One of the hottest topics that piano teachers talk about when they get together is make-up lesson policy. The classic conflict arises when a student insists that they are paying for the teacher’s time, while the teacher insists the student is paying for the time slot (tuition), so if that time slot is missed, the lesson is considered missed. Teachers feel personally disrespected when students disregard their “tuition” policy, and these students (or parents) feel gypped when they “pay for a lesson they don’t get.”
I participated in this tug-of-war myself for many years, and finally I realized that my studio would always have people who signed my policy but who ignore all the parts of my policy they disliked. I made a conscious decision that it would be easier on my own health and sanity just to give people what they want even when I disagree with the thinking behind it, especially since it’s never more than 10% of my studio. So, for the past several years, I have been very flexible and generous about giving make-up lessons to students when they miss their normally-scheduled lesson. However, the one “catch” is that if the make-up lesson creates two lessons in one week, students must do extra practice between those two lessons to make the second lesson worthwhile. More importantly, this policy serves as an investment in my students since it encourages more practicing each year, and it also makes students and parents think twice about whether they really need the make-up lesson. This policy has kept both my students and myself very happy.
Without this policy, many students would actually show up to the second lesson during the week even when it would be of far greater benefit to them to stay home and use that time to practice. Deep down, they know this. And yet they would still show up to their second lesson that week not fully prepared, because they cannot get past the illusion that gain on my part (an empty time slot that allows me time to practice the piano or manage my studio) must automatically translate to loss on their part. This is an example of Illusory Gain or Loss. It is the illusion that gain and loss are working contrary to each other when they really aren’t. In the case of students obsessed with getting every nanosecond of time they paid for, both teacher and student lose in serving the student’s illusory gain.
When I was a college student paying for my own piano lessons at the university with my own money (a $300/semester fee on top of regular tuition since it involved so much one-on-one time with the instructor), I was the first to cancel lessons during weeks I didn’t practice due to excessive homework/tests/projects or sickness. I didn’t reschedule lessons. I canceled them. I didn’t think twice about it or think negatively about how my professor was “getting paid to do nothing;” I was happy to give my instructor much-needed time to practice while benefiting myself in getting time to catch up with the craziness of my life. The tuition was water under the bridge and therefore irrelevant to my decision making process, and it was a win-win decision. Unfortunately, not everyone thinks their decisions through with such objective clarity. Psychologically, a certain minority of people cannot disassociate the gain their teacher experiences (“being paid to do nothing”) with loss on their own part.
Employers might succumb to this when an employee requests to work from home in a computer-related job. While the employee very well may be more productive working from home since they no longer have to waste time commuting (which gives them more time and energy to work), the employer may still require the employee to drive to work because of a false perception of gain: the employee is working harder for the company by driving to work each day, so it must therefore be of benefit to the company.
There is an interesting article having to do with this concept of illusory gain/loss on the American Psychological Association website (apa.org), pointing out that people will eat bigger portions of food when given to them regardless of how full they are (link: www.apa.org/monitor/jan04/family.html). I’m certainly not the first person to observe this phenomenon – but as far as I know, I’m the first one to name it! These things need names!