Dealing With a Student Who Hasn’t Paid (But is Training for an Important Performance)

Dealing With a Student Who Hasn't Paid (But is Training for an Important Performance)

Take a look at this scenario…

You are a piano teacher.

There is a student you like a lot, whom you’ve been teaching for two months. You first heard her playing at her performance recital– and you were impressed.

The mother is well-connected, and kind, but tough, a lady who knows what she wants and will ask for her change when it’s due.

You’ve agreed on an exchange of services. In fact, when it comes to her child, the mother’s goal is to proceed through life getting things sponsored and keeping the wallet shut when possible, on account of her volatile investments.

But mainly, you said yes because it’s a new experience. You’ve never been compensated this way before, and you think it’ll bring your career forward.

Feel free to use your imagination on how the mother offered to compensate you.

At this point, you’ve been teaching her child diligently for the past two months, without receiving the agreed compensation, except for continued promises to wait for another few days. And another.

The child has an important performance in four days, and the mother has asked for extra lessons. You can fit her in your schedule here and there. Some of her pieces aren’t ready yet.

You don’t give a concrete reply yet; you say, for the second time this week, “I am concerned about my ____________ [compensation]. How is that coming along?”

“I will get it to you in two days,” she says.

This compensation is time-sensitive and you must receive it by the end of the week because you’ve planned your next few weeks around it, plus it involves travel. So you will be compensated in two days, or not at all. She’s asking for extra piano lessons in this window.

Options here…

a) Would you bank on the fact that the mother is a capable person, and dish out the extra lessons with, so far, promises that are empty? The child is delightful and her performance is so close; you can’t not help.

b) Or, would you wait until the compensation comes, before giving even one other lesson, let alone extras– who knows if they’re just wringing you dry? Fair is fair.

What would you do? Leave a comment below to join the conversation.

P.S. This scenario may be clarified next week with a new article.

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  • yvonne November 17, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    I would not give any more lessons until payment is received. You have been literally “giving” lessons to this child since you have received no compensation to this point. My gut feeling is that mom plays the promise game with lots of people and whatever money she gets goes to whoever is most important, I.e. rent, food, etc and that music lessons are so low on the priority list that you will never get any money from her. So sad for the child.

  • Aine Wendler November 17, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    I would never have agreed to this business arrangement in the first place. My professional services are rendered upon pre-payment; not upon promises.Liking the student, a parent’s social and community standing, the importance of the upcoming performance…none of these issues are relevant as far as I am concerned. If the parent is genuinely concerned with her child’s situation, she will compensate the instructor and then repay herself. It is, absolutely, not the responsibility for the instructor to sacrifice or experience stress due to the quality and volatility of the parent’s investments. I hope this is simply a hypothetical question and not, truly, under consideration by a colleague.

  • Mary November 18, 2014 at 7:10 am

    The teacher in this scenario has already messed up- first by agreeing to alternate compensation, though that is a matter of opinion, and second by waiting nearly two months for payment. If payment is not made on time in my studio, a late fee is assessed, and if it doesn’t come the next week lessons are suspended. Payment would never wait two months. The teacher in this scenario is allowing themselves to be treated unprofessionally, and no, of course they should not give the extra lessons.

  • Angela Baker November 18, 2014 at 7:39 am

    If I had entered into this type of agreement in reality I would probably help the student until the performance is over. I wouldn’t want her mother’s bad decisions to leave a negative impact on her performance. But I would have a frank conversation with the mother. I think I would call her and say, “Before I agree to accommodate your extra lessons we need to discus our arrangement and the fact that this type of agreement is not working for me. I am expecting my compensation in the two days you promised but after this performance I will no longer be able to teach X. I will coach her up until the performance but once that is over you need to find another teacher. I am expecting that the compensation I will be receiving will cover all of the lessons up until now.” And then I would wash my hands of it. Even if she agreed to start paying for lessons I think I would still say that I am not able to continue to be her teacher. In reality that is most likely what I would do.

    I agree though, I don’t think I would ever enter into this type of an arrangement. Also, find a way for her to have in writing what your compensation is so that is she doesn’t come through and you really want to pursue this you have something from her agreeing to what was owed. Personally, I think this type of arrangements are extremely tricky and I don’t understand how teachers make this work.

    • Grace Miles November 18, 2014 at 9:04 am

      Love the feedback.

      I wouldn’t want the mother’s behaviour to negatively affect the child’s performance either.

      So far, the consensus has been, “No, stop teaching right away.” But it’s easier said than done, isn’t it?

      • Angela Baker November 18, 2014 at 9:12 am

        Exactly Grace and that’s why I tried to look at in a lens of “what would I ACTUALLY do”. Of course as soon as I read it I said “No I would stop teaching” but realistically I probably wouldn’t. I would know deep down I probably won’t get the compensation so I would discontinue teaching after the performance and never do anything like this again.

  • Parrish Wilson November 18, 2014 at 10:44 am

    No more classes until mama has paid up. The mother has way more responsibility for the child’s success than the teacher. If partial payment was possible I would move forward but not without anything.

  • Betty Patnude November 18, 2014 at 11:25 am

    I’m surprised that no one has thought to write and sign a contract for the teachers accumulated services with a projection of what the details include and for how long.

    Payment should not be conditional on if the student cancels the performance or not.

    The parent should present IDentification with name, address, telephone number to be included on the contract.

    The teacher should write this contract because it is a project with money due at the end of the project. State a date one week before the event so that money comes in before the girl presents. I believe if money did not come in before the competition you would have the right to let the presenters know of this circumstance complete with contract.

    However, I’m not like that myself – I would have decided at the beginning that this might turn out to be a gift to the universe and that perhaps there would be no compensation. But, a contract can go to small claims court and be heard and you would be awarded the fees you earned.

    I think most of us are willing to do things in good faith at least occasionally. And, this may be a significant step for this young pianists. Her mother is certainly a tiger in her daughter’s behalf.

  • Ollie November 19, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    The Piano Teacher entered the scenario as a way to gain “new experience” and I would say c) through the experience of dealing with a wheeler dealer personality and teaching a delightful child the teacher person has been paid in full and should continue to teach the child up to her concert! Any other compensation will be a bonus and a cherry on top!
    If had been a professional in the “business” of teaching I wouldnt have have entertained such a proposal for a new york minute and would have asked the Mother to pay me in advance!