On the many blogs available for music teachers, one theme that continues to surface is the issue around summer lessons and the loss of income. Of course, if you are running a school with group classes, those are dictated by start and stop dates and summers may be devoted to camps, etc. For many years, I had a 10 month (or once school closed) studio monthly payment or semester payment plan followed by 5 “required” lessons in the summer. Students could double up weeks, work around their camps, etc. I was very flexible in allowing them to move lesson times during a week they had another activity. It worked out well.
More than a decade ago, however, I morphed that into a year around program, basing my plan on area teachers that also designed their calendars the same way. It’s worked great, my income is steady year around and I have no “summer income drop.” I realize some teachers take their income and evenly divide it over 12 months thus also producing a steady monthly income. My issue with that was that, for my studio, I would still make less money overall taking off all those summer months (or allowing students to do so.) I learned years ago that returning after an entire summer off can be difficult to restart for some children, and I had the “October phone call” stating the child would not be continuing after struggling to get practicing restarted. My young readers took until November to get back to where they were in June, AND my plans for festivals and the like were always running behind. I gave this “summer off” plan or “optional summer lessons” plan up decades ago. Now is the time in July to reconsider how you will plan your school year calendar, particulary with the challenges we face this year.
Then the unthinkable happened and COVID-19 entered our lives. Fortunately my studio transitioned online seemlessly and the studio reopened during Phase II in North Carolina. I do have a few students that elected to stay online at least through the summer. In looking at my calendar for this year, I decided to start one week earlier (in line with our county’s start date of August 17th) and extend one week after school closes. I did this because I wanted more than the 2 week cushion for sick leave I have put in yearly. Now most days of the week have a 4 week cushion. This will allow for sicknesses in families or other unforseen closures or obstacles that the current crisis might throw out way. At the end of the school year I can always drop off that final cushion week. I’m hopeful this will give us all some peace of mind.
Many teachers have used the 40 week plan which divides the school year into four sets of 10. Since I give a few ore lessons than that, I actually sit down every spring and count the number of Mondays through Saturdays for each day of the week. I choose my start date, map out Thanksgiving week and Spring break which are preset as weeks off. Based on that, I decide when I will break for Christmas. This is the break that varies depending on when Christmas falls and when our county school system lets out. So, for example, if Christmas falls on a Thursday, I may decide to teach through Monday or Tuesday and start up again on the Saturday or Monday after the new year. Remember that we have four months with five weeks in them that rotates every year.
Yes, in order to make this work, you must sit and count the number of lessons and nip and tuck your start and end dates plus Christmas to make it all come out even. The option otherwise is to lose income making only full weeks. I don’t teach on Labor Day (United States) or Memorial Day. That alters my dates so that usually, my school year actually ends on a Monday. It’s worth the effort. I maximize my year’s income this way, and if the calendar is published at the beginning of the school year, or even during the summer, parents can plan ahead. I’ve read parents have a hard time understanding this calendar. It’s just like a school calendar! They often may start on a Monday, but Thanksgiving and Christmas are often variable not to mention the teacher work days that happen throughout the year on different days. I try to stay close to my public school calendar. For the independent studio teaching mostly private lessons (or group for that matter) this plan has been a God send for me. My income is even year around (payments in quarters, the 1st of the month for July, October, Jan. and April). The other issue it solves is that last minute fall pull outs are virtually unheard of as parents have paid in July to cover them to October 1st. It does encourage your on the fence families to make the break in July (or June). This gives you the opportunity to put a new student in the slot during the most popular time of the year.
I do not give refunds for mid quarter pull outs (unless there is an emergency approved by me). If a student begins in August for the school year, I pro rate that one quarter for them and then they cycle in for the regular payments on October 1st. The published calendar is the key. This plan allows me to “set it and forget it.” It’s not too late to offer a different year around calendar to your students provided you let them know soon. Happy planning and do take time to get away if you have not already done so.