Make-up Lessons and Extended Vacations

Inevitably you will face a make-up situation involving making up a month's worth of lessons (perhaps more than a month). Particularly in the summer, families travel out of state or out of the country on extended visits/trips.

This creates a sizeable make-up challenge for you.

And there will be a problem many times. A parent will want to "cancel" lessons (don't take the lesson and don't pay tuition) during this time, and this is certainly an option for you if you want to take it.

If you don't want to set back the student's progress and/or you'd rather have the income, you'll have to let the parents know that you "offer make-ups, not cancellations." Note that you "offer" (a choice for the parent to take or not), rather than "I don't do cancellations."

On the heels of that statement - - that is, you are forestalling the parent's ability to say anything other than "Oh" in response to your statement - - you state, "Let's see about getting some of those scheduled now. It's better for the child if we do make-ups before you leave, but I am flexible if you want do to some before and some after."

Notice that you are "flexible" and offer the parent the choice. Not the choice of entirely after the trip (when it's very difficult to schedule the makeup because the missed lessons are out of mind, but you offer before and after. You add, "Whichever you prefer." You also are noting that it's more productive for the student.

Perchance the parent will repeat that he/she wants to cancel. "I do make-ups only. My studio policy states that when the studio is open, lessons are given and tuition is due. I know you don't want to pay me and get nothing, and I want very much for ___ to have the lessons. So, we need to do the make-ups."

You address the concern about money, which is the root of the desire to cancel.

State that you will mail/e-mail/whatever a copy of your policies.

Yes, this can be a disconcerting conversation for you, however, you'll have to back your ears and have it.

If not, not only will the student regress and you will not have the income, but you will teach this family that your studio policy has no teeth. That even you don't believe it!

The result is they decide they can pay whenever it's convenient to them, arrive late, arrive early without asking if the child may read quietly in your waiting area while the parents take the other child for an allergy shot, and so on.

Who's running your studio now?

The good news: once you "win this battle" with this family, the next time it crops up, there will be no trouble at all.

How to "Sell" Your Make-up Policy for Extended Trips

As noted, you probably will have to "sell" the parent on the plank of your policy that says make-ups or forfeits only.

People buy benefits. They are buying the ability of this thing to bring them pleasure or to help them avoid pain. They are attracted to what a product or service can do for them. They want a problem solved or they want to receive something of value, even if it's an intangible. They want to know how what you do is going to benefit them. More on what people really buy in this file.

That's why you couch your statement of the features of your program - - in this case, the features of your make-up policy - - as a benefit to them. In this article, I've covered several. (1) The parents may choose to make up before and after their trip. Or before their trip. (2) You want the student to have the lesson. You care about the child's progress and don't want him to lose any more ground than possible. (3) You want to make sure they get what they pay for.

Planning for Extended Trips

To minimize disruption, be proactive.

In the fall and again in January and April, put a paragraph in your studio memo, asking that families who will be gone for an extended period notify you as soon as possible - - "Let me know as soon as you have your travel plans in place so we can start looking for make-ups times. It is easier to find times before your trip than after it."

Knowing in advance about extended trips makes it easier on everyone, particularly you - - the one with the schedule! - - if the make-ups can be spread over several months, rather than jammed up in one small window. Note how you tossed in that idea, too, in your memo statement.

What are the benefits to the parent of doing it your way?

Taking make-ups in advance of the trip helps the parents plan, relieves them of "another task" - - all the make-up lessons - - waiting their return, when everyone is tired, grumpy, and probably over-excited. Pre-trip make-ups also allows them more time and removes stress for last-minute preparations. (Another benefit for them!)

Extra lessons might be particularly helpful before recitals (links to many files from my pedagogy page), exams, or competitions, so be sure to point this out. "The Rockyshore Baroque Festival will be in May, and I think it would be very good to have some of those extra lessons before that." Point out that this feature of your make-up policy has a benefit for the student in this particular case, a tenet of good advertising.

Luckily, most long trips occur during the summer, which means make-ups are easier to schedule. "Thank goodness school is already out. We'll be able to make-ups easily."

How to Do Such Make-ups

There are several ways to do make-ups, but the more efficient ones for this situation are two lessons in one week and extended lessons.

For a wee one, it is almost always better to take two lessons in one week rather than double-up and do an hour. I suggest that you do the twice weekly rescheduling every other week. A young child should not be expected to have heightened focus for successive weeks. Say to the parents, "If you don't mind, I'd like to double up only every other week. Will this be ok?" Notice you are expressing a concern for the quality of the child's learning, spreading out the second trip in one week, and asking if making things better for the child and easier for the parent are acceptable. Again, the parent is getting a benefit (so is the student) from your policy feature that says "make-ups only."

Children as young as six usually can make it through an hour lesson without fatigue, especially if you play a learning game at the end of the lesson. Again, space these out every two or three weeks. Same discussion just above with the parent.

Those with hour lessons can take one-and-a-half-hour lessons, but no more often than every other week. Once a month is a much better spacing, in my opinion.

copyright 2008, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me for reprint permission.

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