A few weeks ago, in preparation for my first national conference presentation, I traveled to Butler University in Indianapolis to give a trial run of my session to their MTNA Collegiate Chapter.
Local teachers were invited and several attended. It went really well and at the end, as usual, I offered time for questions. Although the session was 100% about marketing, the questions that emerged had nothing to do with marketing but with studio policies.
How do I handle students who quit out of the blue?
Do I make families sign a contract?
How do I word my policy and enforce it?
I was happy to answer the questions of course, but they took me by surprise at first since I had just gotten done talking about marketing for 60 minutes.
Later that afternoon it dawned on me that it really wasn’t surprising at all. Why? Studio policy will forever be an issue with independent teachers and when we talk to someone or see someone who has been successful, we want to pick their brains on the toughest issues we face.
That is why I am opening my dirty laundry wide open today and sharing with you a complete email exchanged that happened recently with a studio family.
Rather than giving you a general idea of what to say in this sort of situation, I hope sharing the word-for-word exchange will help you see one example of how to handle the email we never like seeing.
Luckily the exchange was not outrageous or nasty. Overall it was quite cordial and well-handled in my opinion. This is just a little dose of reality.
More than anything, I want this blog to be real. I don’t want to just show you the perfect sides of my job, but the hard parts as well.
It was my first day back teaching after having a week off to attend a conference and this email hit my inbox around 10 am.
With regret I must inform you that “X” will no longer be taking piano lessons. We had a long discussion yesterday and we have mutually decided this is the best thing.
I checked with her to make sure she did not have any of your books and she checked and does not. She did mention that you have held onto a couple of hers so she didn’t have to carry them around. I will stop by and pick those up today during her regular lesson time.
Thank you for teaching “X” how to play the piano and I wish she would have wanted to stick with it.
This is a student who had taken lessons for a couple of years, decided to give it up, then returned 5 months later after missing it. Although playing has never come naturally to her, she is a joy to teach. She really seemed to enjoy lessons (we laugh a lot – especially prior to her tween years), and she has a beautiful personality with a contagious smile. She had been practicing like crazy this past year as well. I had no clue it was coming this time around.
My reply (that, of course, I re-wrote like five times):
Hey there “mom”,
I have to say I’m definitely shocked and disappointed.
I know I had mentioned to you at Christmas that although she seemed to be practicing a lot (she even did the 100-day practice challenge!) and her practice sheets reflected regular, consistent practice, playing still seemed to be a bit of a struggle for her. From our discussion at that time though, it sounded like she was still all-in and loving piano. (I do realize that with kids a lot can change in a matter of months!)
However, if you remember, my studio policy that was signed at the beginning of the year does state that a one-month notice needs to be given. With it being the last two months of the school year I can’t start a new student today. I’m not sure the reason for the decision but I would hope you would consider finishing out the school year or at least the month of April. If I had known there were concerns leading up to this, that would be one thing but this is completely out of the blue as I’m sure you realize. If I had known there were concerns, perhaps I could have made adjustments to her lessons in some way.
Anyway, this is hard on both ends, I know. I do have a few of her books and if you could return her binder I would appreciate that. I’ll look forward to hearing more from you this afternoon!
I would have let you know sooner if I had known. She is not very open with me like her older sister is, so I have a hard time knowing exactly how she feels about stuff until I find the magic way to “drag” it out of her. I do know one of the reasons is that she does not want to do the recital, it scares her. We have told her that it is ok to be scared, and that everyone is scared and nervous. We even compared it to her dance recitals. She said those are different because she can’t see the audience. As much as I want to make her finish, I just don’t think I can.
I do remember the policy and I know I can’t get her to finish out the year and I doubt that I can get her to do April. I will drop off the April payment when I pick up her books. I know this is not the way you would have wanted this to happen, and I sincerely apologize for that. If for some reason she would want to finish out April I will bring her today, if not then I will come with the April payment, the binder and pick up her books.
Thank you so much for the more detailed explanation, I appreciate it!
You’re right – she can be so quiet it’s hard to know what she’s thinking, she appeared so content! I’m glad to know you were somewhat surprised as well.
If the recital is that much of an issue, I will not force her to do it if she wanted to finish out this year’s lessons. I’ll leave that up to you, though. See you soon.
And the decision was…
Mom came by during the lesson time to drop off the monthly payment and exchange materials and the student was not with her, unfortunately. Mom was still unsure of the ultimate reason. It could have something to do with new friend influences at school but being that this was their second time around it will be the last.
The way I do lessons, an older high school student was on the computer doing a theory lab at that time without her headphones and overheard our exchange. She and the other girl always chatted during their shift from bench to bench. This girl commented on how surprised she was as she thought she was playing and doing well. Once again, I was glad to know I wasn’t the only one shocked!
Such is life and the life of the studio. I’m sure everyone has opinions on whether I approached or worded this the right or wrong way or whether the parent handled it the way they should have with their child, but there are a few simple things to remember as you make decisions in the future on how to handle your own individual situations:
- We are running a business so yes we need to do what we can to enforce our own policies and protect ourselves.
- However, every situation is different, so I also feel strongly that our policies are there to protect us, not to bind us.
- Our business is about people. We all get curveballs thrown at us from time to time – life happens. We’re all doing the best we can from moment to moment. Handle the situation with care, say a prayer (if that’s your thing) for the student and that it works out as meant to be, and move on.
I’m blessed to have known and gotten to work with this dear student and as I said, I will always remember her contagious smile.