I’m Nicole, a piano teacher, and I have been enjoying teaching as a profession for many years.
While the lovely bits of giving piano lessons far outweigh the headaches, there is one particular problem that plagues me now and then: Collecting timely payment from students’ parents. Most families have been fine, with the occasional few forgetting to pay. A handful have to be reminded several times as they habitually put off paying.
I am in a lousy mood right now, feeling terribly upset that my honesty was doubted and ethics questioned by a mother of two of my students.
I have been giving piano lessons to Kathy’s two kids, John and Jess for the past 2 years, and have been happy with their progress. John will be taking his Grade 3 exam this year, and Jess Grade 1. Jess has only started learning recently.
Most of the times when I go over to their place for lessons, Kathy is working, and the kids are taken care of by the domestic helper.
I always maintain a notebook for my students. The arrangement is similar for John and Jess. Whenever I conduct a lesson, I write down an entry in it with the date of lesson and the assigned homework. I also add the lesson’s date on the page of the songbook they are currently learning or practicing, along with some instructions.
John’s and Jess’ lessons usually fall on Wednesdays, but because Kathy signed John up for an enrichment programme recently, some of his Wednesday piano lessons are affected. Hence, I had to reschedule John’s lessons accordingly. Meanwhile, Jess continues to have hers on Wednesdays.
Normally, I collect my teaching fees on a monthly basis, but the recent lesson fees of John and Jess had been delayed consecutively for three months, despite timely reminders! Because Kathy is working, I hardly get to see her too. I texted Kathy a note for the overdue amount.
Kathy’s replies shocked me!
- She requested that the payments be made monthly instead of quarterly, so that they would be easier to track.
- She would not honour 4 lessons out of the total of 24 conducted since the last payment, as she suspected I wasn't here for these lessons.
- The last reply really hit me straight in the face: "I didn't check the earlier months. I trusted you, you know. Now I check this month, and it's like this!"
I'd been asking for payment on a monthly basis and now it was turned around. I was accused of not requesting for payment monthly but quarterly! I certainly do not cheat my students’ money by adding lessons which are not conducted!
To make things worse, my conversation with Kathy about rescheduling John's lessons did not exist in my WhatsApp records! I recently changed my mobile phone and realised my chat history wasn't complete. The last chat backup was a couple of weeks before John's enrichment lessons commenced!
The only evidence I had were:
- The notebook with the dates, and
- John’s and Jess’ songbooks which I wrote the dates and pasted the stickers on.
I had a chat over the phone with Kathy and tried to reconcile the disputed dates. She acknowledged that what I had written and pasted in the books appeared to be genuine, but she couldn't accept them. How disappointing! Surely I did not fabricate all these?
I requested Kathy to look into her WhatsApp chat history to verify that the lessons were indeed conducted, and to take screenshots of the chat logs. Her response: The chat logs seemed to suggest the lessons did happen, but she couldn't recall that I was there!
With that, our chat ended on a sour note. I felt perplexed. I was caught in a dilemma. For a long time, I asked myself, “Should I continue to teach this family?”
I really loved teaching John and Jess but I also felt cheated of my precious time and money. If Kathy could do this once, she might do it another time. If I did continue, would I send a wrong signal to Kathy? Would she think she could bully me easily? There were lots of emotions within me. On the one hand, I felt deep frustration and anguish. On the other, I love the kids. I also need the income to sustain my livelihood.
From this unhappy episode, I observed that simply making entries in the notebooks and songbooks was insufficient. After all, these notes were made by me. Nobody could vouch for their authenticity. I definitely need to do more on my end to minimise the recurrence of such incidents. Apart from this, I must diligently back up all the chats in WhatsApp.
I hope my story helps other piano teachers out there to guard against similar incidents. Sometimes, educators like us have to work with challenging students and parents. Hopefully, defaults and late payments won’t happen frequently. They are an infuriating, additional stress that we don't need as piano teachers.
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