The Dotted Line

Over the years, I've had a lot of trouble with students and parents who don't seem to understand that learning to play the piano takes work.  You have to drive to the teacher's house.  (One of the worst mistakes I ever made was trying to transition from going to students' houses: most of them quit right off the bat, a few hung around and complained about the driving time and then quit, and only two actually stuck with me, uncomplaining, to the present.)  You have to practice.  And in Suzuki, you have to listen to the recording regularly if you want to reap the benefits of an ear-training method.

Rob has owned his own business, a small architectural practice, for longer than I have owned mine.  So when he offers advice, I try to forget that he's my husband (you know, the one who's always wrong) and listen.  By far, the best advice he's ever given me is that if I want to hold someone to a verbal agreement, I need to put it in writing.

My SAT students are all short-term, so I operate with a service agreement there, and no one has a problem with it; in fact, most are impressed that I took the time to write up a contract, and it's cleared up many disputes about payment and appointment times.

My piano students, however, seemed to always have the same administrative problems.  They wanted to reschedule for illness or other plans; I don't offer makeup lessons.  With enough advance notice, I can credit them for the following summer, but changing lesson times really messes me up, and I've found they cancel far less often with this policy.)  They forgot to pay me on time or paid the wrong amount;  after years of trying to remember everyone's balance, I finally went to a simple system of paying for 4 weeks each month, regardless of the number of calendar weeks.  (Since there are 9 months and 36 weeks in the year, it evens out.)  They didn't practice or listen enough, and they wondered why they weren't improving faster.

Last year I had the idea to put together a contract for each parent to sign.  It consisted of seven or eight simple bullet-points of information, things people were always forgetting.  But something still wasn't right.  Why should all the responsibility for the lessons rest on the parents?  God knows they have enough to do!

This year, my contract is three columns: one for the parent, one for the teacher, and one for the student.  This corresponds closely to the idea of the Suzuki Triangle, which is a fundamental tenet of the method.  Each point on the contract relates to all three parties: for example, the parent promises to take notes at the lessons, the teacher promises to check them and to give clear instructions, and the student promises to work together with the parent at home to see that practicing happens the way it's supposed to.

We'll be discussing and signing the contracts next week.  I don't know whether it will make a difference, but then, I never do.  The thing is to try.