Tuesday, January 7, 2014

How to Deal with Tutoring Sessions Cancelled at the Last Minute

What do I do when a student cancels a tutoring session at the last minute? 
Skeptical.... Image courtesy of MemeGenerator
I have a friend who encourages students to call and cancel at the last-minute.  His students attend elite colleges--though not necessarily their classes—boast strong grades, and yet seek to accomplish as insubstantial an amount of homework as possible, meaning that they are rarely interested in partaking of the pricy tutoring for which their parents pay.  My friend values unexpected free time more than income though, seeing the freed-up time as an opportunity for him to continue writing his novel, and so he encourages the students to call and cancel by offering to not even charge the students for the lessons if they would just call and cancel.  They don’t care about cancellations or cancellation fees; they just don’t show up.

Another friend tutored in an exceptionally high net-worth area where parents regularly called 5 minutes prior to the start of lessons to say that their child was enjoying her play date so much that they couldn’t bear to break her apart from her new friend by having her attend tutoring that day; other parents just couldn’t seem to be bothered to drive their child to tutoring some days, despite the $85 per hour fee they paid in advance.

Another student regularly cancelled between 30 and 60 minutes prior to lessons because of illness.  Perhaps he did suffer regular bouts of stomach flu, virus, and other such ailments, but typically these ailments occur throughout the day, meaning that the student should have ample time to provide the tutor with plenty of notice of cancellation.

When several such events occur over the course of a couple of days, or even a week, it’s challenging to not take the cancellations personally:  Is it me? Do they not want to see me? Do they not like my tutoring style anymore?

Alternatively, many tutors just assume that their clients are self-centered and inconsiderate, not considering the expectations or time constraints of the busy tutor.

Generally, neither assumption is fully accurate.  It’s likely your clients are busy, and it’s likely that they do indeed have something else they need to, or want to accomplish that day rather than meeting with you for your scheduled lesson.  These things happen.  Having a set policy that provides you with a clear response for each tutoring cancellation scenario will help save you from endless hand-wringing over whether to charge for a lesson that Sally simply forgot about, leaving you standing waiting outside of her house for 30 minutes waiting for her to answer the door or her phone.  It’s a sad picture; don’t let it happen to you. 


  1. Adults who cancel more than once or twice last minute (e.g. 2 hours bore scheduled appointment) without offering to pay at least half of the tutoring educational fee, must be dropped; especially when the said tutor is fortunately unaccustomed to such behavior + has enjoyed a successful track record of the achievement w/ their private students otherwise.

  2. This is a no-brainer. I have my students sign a policy statement, the jist of which is that they pay for the whole session if they don't provide 24-hours advance notice. Emergencies are understandable and I give leeway for them but they should also be rare too, and I also put it out there that "having a game to go to" is not an emergency. Been tutoring since 2002 and I didn't start charging for missed sessions until about 4 years ago. I had to come to terms with the fact that students and parents WILL walk all over you otherwise and then treat you like you are crazy for getting upset (for the same reason, I have them sign an academic honesty and integrity statement too). I'm known throughout the area for being an eccentric "hard ass" and that actually attracts families to me, lol.

    1. And if they can't handle that, then I tell them to look for another tutor.

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    4. Exactly! I'm like you and have been tutoring for 15+ years, but only in the past 5 years have I implemented a written policy.

      I recently had a parent sign up for lessons with me after going back and forth over e-mail, then speaking over the phone ("phone interview"). We agreed on the time for the first lesson, and as I usually do, I followed up over e-mail, stating the time/place of the first lesson, basic policies. I attached my Lessons Policy which is one page and pretty standard IMO (24 hour cancellation policy or pay in full; if more than 24 hours notice is given will make up lesson free of charge; if 15 mins late with no notice, lesson will be cancelled and full amount is due; payment is due in advance; check bounce/late payment fee of $25 -- and that's pretty much the entire policy).

      Anyway, once I sent my lesson policies over the parent responded back saying that she couldn't work with me anymore, to cancel the lesson, and "never before" has she ever had to agree to a policy before working with a tutor, she's "very responsible" and has had "excellent relationships" with all of her tutors, she needs "more flexibility", etc. I wrote back asking which parts of the policy she needed more flexibility with and she wrote back saying she needs to think about it. Personally, I think it's crazy that none of the other tutors have ever brought up policies before -- I've hired tutors for myself and I found that good tutors always had some kind of policy in place. Would you say good riddance to working with this parent?

      In your experience, have parents/students ever refused or been upset when asked to agree to a lessons policy? And when do you find the best time to introduce the policy? Prior to the first lesson or during the first lesson?

  3. I just wonder what the motivation for it is. I understand the emergencies, but people cancel last minute for long foreseeable events. Going to other events, a family member's birthday party, they tell me about vacations the day they're leaving as opposed to in advance, yada yada yada.

    WHY???? It's not like they gain anything doing so.