Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Piano Schedule Headaches

About 9 or 10 months ago, I was somehow duped into going into people's homes to teach piano lessons. I had been warned against such propositions, but I was virtually guaranteed a lot of business in a short span of time for a higher fee than I was getting by teaching at home and at church. So I gave in.

The lady who convinced me to do this in the first place figures into this whole saga, and for the purposes of relative anonymity I shall call her "Stressed-Out Realtor Mom," or SORM for short. She wanted lessons for her fifth-grade daughter, who had been taking lessons for several years, and possibly her third-grade daughter if she could convince her. [This is problem "A." She had trouble convincing her 8-year-old daughter to take piano lessons. When and why was it even a question? When I want my children to take piano lessons, I'm pretty sure they will whether they express enthusiasm or not.] She complained (a lot--Problem "B") that life was too hectic and she no longer was willing to drive the older daughter to piano any more (a big, fat, Problem "C"). After several months, I eventually had five students in the same neighborhood and charged too little, as I later discovered. The trouble of going to homes is not just the travel in between, before, and after lessons; it's the absolute scheduling nightmare presented whenever small changes are needed. The first such nightmare-situation occurred at the beginning of the summer, when some people wanted to take lessons earlier, but others couldn't. There was eventually an easy fix that kept people happy: I simply made my last lesson first and kept everyone else the same. But I hate having to contact several people whenever one person cancels just so I don't have to sit in my car for half an hour, and too many times--only two or three, but that's still too many--someone would cancel at the last minute and I'd be screwed. I'm pretty lenient on other days but on Thursdays, I keep your money if you make me sit in my car with nothing to do.

And speaking of Thursdays, that's the day the church choir, Proclaim, rehearses at 7:15, so I absolutely insist on being done teaching at 6:15. And people continue to badger me to change every other factor of my life so I can be at their beck and call! "Can't you come on another day?" No, I am limiting this insanity to one day a week, thank you. "Couldn't you come later?" No, I like to have enough time to eat at least five bites of dinner per day. And this is the main problem with in-home piano lessons: people who have a teacher come to their home and are unwilling to drive their children to piano lessons both have an entitlement "thing" and don't value piano lessons very highly. (They don't expect the t-ball team to practice in their back yard, but the piano teacher should cart her studio around for their convenience, apparently.) Plus, this is a typical Naperville neighborhood of houses built in the last 5-10 years. The homes are large, everyone has a piano (but ironically most of the pianos are no better than your average piece of furniture), and the pervading thought seems to be, "Aww, wouldn't it be great if my kid knew how to play that thing..." They have no real understanding of what I do, and why should they? I magically appear at their doorstep once a week to listen to their kids' lame excuses as to why they haven't practiced.

But it's not as if I don't enjoy it, and I want to stress that not all of them are bad. Actually, some of my Thursday students are my very favorite and have supportive and understanding parents. As far as the actual teaching goes, it is as fulfilling as any other situation. But I'm in a bad place mentally when I'm in a new setting every 30 minutes not knowing whether to expect peace and quiet or, more likely, ringing phones, blaring TVs and screaming siblings. I've become more aware lately that the trouble I go through for this one day is not quite worth the fee I collect; therefore new students are paying more and continuing students will get the new rate at the first of the year. And no one has said a peep because the increase is a lot less than the cost of their daily latte. So there.

So about a month ago, SORM calls me in a breathless hurry. It was the last day to sign up for tennis lessons, "and tennis is really, really important, like, equally important to piano lessons," and the only time she could possibly make tennis lessons fit into her CRAZY AND HECTIC schedule was to have them from 3:30 to 4:30 on Thursdays. Her daughters' piano lessons are 4-5. She makes me afraid of realtors, because she laid on the pressure and needed an answer IMMEDIATELY because she was BACKED INTO A CORNER and this was THE ONLY THING THAT COULD REMOTELY WORK. I was a bit aghast, but I thought, well, tennis lessons are obviously more important than piano if it takes precedence on the family schedule. So I told her we'd have to figure it out. Go ahead and sign up for tennis lessons, and we'll see what happens.

And gosh darn it if I didn't try my best for this woman. My rationale for putting forth such a huge effort was that I didn't want to lose two students. Plus, she sold half her neighbors their homes; I didn't want there to be any bad blood. Option #1 was to move my last student to another day and move everyone else up. I would be done teaching at 6:25 or so, and it would just barely work. Last lesson folks couldn't possibly change, and I couldn't possibly make them--there's no sense in punishing someone for being satisfied. I told as much to SORM and told her I was out of ideas. She came back to say she had spoken with her next-door neighbor, my 5:00 and they said they could do 4:00. But I found this to be extremely suspicious as the 5:00 people were the ones that always begged me to come later because both parents work and it's difficult enough to get their daughter home from day care for a 5:00 lesson. From emailing the 5:00 people I learned that 4:00 would work only some of the time and not as a permanent solution; they really just wanted to stay at 5:00. So I told that to SORM and she panicked. The next Thursday after her daughters' lessons she cornered me and wanted to know my entire teaching schedule and what else could possibly work.

Then she forgot everything I told her, even though she had written it down, and called me the next day, August 24, the day before Erich and I moved. (I remind you that Erich had been gone the past four weeks, the school year had started two days before, and we were both packing like crazy and stressed out.) I was busy when she called but called back as I left my flat and drove to the apartment in Addison. The drive takes 25 minutes; I hung up with her just as I took Erich's exit, two minutes from his old building. She had complained and made excuses and pleaded with me for nearly half an hour when there really were no additional solutions. Her powers were such that I told her I would think about going to her house on Mondays but I would have to get back to her. That was a moment of weakness. (She really wore me down, see.) Luckily, however, I stayed strong and emailed her the following Tuesday: I'm sorry, it just won't work. Victory!

There are numerous other little scheduling difficulties that I could do without, especially given everything else that's going on, and especially given that I'm going to miss three Thursdays in a row due to wedding and honeymoon very soon. It seems like everyone new should just start when I'm back and ready. But at least now my Thursdays are streamlined; I'm down to 4 students, two are favorites, one is enjoyable, and the other one just started. I was going to add another, a close friend of SORM, but it looks like that won't work out with her schedule, and I'm frankly not going to change everything yet again. I'd be happy to let them drop off one by one, or I'll default to a clause I put in my updated policy sheet:

"NOTE – At any time in the future, it may become unfeasible for me to continue in-home lessons. I will give at least two month’s notice should this happen and will offer all in-home students a chance to continue with me in my home."

1 comment:

Cheryl said...

Oh Susan,

You and I have to get together over coffee (or rum punch?) sometime and share piano teacher stories. I love your line about not expecting t-ball practice in your back yard, so why do they expect you to cart around your piano studio?

Be tough and don't let yourself get taken advantage of (haha--I'm laughing to hear myself say that). You are already going beyond the call of duty by teaching in anyone else's home but your own. (I suggest phasing this out as time goes on.)

Thanks for writing this post and putting a lot of my frustrations into words!