When I first started teaching I was constantly chasing a mysterious white rabbit.  The rabbit was always frantically saying,  “I’m late, I’m late for a very important date.”  I was trying my best to keep up with the rabbit, but I was always running behind. Like Alice in Wonderland, I  was confused. Not only was I trying to catch up but often I was confused about what day it even was.  I had thought that it was going to be my day off. But, as it turned out, I was going to have to work that day after all.

I had no idea when I first hung up my music studio shingle, that I would be constantly falling down a rabbit hole into Makeup Land. I couldn’t see how offering an occasional makeup lesson here or there could result in running behind in all aspects of my life. I never thought I would have to repeatedly work on my day off.  I couldn’t perceive how impactful that time shuffling away affect the quality of my family time,  health, and sanity. Just like rabbits multiply, I ended up giving makeup lessons all the time.  Burnout was unavoidable, I needed control of my life back.

A rather curious thing about Makeup Land is how entirely deceptive a place it is.  Like the Cheshire Cat, makeup lessons appear and reappear constantly. At the outset, they look like one thing, but inwardly you know that something doesn’t feel right. Outwardly, they appear like a fair exchange. But they simply aren’t. The client gets to come when it is convenient for them. But strangely, you don’t have this same courtesy exchanged back to you.

How did this happen again?  The assumption of Makeup Lessons is that you owe a lesson to your student every week. If they miss, there should be some type of rescheduling to keep them on a solid learning track. (Also, you want a consistent income.) If your students prepay for their lessons then it can be even more confusing. It seems that if they miss a paid lesson, that you owe them either another lesson or a refund. But, that’s simply not true, and I’ll explain why in a minute.

The best of people have a million reasons why they can’t make it to their scheduled lesson this week.  Johnny is sick. Julie has a basketball game. Trevor has a choir concert. They are going to a family reunion. Or the most confusing situation of all, the family has a tragedy like a funeral. When the family has a crisis, the heartstrings of the teacher are pulled even further

Once the confusion about missed lessons begins with a client, teachers start falling down the rabbit hole. They are now stuck in Makeup Land forever with that family. That family now has an assumption that they should get makeup lessons. Once that is set as a standard it is very difficult to change a mindset. That family firmly believes that the teacher owes them.

Now you dear teacher, find yourself offering makeup lessons to not just them, but all of your studio families. “After all,” you tell yourself, “I am giving makeup lessons to the Roberts family (Insert  client name).” “I better offer them to the Gonzalez family,  because they asked for a makeup. And yeah, I guess all my families. Just to be fair. I want to be fair.”

I hope you bought good running shoes, and have a full water bottle.  Because teacher like me, you are now chasing the White Rabbit in Makeup Land with every family in your studio forevermore.

You may now find yourself working every day off.  It’s like being seated at the Madhatter’s Tea Party.  You become a confused guest at the table,. You are celebrating a birthday when it isn’t anyone’s birthday. You are now constantly teaching on days that aren’t teaching days. Makeup lessons are truly maddening.

But, Makeup lessons aren’t really what they appear to be at all.

In reality, the whole concept of makeup lessons is an illusion. It’s simply not real. The trick has been played on you.

What I am about to tell you will stop you running after the White Rabbit forever. It will keep you from being another lunatic at the tea party.

The truth is: The student didn’t prepay for a lesson at all! What they paid for is a time slot in your schedule. They missed their time slot. Therefore they actually should forfeit the payment they have made to you. That’s correct- you owe them nothing. They owe you!

The truth is, they actually don’t pay for lessons. They pay for a time slot in your schedule. Here is the clearest way to understand it: It is just like renting a house. They are renting a time slot in your schedule. Payment is still due whether they go out of town or on vacation.

“But, I don’t want to be heartless,” you say. “My student was sick. My other student was at a funeral!” We do care about our students. It’s awful that difficult things happen to them.  But as independent music teachers, you simply can’t afford to go there.  To stay in business, our income has to be stable. Our sanity has to be stable.

To be a good teacher we can’t be exhausted and frazzled.  We have spent many years honing our craft, and a held time slot to that expertise is what they are actually purchasing. 

Remember your own self-care, you don’t teach on your day-off! The nature of make-up lessons is that they require you to find extra time to accommodate them. The time that belongs to you alone. Your day off is sacred. Students don’t have access to it. In this one thing, you must be like the Queen of Hearts. “Off with your head- Makeup Lessons!”

If you choose to work on your day off, in a so-called “Make-up lesson,” your time is completely devalued, and you can never get that full day off back. It’s gone.  You will chase the White Rabbit with that family as long as they are a part of your studio. (And all your studio families.) You will always feel that you are under obligation to them. But what of their obligation to you?

They do have an obligation to you. They need to take care of you. If they don’t, you will have to quit teaching because you have to eat. You have to pay for the building they are taking lessons in. If you are inconsistently paid, your career is over. They will have to find a new teacher.  Don’t they want to have a happy teacher?

But, as a bonus, to you sticking to your no-makeup policy- they get their life back too. They keep one consistent appointment every week. If they can’t make it, they can get the assignment from you via text or email. Then they get to go on with their week without the stress of shuffling their schedule. It makes their life easier, too.

Be preventative. State your policy in writing. Have the new clients sign it at their first lesson. If you want a more peaceful and less frantic life, your studio must not offer makeup lessons.

When your families have agreed to your no-makeup policy, you are now income and time secure. That family is now taking care of you as well as you are taking care of them. There is mutual respect. You can rely on consistent tuition to pay your own actual rent.  You will be like most of all the other working people in the world. You will have a complete day off on your actual day off.

You are no longer chasing the relentless White Rabbit. You are now in control of your schedule. You have your life back.

Now that we have cleared up this illusion, I will write in a follow-up post how to offer great customer care- Makeup Land- White Rabbit free. In the meantime, rewrite your policy. Have everyone sign it. Say goodbye to makeup lessons, and chasing the White Rabbit forever. They aren’t real, and they never existed anyway. Enjoy your day off!