It's only taken me thirty years, but I finally figured it out.
I've always resented interviewing students to whom I'd give my time and expertise and not be paid for it. It seemed wrong to charge for an interview if I didn't accept them as students, but I found myself becoming angry when I would spend a significant amount of time with a student I never saw again.
I often offer a great deal of advice which has taken me years to learn. I didn't want to create a situation where I felt any kind of obligation to take a student I didn't think was a good fit, so I just didn't charge for interview time.
Recently, one mother who wanted to switch her daughter to me from another teacher, put me over the edge. Her daughter was clearly uninterested in continuing piano lessons (much less switching teachers) and was being bullied into it by her mother. She had serious physical and emotional issues that made it unlikely that she would be successful at piano lessons. Plus, given the strange relationship between the mother and daughter, there was no way I was going to take her on as a student.
So what about the advice I DID give her? What about the people to whom I'd referred her for other services like Occupational Therapy? I spent more than an hour with the family and didn't earn a penny.
I had to solve it.
It's a simple solution. I now charge an interview fee which is applicable to the first month of lessons if I take the student. If not, I willingly give them an hour of my time and all my expertise and advice without begrudging them a minute of it.
I don't know that this is a solution for the youngest, most novice teachers. I know that I didn't have enough expertise when I was just starting out to know how to advise parents. I certainly didn't have the ability to pick and choose my students because I needed every one I could get.
If you're a young teacher, file this advice away for a time when you have plenty of wonderful students and the luxury of turning students away. For those of you who have a lot to offer right now? Learn from my years of free interviews. As soon as you can, try charging for an interview. It sends the message that your time is valuable.
That's always a message worth sending.
Have you looked at my new repertoire?