Problems Associated with Summer Piano Study
and Ideas for Summer Activities

The Problems With Summer Study

Any teacher who has scheduled a studio vacation will have had direct experience with the following problems.

(1) The first problem, and most important, is that the student loses ground. A summer without lessons means a summer without practice because most students will not continue to practice if they have no "call to accounting," which, in one sense, is what the lesson is. Without practice, not only does the student fail to maintain his skills, but the skills degenerate. Come fall, the student is behind where he was when summer vacation started!

Naturally, the student will be astounded. And frustrated.

Now, in September, he cannot do what he was able to do in June!

(2) The child's having forgotten quite a bit and feeling frustrated and unhappy into the bargain is no picnic for the teacher! The teacher must convince the student that not to despair and that lost ground may be regained.

Then the teacher must cast "remedial" activities into a palatable format. The same concepts and skills may need to be taught in a different manner. This is, of course, extra work.

After the blueprint is forged, the teacher must follow up and encourage the student so that lost ground may be regained as quickly as possible.

(3) For the teacher, a summer without lessons means no income. If you are teaching for extra income used completely on discretionary items, loss of income in exchange for a summer vacation may be a no-brainer.

If, however, you support yourself/your family with your teaching income or it forms a significant portion of the family earnings, having zero summer tuition probably would be devastating. A teacher in this position must ask himself whether having a vacation outweighs having no income.

Or whether enough money can be saved during the teaching year to allow a vacation without pay.

For many teachers, it's quite challenging to save a month's basis living expenses -on top of- setting aside money each month to pay quarterly estimated taxes and put money in a Keogh (or SEP-IRA) retirement account. (You might raise your fee to help offset loss of summer tuition.)

Exception: Some teachers use what is called "levelized billing." In this tuition system, all months are charged at the same fee, whether there are four lessons in the month, five, or two (as for December vacation). The cost of x lessons per year is divided by the number of months of the studio year to arrive at the monthly payment.

All well and good, but what about taking a summer vacation? Two options: do without income; or have payment continue during vacation because monthly tuition was calculated on 12 months rather than 10 or 11. (Most teachers teach 48 weeks a year, after vacations are subtracted: 2 weeks in December, 1 week for Spring Break. Some teach 44 weeks, which includes the above vacations plus 4 weeks for summer vacation.)

Back to the 12 payments per year. If this is your policy, enforce it. Only those parents who agree with it (or agree that you're such a great teacher than they will go along with your policy even though they don't like it) will have students in your studio.

You may be thinking, I don't think that idea will fly in my community.

In this case, if you use levelized billing, build in the cost of those vacation weeks into the annual fee (that is, figure 52 lessons a year).

As to building in vacation pay in the school-year-tuition payments, this is the same as raising your fee! Why not just do that?! It's much more straightforward! Parents will not be aggravated at paying for summer lessons that they "are not getting," even though you've explained carefully that tuition is reduced for the entire school year because of your billing for the vacation month.

Levelized billing adds an extra level of complexity (as well as some parental grumbling) to the billing process, thus I generally do not advocate levelized billing. If it works for you, keep it. If you're a new teacher, use per-lesson billing. If you are moving to a new community, consider a change to per-lesson billing.

You will find other discussion of the business aspects of summer study in the question-and-answer file of my business of teaching section.

Some Ideas for Summer Study

(1) Some teachers hold special "piano camps" during the summer. These offer a change of pace from the normal school-year lessons, introduces group lessons/activities for students who normally have private lessons only during the school year, and gets the teacher's gray cells active again as she comes up with new ideas for her special summer session.

One teacher I heard of said that she doubles lesson length during her summer camp. Thus, each student receives double his normal time, and she receives double her normal tuition. If this is done in July, say, then both students and teacher have August off. And the teacher receives full tuition for both months. The doubled time can be in the form of (1) doubled private lesson time (which will double the teacher's hourly teaching load for the month); (2) group or partner lessons for the other portion of the time; (3) only group lessons. This solution protects the teacher's income, and the gains made and setbacks avoided have a better likelihood of "sticking" because of the concentrated time cements the learning more firmly.

(2) Other teachers compress their teaching week into fewer days during summer study, thus giving them "days off" with no lessons. The number of hours at the bench does not change, but entire days are carved out, which is important if the teacher has children at home and would like to plan special activities with them or other family members.

If you plan to do this, I suggest that you use Monday and Friday as your "days off" so that long weekends are preserved for everyone. Even families who do not set sail for the South Pacific for a month want to take long weekends. By avoiding lessons on Monday and Friday, you circumvent a number of reschedules headaches.

copyright 2001, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me about reprint permission.

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