A few years ago, I wrote a post about reasons I would “fire” a student. As time passes, I’m discovering that there are as many ways for the student-teacher relationship to sour as there are for it to flourish.

Student X

This woman came to me as a complete beginner and showed much promise right off the bat. She was the last student I had found through a referral service, and when I ended my dealings with them a year on, I did the whole “due diligence” thing and offered her another teacher in their stable, hoping like crazy she would want to stick with me.

To my delight, she did. On the first lesson of the new series, she went to write a check for the month and asked what the total would be. I had decided to offer her the same rate (20% less than standard) she had been paying the referral company. She balked. To her, I was getting a raise and I guess that triggered something meaningful enough for her to talk about financial hardship and not being able to continue lessons at that cost. Already uncomfortable, I tried to strike a bargain and offered her a “scholarship”, as I do with military students and other worthy storylines. The scholarship is contingent on financial need, and is reviewed every month to see if a return to standard fees is possible. I take this seriously, because teaching is my primary source of income- which is already incredibly fickle. This August, for example, I made exactly 30% of what I made in June. There is no guarantee that students will show up, or pay on time, or not bounce checks, or not steal books, or pay for four lessons and then take one lesson a month for four months.

So when I offer a scholarship, it’s a big deal.

We proceeded to have lessons for a year at the reduced rate. Each month, I would bill the full rate and then show a “hardship” discount before the total. Over the course of that year, she paid over $1000 less than other students who took the same number of lessons. (I’m being nice here and estimating only 3 lessons a month) Over the course of the same year, she took multiple trips to Colorado and Maine, returning with stories of crisp air, winding roads and fresh lobster.

This woman doesn’t have financial hardship. She has different priorities.

I decided to talk to her about coming up to my full rate, no discount. She said, “Well that is really going to force me to make some decisions.” I told her I understood. She continued, “I mean, that is so much more than I make per hour!”

 

And that’s what I get for ever offering a discount. As if there are 40 hours per week at that rate. As if I’m not paying taxes through the nose on what I do make. As if the cost of doing business doesn’t eat another third of what’s left. As if there is any job security. Moreover, as if my rates are contingent on what people deem her pay scale to be? 

 

So I fired her. It churned away in my guts while I tried to rationalize a way to keep her on board. I kept thinking maybe I should have gone for that DMA and then people wouldn’t have a problem with my rates (which are still easily 30% lower than other colleagues with similar experience and degrees). Or maybe if I wasn’t the kind of teacher I am: maybe if I pushed them into recitals more or had the infrastructure for group classes, they’d see the value in what I do more clearly.

 

Basically, the lamest internal monologue ever.

 

In the end, this is just another example of money making people weird. It hurt to write the check refunding her monthly tuition. I am up to my nostrils in expenses, and I could have used that money to pay Uncle Sam or buy some new strings. Heck, I still have over $7000 left to pay on Henri! But as soon as I saw it clear the bank, I felt like I had written a check to myself.

 

 

Pay to the order of Worth It, in the amount of Enough.