Confessions of Piano Teachers #2 – Knock, Knock, Are You Home?

Confessions of Piano Teachers #2 – Knock, Knock, Are You Home?

My name is Amy and I’m a full-time piano teacher. I’ve been teaching children for eight years and have had my fair share of challenges. However, one recent incident disturbed me greatly and prompted me to share my story with fellow piano teachers and music lovers.

I’ve been teaching this student, Noel, for the last three years. I started teaching him when he was in Primary 4. In December 2018, he graduated from primary school. From my past experience, when students start their new life in secondary school, their first weeks in school are a time of flux for me. As they adjust to a whole new timetable and choose their co-curricular activities, on top of attending orientation events and impromptu enrichment lessons, their lives outside school are disrupted.

Even their tuition sessions are on different days now. My piano lessons with them are impacted, and I have no choice but to slot these students into whatever available times I have. One student may be available only on Monday afternoons, while another may only be able to meet on Thursday evenings. Multiply this by ten students, each with their own constraints (while schedules are still fluid) and you can imagine the amount of scheduling and rescheduling I have to do.

To make problems worse, students live in different locations. While teachers like us try our best to group students from similar locations together, in order to maximise our trips, this is not always possible. With schedules so unstable, I have to sometimes make do with the slots that they are available in and wait for things in school to settle. Even then, there may be cases where I have to travel to the same location several times a week, simply due to the time slot differences. This is generally accepted as a trade hazard that teachers have not much control over.

As we teachers know, piano is not an examinable subject in secondary schools, so piano lessons tend to be placed at the bottom of the food chain. To students’ parents, it is more important to have their children settle school activities first and whatever time is left will be delegated to piano lessons.

This year, the rescheduling headaches that I used to have with other students finally reached Noel. Noel’s lessons used to be on Wednesdays. Against the backdrop of chaos, I had arranged with Noel’s mother, Candice, to visit last Thursday. I arrived at Noel’s place on time. I knocked on the door for several minutes but there was no answer. No movement, nothing. My heart missed a beat. I was dreading the worst. “Don’t tell me...” I tried a while more and finally called Candice. I informed her that I was at the door. 

Candice was shocked, "There’s a lesson today? Oh no! We are at Noel's tuition centre right now, and we can't have the lesson today! So sorry! Can you not charge for this lesson, since it is not conducted, it's a genuine case, and we didn't internationally miss your lesson? My apologies!”

I was disappointed. I had made a long, purposeful trip all the way from the northeast to Candice's house in the west. This, together with the journey home, would take almost three hours. What made this worse was the warm weather and the walking needed, as their apartment was a distance away from the train station. Further, all my other students for the day live in the east and Noel’s place was out of the way for me. I definitely don’t mind going to the west, however, having to face an empty house at the end of a long journey is not the most pleasant experience ever. I could have spent the three hours teaching two students in the east. What made it all the more infuriating was that Candice wanted me to void today’s lesson!

I kept my cool. I explained to Candice that the lesson was pre-arranged and agreed to between us. Even though the lesson was not conducted, I would still have to charge for the lesson. Candice shot back, “Can you be more flexible? We did not intentionally make you waste your trip. We genuinely forgot about the lesson. Furthermore, this is the first time it happened. Noel has been learning under you for the past three years already. He just entered Sec 1, and there are lots of things we are still trying to figure out and getting used to. Can you take all these into account? Okay?"

I remembered the past incidents over the last eight years. This was not the first time such a thing happened. In the past, I used to be sympathetic and relented as the parents genuinely missed the lessons. However, a few years ago, there was a bigger incident where one family kept forgetting lessons. This happened not once, not twice but three times. The experience made me change my view. Now, regardless if the lesson is conducted or not, as long as the arrangement has been agreed to with the parents and I’ve made the trip, I will charge.

As I was thinking about all these, Candice's voice jolted me back to the present, "If you can’t be flexible with a small matter like this, how are you going to teach Noel? Noel is now in secondary school, and teenagers like him are surely going to change during these years. You have to be flexible to adapt to his changes also, right? Amy, I've had good impressions of you so far. Don't make me change my impression!"

Candice’s comments pierced my heart like an arrow. Here I was, an honest teacher carrying out my duties professionally, and there, my student's parent treating me less than what I deserved. It is certainly not nice when someone uses impression of you to cover up for their mistakes. I was flabbergasted. As I stood outside Candice’s apartment and looked silly, I could feel my face heating up.

I told Candice I would consider and reach a decision over the weekend. Certainly, I was not wrong in insisting on the fees collection, as this was spelt out right at the start of the contract. On the other hand, if I insisted, the relationship between Candice and me might turn out sour. This might well affect Noel’s lessons going forward. Principle versus money. Such was the dilemma I was in!

What should I do?




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