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December 01, 2005

What Do You Do About Missed ESL Classes?

ESL Absence.jpg

"The joys of meeting pay the pags of absence / Else who could bear it?" ~ Nicholas Rowe

Private lesson no-shows

Has this ever happened to you? You spent an hour preparing for a private class, then rush to get to it on time. You set up your props or whatever you will be using, then sit back and wait for your students to arrive. Ten minutes later, you're still waiting, but you have faith. After all, they've been late before. Twenty minutes later, you begin to get that "feeling," but decide to stick it out. Forty minutes later, which is exactly twenty minutes before the class is scheduled to end, you begin to pack up to go home.

If you work in a school, you may be silently cheering your luck. (Extra time to goof off!) But if this happens in a private class, you have to carefully weigh your options. Do I charge my students for the missed class or not? After dealing with this situation for a while, I finally came to a conclusion; my time is my time and I'm going to be paid whether I'm teaching or sitting in a room alone with a bunch of empty chairs.

And guess what? I now rarely have no-shows!

I talk to a lot of other teachers who are afraid of losing their private students if they put this policy into place, but I gotta tell you--it works. Your students will respect you for it AND you won't find yourself twiddling your thumbs with the song "Should I stay or should I go now?" playing over and over in your mind. (If that's not a hint about my age, I don't know what is!)

Do you have anything to say about this? Have you tried "getting tough" with your private students? (From the poll we took, I know that A LOT of you rely on private classes to supplement your income)

If you've got some advice on this subject, I'm sure everyone would benefit from it. Let's hear from you!

Until next time,

Lee Hobbs
ESL Instruct, Editor-in-Chief

Posted by lhobbs at December 1, 2005 08:13 PM

Readers' Comments:


Hi there! I know exactly what you mean and strongly agree with your resolution. I myself did something like that with my private students. At the beginning the were like " no one has ever told us something like that and we've had private teachers before " and of course I felt as if I had dug my own grave, but later on they were O.K. with it and like you said NO SHOWS were minimal. Of course I dropped in a set of rules that backed up the main goal, which was to get paid either way, but at the same time made it fairer for everyone. I told them that if they called me at least 24 hours ahead, their class would be considered an early cancellation thus giving them the chance to recover it at a later date, without any extra cost, of course, at a time and day that would be ideal for both (previous agreement included). The other rule was that if they called the same day, the class would be considered a late cancellation thus no recovering would take place for free. So far it has worked well, although I don't know what to do about a situation I have with a student that won't be able to take any classes for a month, because of a heavy workload ahead of him during that month, but is still interested in taking classes the month after that and wants to keep the same schedule and everything. Should I charge him 50% of the total monthly average amount he usually pays in order to keep his class-time block available or just let it slide because he's a nice student and some of my private students have contacted me because of his word-of-mouth advertising he has been doing for free? That's the dilemma I'm facing now! If anyone out there has some kind of advice I would really appreciate it!


Posted by: Ronald Churión at December 8, 2005 12:34 AM

Hi Ron.

The penultimate sentence suggests to me that this student is a vaulable business assset. So why not treat his situation as a termination restarting a month later. I know a month is a lot to lose, but when you are in business for yourself, it is swings and roundabouts. His good will can bring you more business than one month's fees


Posted by: Jospeh McCluskey at December 8, 2005 12:37 AM

Hi Ron!

No, I don't think you should charge your student for that month as he must have let you know in advance that he won't be able to attend (with a good reason). Also, he obviously enjoys your class and has done some good advertising for you; so, you will probably be able to cover that month anyway.



Posted by: June at December 8, 2005 12:39 AM


I quite agree with your strategy as well as the other comments here.

Personaly I'm thinking of adopting a practice that I noticed Japanese clubs using. They got students to pay using an envelope with the dates for a months worth of classes printed on the front of it. Every class gets a stamp on that date, and when you're done it's time for a new envelope (and the money to go with it.) Make it clear that the envelope gets stamped whether the student is there or not unless they call to reschedule. Particularly with tutors, students sometimes don't take the teachers time as seriously as they take their own. Seeing a direct physical connection between attendance and cash is one cure for that.

Posted by: Nigel Fogden at December 8, 2005 01:30 AM

Note from Lee:

Thanks Nigel, Ron, June and Joseph for those excellent suggestions.

Nigel, I think that the envelope stamping idea you picked up in Japan sounds like an excellent plan. Let us know if that works out the same in Canada as it did there!

Posted by: Lee at December 8, 2005 01:40 AM


If they don't show up, charge them. Absolutely. Tell them this up front and make it very clear.

Nobody is going to say "Actually Im very irresponsible and probably will miss some classes, so Im not comfortable with that policy." Theyll usually say yes, and then they will pay you with an apology for the classes they miss.

Problem solved.


Posted by: Justin at December 30, 2005 05:34 AM


I had a problem with absenteeism among my private students until I decided to charge them a full month's payment in advance. Since they had already paid for the class they would generally be there on time and not miss any class. If any of them or all of them missed a class without previous notice, that class would not be rescheduled. I would only reschedule a class if the student or students gave me previous notice that they would not be attending.

I know it sounds strict, but here in Honduras, appointments are not taken too seriously, so I had to do something to make the students keep this appointment they had with me. It may sound a bit strict and rough, but it is acutally the norm here. My doctor calls me to remind me whenever I have an appointment with him, even though the reason why I asked for an appointment inthe first place is because I am sick with the flu or something, go figure. Even so they feel they need to remind their patients that they are supposed to come to their offices. So, getting strict with your clients and their appointments with you is pretty much the norm here.

Anyway, just thought I'd put in my two cents here.


Posted by: Alexa at December 31, 2005 12:56 AM


After a free interview to see if you CAN work together, a trial lesson at a certain rate.
If they like it, he / she 'signs up' (i.e., pay) for a series of, say, ten lessons, with FIXED dates and times, possibly with the allurement of a lower rate. This agreement is copied. You keep the original, with spaces for their initials and yours. He / she initials, so do you, each lesson.

If they postpone with over 24 hours' notice, fine. The lesson is regarded as not having been taken. You note this on your copy of the agreement. When the student attends next, you agree a new date for that lesson. He / she notes it too.
If insufficient notice is given, the fee is forfeit. You make this clear AGAIN at the next lesson. He / she initials, so do you.

In the case of genuine emergency, no fee is payable, of course.

In the case of prolonged absence, with what you regard as sufficient notice (possibly also agreed at the outset), suspend the course until he / she is able to continue. By the way, personally, I would NEVER offer a refund.

There are, of course, many cases where you need to use your judgement and business acumen.


Posted by: Cary at December 31, 2005 06:54 AM


My policy is simple: A student "buys" 4 lessons a month and it is up to him/her to attend those lessons. Should a lesson need to be canceled by the student, I do ask for 24 hrs notice, and ultimately the lesson can be made-up at a mutually convenient time.

But how about when the TEACHER MISSES the lesson?

Again, the lesson can be made-up at a mutually convenient time, but there is no refund of money.


Posted by: Marlen at January 27, 2006 08:26 PM

Hi there Lee and greetings from the "land-of-the-not-always-rising-sun"!

I know I am a little late commenting on this topic but I didn't know your blog until today!

Well, I have been teaching over here for the past 16 (+) years English (at public schools) and some German, school and private lessons.

I know it is somewhat difficult to charge students for lessons they did not attend. As for me they get this lesson fee envelope at the end of the month and they will pay their fee for the next month (f.ex. 4 lessons Yen 8.000). Even if they cancel they do not get the money back because the lesson fee is pretty cheap (at least in my opinion). Another possibility is to sell them a block of lessons (tickets). This way you will get the money for a couple of months in advance! I agree with what many others already said. If you explain to your students that this is the way it will go, most of them will not complain.

Well, just this much, I am sure I will visit your Blog more often in the future (if time permits)!


Hey Klaus,

Thanks for your comments. Please come back again!


Posted by: Klaus at January 15, 2009 06:44 PM

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