill out the reminder cards (with the month, dates, times and tuition for each student) and we all benefit.

My policy states that I do not reschedule missed lessons, and I am very clear about that up front. I am also clear that students should let me know when they will be on vacation, etc. so that I can try to reschedule them if something opens up. Most students (and parents) value the work that I do and they understand why I have that policy, and most other teachers I know have a similar policy.

Susan Palmer
Author of "The Guitar Lesson Companion."
Hi Everyone,

Thanks so much for your input. I've read through each one to try and match what works with my schedule and my needs. I really like Deirdre's and Mike's approach. I like the idea of having that extra time in the month to do make-up lessons or to just have a breather. I also have some students who are not returning because their schedule is extremely full with sports, but they have asked if they can "drop in" for a lesson every now and then. I could fill those times with students such as this.

I'm comfortable with doing make-up lessons if I can fit them in that month. I really like the monthly tuition because I can then count on knowing what is coming in. Summer is always tricky and I like what Mike does with regard to making the year September through June; and scheduling the students. Every other week would get tricky with parents remember which week their child is in. This way, having the 1st and 3rd or 2nd and 4th of the month should work smoothly.

In the summer, I'll go to a more flexible schedule with a pay-per-lesson plan as I used to do. This will make it easier for me as well, since I like to get some vacation time in too.

Matthew I appreciate your comments on dealing with the parents who make the comments. It is very hard for me when they do this. Having a straight forward contract and schedule is going to make it easy for me to be objective and as you said so well "strong and polite" about it. When I switched to monthly, one parent was very upset about it and did not want to do it. When I told her she didn't have to, but that I could not keep her son's time slot available for him (eg. he could come as a "drop in" when I have time), she changed her mind. I was very polite, but firm; and it went well. I think a monthly tuition is very reasonable as parents pay per month for just about everything else - gas, water, rent, etc.

Thanks again everyone!

Donna Z
The great thing about running your own business is you make the rules. But you still have to consider your clients (whoever pays for the lessons). If you are too flexible, you may get taken advantage of. However, if you are too tough and inflexible, they may seek more forgiving instructors. I think you have to find that fine line that works for both you and your students and allows you to stay in business. I believe this applies to any "service" business.

When I teach at home I charge by the lesson but require payment for the whole month on the first lesson of the month. I think this encourages students (and parents) to be consistent, since they have already paid. Plus it is easier for parents to pay only once a month. I just tell them some months are 4 lessons, some are 5. (Less if I need a week off, since I don't do makeups and don't charge if I take a week off.) It hasn't been a problem.

I don't do make-up lessons, mainly because I don't have much free time in my schedule, and makeups can quickly eat up all your free time. However, I'm not to sure I would feel comfortable saying "I can take time off whenever I like, but you can't without paying".

If a student has an emergency or illness I credit that lesson to the next month (this rarely happens. My students seem to like coming to lessons.) I also don't charge them for vacation weeks as long as I get advanced notice. If they say "We'll be gone on vacation the second week of next month" Then I don't charge for that week. But if they just want to take a day off to go to the beach, or for sports, etc, I don't give a credit (again this is rare, but since they already paid, they don't seem to mind so much when it occasionally happens.)

This has worked out fine for me. Losing a lesson or two income per student, per year, for vacations or illness is worth the cost to retain a consistent student, I think. I look at it as part of the cost of doing business. Maybe I've been lucky, but so far no one has abused this policy.

I guess you have to find your comfort zone and what works for you. Then stick to it.
Hello and glad to join this group and discussion;

We had an open forum regarding this issue at Local 279 here in London Ont.
As a result, they have designed a contract for teachers that covers this legally and protects those who need at LEAST a monthly commitment.
It is in it's final stages of development.
Does your local where you live have such a contract as a supplement to all the other services provided?
I keep my hand in weekly with a maximum of a half a dozen students, as I do clinics, and a dozen different kinds of live shows, but I certainly would like these logistics squared away someday.
gary mcgill
Welcome Gary! Good to see you here.

Peace, Mike.
So did yas add me as a pal in fretboard debauchery or what?
I've been really feelin' the acoustic vibe in the last year or so.
I'm thinking it has to do with the Blueridge.
I'm in pre-pro rehearsals for the 2nd CD in 20 years.
Weekly de-constructing what I know for students is, for me, one of the mentally healthiest things I do.
How bout yer own self?


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