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It's [beginning strikethrough]none of[end strikethrough] all your business: make-up policies--magic or misery.

During the coming year, AMT will present "The Best of Beth"--three of her best columns. The first of these columns is presented here.--AMT

Have you ever felt run down? Overworked? Taken for granted? The antidote to all the above is to eat right, get plenty of sleep and develop a firm make-up policy. For a healthy studio we each must decide on an acceptable make-up policy and then abide by that policy at all times.

Why do we need a make-up policy? Why not just decide each case on an individual basis when a student misses a lesson? The answer is because 1) your generosity will be taken for granted, 2) parents will not know what to expect, 3) you will not know what to expect, 4) the absence of a policy could impact your income and 5) you will grow to resent that-little-rascal Susie-for-missing-her-music-lesson-again-this-week-and-while- we-are-on-the-subject-why-aren't-her-parents-taking-music-as- seriously-as-soccer-any-way?

Discussing the above items briefly, I am sure we all have had the experience of someone taking advantage of our generosity. Parents don't mean to drive us to the brink. They just don't know what an inconvenience make-up lessons can be. We need to let them know that unlimited make-up lessons are unacceptable, and we need to be clear about what to expect when a lesson is missed.

Parents actually appreciate clear policies. If we are up-front about all studio policies regarding payments, rates, make-ups and so on, parents can decide whether or not they wish to have their child study with us. Once a family chooses us, they also are choosing to accept our policies, including the make-up policy. If they do not like our make-up policy, they can exercise their freedom of choice by deciding to go to another studio. They do not, however, have the right to choose to study with us but not accept our studio policies.

Just like the parents, we also need to know what to expect. We need to know students take lessons seriously and that they understand we expect them to be present at each week's lesson. When a teacher is not clear about such expectations, the parents may even think they do not need to pay for missed lessons. This would adversely affect the teacher's income, something that few of us can afford and none of us should accept.

We also do not want to grow to resent little Susie and her parents for being inconsistent and inconsiderate. Over time, there is a strong possibility that such resentments would surface. This would negatively affect the lessons, even to the point where we might consider dropping Susie and replacing her with a more reliable and interested student.

Once we understand the necessity of including a make-up policy in our written policy sheet, the next step is to decide on the specifics. I believe we all should develop the absolute firmest policy possible. If, however, we develop a no-nonsense policy, but constantly make exceptions, we basically negate our own policy. The poilicy should therefore be only as firm as we are willing to enforce.

Teachers have developed a variety of ways to approach make-up lessons. The least efficient is to offer make-up lessons for any and all reasons, as long as notice is given in advance. This may seem efficient, but the possibilities for missed lessons are endless. For example, it is understandable that a student would want to attend grandmother's 80th birthday party, but it also is impossible to accommodate all such choices.

A better option than providing make-ups for all conflicts would be to ask interested parents to sign an agreement to be on a swap list. All students choosing to be on the list would have their names, lesson times and phone numbers distributed to other students on the list. When a student has a conflict such as grandmother's birthday party, she calls others on the list to swap that week's lesson rather than miss either the party or the lesson. She then notifies the teacher of the swap in advance so everyone is clear about who will be attending the lesson. If she cannot arrange a swap, or chooses not to even be on the swap list, she must understand that the teacher is not responsible for her choosing the party instead of the lesson and that she will not receive a make-up or a refund.

The options for limiting make-up lessons are plentiful. Some examples are:

* illness with twenty-four hours advance notice

* extreme weather conditions

* emergencies

* school conflicts

* unavoidable conflicts

* family trips

* any reason, with a limit of three per year

All of these may seem like good approaches to make-ups, but I would suggest limiting the options given and using a swap list for most conflicts. Offering three make-ups, for example, may sound manageable. A busy teacher of thirty students who allows three make-ups per student, however, is agreeing to ninety make-ups a year? Allowing make-ups for unavoidable conflicts also may sound reasonable, but it is amazing what will become an "unavoidable conflict." That is just too vague. It is good to remember if a student chooses some activity over lessons, it is their choice, and we are not obligated to cover for them.

If a teacher is obligated to give a number of make-up lessons, there are creative options available. Rather than offer individual make-up lessons if a large storm has caused three days of missed lessons, we can offer a longer group make-up class (performance, music history, music theory, music videos, ensemble and so on). Some teachers save one Saturday a month for make-ups, and all lessons for the month may be made up only on that day.

The wording we use in our policy also can make a great deal of difference. "Payment is to be made for lessons not attended and no make-up lessons are offered" is direct and clearly understood. "Make-ups will be given for illness, bad weather, emergencies and conflicting school activities of out-of-town trips ONLY. Except in cases of last-minute emergencies or other unexpected conflicts, twenty-four hours notice must be given" is not well worded. The teacher sounds like she is trying to be firm, but in actuality, this is a non-policy where every possible scenario is eligible for a make-up lesson.

One sentence I would avoid is, "Make-ups are given at the teacher's discretion." This sentence is used to keep the teacher in control of what could be an uncontrollable situation. The difficulty with it is that the parents do not know what to expect and every time there is a conflict will need to ask, "Will we be getting a make-up lesson?" The teacher can feel uncomfortable about continually evaluating each reason for a missed lesson, and they can disagree on which reasons are acceptable.

For a make-up policy to be effective, I believe it must be presented in writing in an annual studio policy sheet. I give my parents two copies, one for their files and one to sign and return. This way the parents are sure to see the policy, and have also signed a copy and stated they have read and agreed to all of my policies. If they should later object to not receiving a make-up lesson, I can remind them they have signed the policy sheet and agreed to my make-up policy. If my policy should drastically change, from one year to the next, I also send the parents a separate letter highlighting the new policy so I am sure everyone is aware of the change.

I have found that when parents are given a firm policy, they are more likely to respect my time. I would like to dose with a wonderful example of this from my early years of teaching. At the time, I was offering make-ups for every possible reason. One week, I had eleven students in a row miss their lessons. They each called at their lesson time, or after, and asked for a make-up lesson. By the eleventh caller I was hyperventilating. I decided I needed to take action. I wrote a letter saying I would no longer give make-ups because "Mom's not back yet," "I haven't practiced this week," "The car isn't working" and so on.

Two weeks after mailing the letter I received a call from a mother requesting make-ups for her three family members because their car was broken. I answered that I was sorry they would miss their lessons, but as stated in my new policy I would not be making up the lessons. She called back in five minutes and said they would all make the lessons because she had borrowed the neighbor's car. This taught me a lot about "unavoidable conflicts."

The presence or absence of a workable plan for make-up lessons impacts our professionalism and our peace of mind. Parents, students and teachers all benefit from clear policies concerning make-up lessons. In the long run, we will save ourselves hours of frustration and wasted time by planning and implementing a fair, effective and enforceable make-up policy.

Beth Gigante Klingenstein, NCTM, is nationally known for her presentations and writings on professional issues affecting the independent music teacher. Klingenstein taught as an independent teacher for 28 years before accepting a position at Valley City State University where she also is the founding director of the VCSU Community School of the Arts.
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Title Annotation:Professional Resources
Author:Klingenstein, Beth Gigante
Publication:American Music Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2006
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