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March/April 2018: Making money, making space


 The swap list: Rules of engagement

More and more teachers are moving to a no-makeup-lessons policy and reaping the emotional and physical rewards of not giving away too much of their time.1 But for most teachers who have this policy, "no make-ups" does not mean that there are no reasonable alternatives. It simply means, as a general rule, that these teachers will not give away their valuable time that is not already marked as "teaching time."

The main goals of a no-make-up-lessons policy include:

• Protecting your free time

• Preventing half-price teaching2

• Maintaining a predictable schedule

• Allowing time for needed breaks and vacations

• Helping parents learn to prioritize lessons

Above all, though, the goal of a no-makeup-lessons policy is to create space in your life to give to those you choose. If every day of our lives is filled with regular lessons, family responsibilities, normal life, and then makeup lessons, little margin exists for self-care or giving to others. Implementing an effective no-make-up-lessons policy can help create space and resources for you to share as you wish.

It is entirely reasonable for any teacher with a no-make-up-lessons policy to have one or more options for students who have occasional cancellations. There are many acceptable possibilities3, but the old-fashioned "swap list" still remains the most reasonable and commonly implemented among piano teachers.

As with any system, however, the swap list can be misused in such a way that it costs you more time or creates more stress. In my own studio, I experienced this when two of my students' parents arranged a swap with each other only to have both students arrive on my doorstep at the same time expecting to receive a lesson. I learned then, that it is handy to have a policy about swap lessons to reference, since I had to choose to teach one student instead of the other that day.

One of the biggest principles in creating your own rules, or in using the swap list suggestions below, is the principle of not creating even more work for yourself. Though it is possible that some students need a swap because of illness, many times there are scheduling conflicts that cause families to request a swap. It is important not to allow parents to transfer the stress of their own overscheduling mistakes or issues to you. If they have overscheduled their child, then it is their responsibility to do the extra work to find alternatives. Though it is always right to be helpful, it is also important to have boundaries. You don't want the sum total of the extra work to become overwhelming.

Here is a beginning set of swap list rule suggestions that may help you implement an effective option for makeup lessons. Some of these will not apply if you are using an online calendar scheduling service like,, or others. But, these will give you an idea of what bases to cover, should you create your own rules.

Suggestions for Swap List Rules

1. Parents should inform you of the swap after arranging one, and you should approve them.

• If you are doing a traditional swap list without technology, this may be important because some parents just don't notice that they are trying to swap a 45-minute lesson for a 30-minute one.

2. The parent who arranges the swap should email or text you with the details of the swap and carbon copy (cc) the person with whom they are making the swap.

• If they don't cc the other party, forward their text or email to the family with whom they are swapping so that they can make sure the details are accurate.

3. Be clear that no make-up lessons will be given if any confusion from a swap arises.

4. State what will happen should two people arrive at once due to miscommunication. 

• A good solution to this is to teach the one whose lesson is normally at that time. It is helpful to have a "policy" to blame.

5. Parents should inform you if they do not wish to have their name, number, and email included on the swap list.

• This protects people's privacy but may also be an important tool to encourage parents that they should be willing to swap with others if they think they will ever need a swap themselves.

6. Don't forget that telephone, Skype, or Facetime lessons during the student's regular lesson time are also an option if they cannot make it to a lesson simply because of transportation.

Many families' schedules are so full that they will never use a swap list, but consistent implementation of a no make-up-lessons policy to protect your time should eventually lead to acceptance. Having specific procedures for arranging swaps will help families, if they do choose to use it.

Do you have a question for the Making Money, Making Space column? Please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

See for effective ways of moving to this kind of policy.

See the tongue-in-cheek article:

See for more options. 

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From Schumann to Schoenberg
March/April 2018: Pupil Saver


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