Recently, I joined Music Teacher’s Helper.  That’s a website designed to make the business aspects of the Music Teacher’s life easier.  I’m not sure that I’ll sign up for the full service.   While the general idea and layout are very well-designed, uncluttered, there are a few things I don’t like, such as the fact that it’s a “fill in all the blanks” kind of thing:  I can’t leave any blanks – blank.  I would like to have a choice whether to fill in – or not – the composer of a student’s piece, or the student’s tuition, etc.  It won’t allow me to save the page until I have filled in all the blanks, which I find unnecessary and time-consuming.

They also have a standard format for dates, but they don’t tell you until you have filled in all the blanks and try to save the page; then they say that the way you input the date didn’t conform, so you have to go back and redo it, which to me is a waste of time which goes against their claim that their website will save me time.

As part of the package, they are sending me informative emails.  How-to’s.  And their ideas on how to deal with potential problems.  Much of it seems geared toward the new and inexperienced teacher, the teacher who has to be convinced of the importance and usefulness of a studio website, the teacher who doesn’t have a lesson cancellation policy, the teacher who struggles with parents who don’t pay, etc.

I don’t know how to say this without sounding arrogant:  I already have a professionally designed website, and many – all – of the potential problems that are listed in those emails are simply not an issue for me.

Last summer, when I told colleagues and friends that I was going to travel to students’ homes to teach, one colleague in particular warned me, “I did that for a while. It was a nightmare!  You get there, they aren’t home, you waste your time, they don’t pay …”   I have been teaching in students’ homes now since last October and have yet to arrive at a home where the student wasn’t there.  Not only are they home, they are ready and prepared to start the lesson on time.  When I taught in my studio in Manhattan, it would occasionally happen that a student didn’t show up – rarely, actually – but they always called soon after and had a satisfactory explanation.  And when, very rarely, a parent would explain, “I just completely forgot!” I would smile and remember that I, too, forget things once in a while. 

I am perhaps different from other teachers in the way I handle missed lessons:  as a mother, I understand that children don’t give you 24 hours notice that they are going to be sick the next day and won’t be able to attend their lesson, so, in my opinion, requiring 24 hour notice (- or else!) is – just not reasonable.  In my studio, the parents respectfully call as soon as they know that they can’t be there for the lesson. 

Such an attitude goes both ways:  there have been times when I called parents, students, and asked if we could reschedule the lesson.  I do get migraines, completely irregularly, unpredictably, randomly, sometimes two in a week and then nothing for two months, and the only thing that helps is to take my meds and crawl into bed and try to sleep it off.  Over the winter, I was struggling with fatigue and minor depression (what an insulting name for something that over the long run can be just as debilitating as “real” depression), and there were times when I called and asked to reschedule a lesson.  I wasn’t sick, but I was in no shape to be teaching young children.  24 hour notice?  Hardly.

I understand that things come up, short notice, and I always make an effort to reschedule the lesson.  For other teachers, such a policy might spell disaster, but I have to say that for the last ten, fifteen years, no parent in my studio has ever abused that privilege.  I know that a lot of teachers will, out of principle, not reschedule lessons that are missed because of birthday parties, etc.  I understand that it can create a lot of work for the teacher to have to reschedule these lessons.  But – attending that once-a-year birthday party is probably more important to the student than attending a weekly piano lesson, so if it can be done at all, I will reschedule the lesson.   

If you give them an inch, they won’t take it.  My piano parents occasionally call and apologize for the inconvenience and ask if a lesson can be moved.  They also understand, and accept, that if the lesson can not be moved, they are simply losing it.  There were a few lessons last year where an unusually busy student just couldn’t find the time for the lessons, nor any make-up times I suggested, but the parents kept paying the tuition, and once in a while, she was able to have a lesson.

Tuition.  Apparently, there are parents who don’t pay.  Or don’t pay on time.  Or try to argue about the amount.  I think this is a matter of communication:  I assume that when parents don’t pay, on time, it is not out of malice or because they don’t value my work, I assume it is simply because they forgot about it.  Paying the monthly tuition is not exactly the only thing they have on their plate.  So.  In Manhattan, I used to send email reminders, and a surprising number of parents thanked me for that.  Here in Olathe, Overland Park, Spring Hill, if I need to remind a parent, I get an embarrassed, “whoops!  I completely forgot!” and then they write the check right there and then.  For parents who want to argue about the amount – I make sure they understand that the monthly tuition does not necessarily reflect the number of lessons in any particular month, but that it is an average, based on the tuition for the semester.  If a parent ever were to argue with me – attempt to argue – about how much I charge, I know that that parent would have no place in my studio. 

It is my choice whom I teach.  I accept students not on merit of “talent” but based on their desire to learn and based on parental support – and that includes their willingness to accept and pay the tuition. 

Bilanz means balance sheet, Bilanz ziehen means to take stock.  Taking stock, I would have to say that life is good, teaching is good, and I think I have one of the most wonderful jobs in the world.