Lessons canceled without notice. Students not practicing. Parents disrupting lessons. Late payments. Any of this sound familiar?
If you’re having problems like these, it’s likely that you haven’t been setting crystal clear expectations with new students and their parents from the start. When you fail to set expectations, students and parents will come up with their own, and they probably won’t resemble yours at all. The solution: a written lesson policy that everyone agrees to before the first lesson. Before they ever have a lesson they know everything they need to know about how you will be running your house and how they will operate in your house. This is not their house, it’s yours – that means you set the rules.
Having a written lesson policy that’s agreed to before the first lesson also shows your own seriousness about the service you’re offering. You want the impression people get to be “wow, this teacher means business.” Our goal isn’t to intimidate but to set clear expectations and boundaries. Boundaries are good. Relationships thrive in clearly set boundaries, and teacher-to-student and teacher-to-parent relationships are not an exception. Any time something is out of order, you can simply reference the lesson policy that was agreed to.
There’s one last thing a great lesson policy does. It allows you to be yourself. When you set the fencing and gates around your house, you can safely be yourself, without any fear of confusion. When the expectations are crystal clear ahead of time, you don’t have to waste any time discussing them – everyone’s already in agreement. You can teach your lesson confidently, knowing that the groundwork has been set.
Let’s look at the ingredients to make a great lesson policy.
Clearly state how you want to be paid, how much you’ll be paid and when. Will you be paid at each lesson? Will you be paid at the beginning of the month for that month’s lessons? Is cash ok? A check? Online through something like Square Cash or Venmo?
This could be a bookkeeping nightmare if you’re not careful. You don’t want to be stuck remembering if people paid or not, so I recommend not using cash. I personally accept checks or payments through Square Cash. Nothing else.
How are you going to handle canceled lessons? What amount of notice do you require? Is there a penalty for canceled lessons that don’t fit into your window of time? How will you handle it if you have to cancel a lesson?
This can also be a nightmare. I suggest a monthly payment program where at the end of a given month lessons for the next month are scheduled and paid for. This lets you charge for canceled lessons. The result is excellent attendance when your policy is enforced. And if you don’t? Well, you might end up sitting in your office for a day’s worth of lessons and only have a couple show up because “Jimmy had homework.”
What should they bring?
What supplies are students responsible for bringing to every single lesson? How are you intending to keep track of everything students are doing? What happens if students don’t bring what they’re supposed to bring to a lesson?
I require students to have a spiral notebook and a pencil at every lesson. In my policy I have a part that says I reserve the right to end a lesson early if these materials aren’t brought. This results in having students that are prepared with their materials at every lesson.
What are your expectations for the student? What can they expect of you?
This is where you state the values that everyone will be sticking to in your arrangement. Is timeliness, a good attitude, and preparation important to you? State it here. You should also commit to doing the same things for them. This puts you on the line, but it should. We can’t walk around making demands without stepping up ourselves.
How much should a student practice?
Specificity and repetition here is key. How much are they expected to practice a day? 1 hour? 30 minutes? 15 minutes? Set a clear and measurable expectation. Then your job as a teacher is to only assign the amount of work that your student is capable of completing in that amount of time – no more, no less. If you assign too much, your student will be overwhelmed and you won’t be able to enforce your expectations. If you assign too little, you’ll train your student to not practice enough. If they got it done in a couple days, why should they practice all week?
My personal expectation is 30 minutes per day. So during lessons I’m making certain that by the time they leave I’ve given them 210 minutes worth of material to work on – no more, no less.
What are your expectations of parents?
When I first created my lesson policy I didn’t do this and I regretted it.
If the atmosphere you’re trying to create isn’t clearly understood by parents, they can derail it. I suggest inviting parents to be in the room during the lesson. It’s important that parents feel welcomed into their child’s education. I have some parents that hang out for some lessons, and leave for others. I have some parents that drop off their kid and never show up to their lessons. I have some parents that attend every single lesson and observe closely. I love all of them, and they’re welcome in the room at any time. If you don’t want parents in the room, something’s shady about the way you’re teaching and you need to fix it.
However, I have a line in my lesson policy that requires that parents be silent observers.
Some parents want to be a (loud and disruptive) cheerleader, some parents want to put pressure on their kid, some parents want to make suggestions and ask a lot of questions. All of this is well-meaning, but it interrupts the lesson flow. We can’t have it – or at least I can’t. So I require silence from parents. You’d be surprised to find out that I rarely have problems with this. This is what they’ve agreed to ahead of time.
Termination of Services
Under what circumstances will you stop teaching a student? They need to know walking into the first lesson that you’re under no obligation to have them as a student, and that you’re willing to stop if it means preserving the integrity of your studio. If you want to be a great teacher, you have to be willing to let some students go if they (or their parents) can’t follow the rules of your house.
A Palette Cleanser
You don’t want anyone to read your policy and have the impression that you’re overly intense. Explain that the purpose of the lesson policy is to set everyone up for success. Let them know you’re really excited to be teaching and that you and their child will be having a ton of fun making music!
Those set expectations before the first lesson are the solution to most of your problems. Just make sure that they’re agreed upon in a way you can reference. Either with a signature, a check box in a sign up form, or maybe some other method. If you can get all of these ingredients right in your lesson policy, I assure you that you’ll be in great shape.
My Lesson Policy
If you don’t mind me sending you an email once in awhile about how to teach and play music professionally, put your email in below and I’ll email you a PDF of my exact lesson policy that I give to all of my students before their first lesson.