If you teach on italki, you probably know this scenario: It’s Tuesday 10:00 am and a student sends you a reschedule request for the lesson at 11:00 am on Wednesday. Often without any explanations, no sorry, nothing, just taking it for granted that this is totally acceptable.

Of course, you could offer Instant Tutoring in the free hour but if you have other lessons from 10 – 11 am and then at 12:00 pm, it’s very unlikely that you will find a student. And it would only be for 30 minutes, too. So it means a loss of income for you and if this happens several times a week, it’s getting really annoying.

So how can we deal with reliable students? In this article, I’d like to explore some thoughts and ideas.

Cancellation policies italki

If you teach on italki, you will know that the platform allows students to reschedule lessons until 24 hours before they are supposed to start. The teacher has to agree but that’s a formality. I mean, if you want to continue working with the student, you probably don’t wish to start an argument with him.

If you don’t have many students and are flexible with your time, rescheduling may not be such a problem. The student may have an appointment on Tuesday and reschedules to Wednesday.

A vicious circle

Unfortunately, if you’re as busy and full-booked as I am, this whole rescheduling thing quickly becomes a vicious circle. Students know that it may be difficult to book a session at their preferred time, so they book weeks or even months in advance. When the time for their session approaches, they realise that the date and time are not as convenient anymore as it seemed a few weeks ago and reschedule. In most of the cases, it’s not possible to find a free slot within the next couple of days so they choose a time in 4, 6 or 8 weeks – and the whole process repeats in 4, 6 or 8 weeks.

Frustrating for student and teacher

This is very frustrating for the student as in the worst of the cases, he has to wait several weeks before he has his next session. He may even decide to look for another teacher.

It is frustrating for you as a teacher, too. As mentioned before, it means a loss of income. And if you adjust your prices regularly (which you should do), it also means that you may have to teach a student in November who originally booked his lesson in May at a lower price and then rescheduled several times.

Restrict available slots

I wondered how I could break this vicious circle and came up with the idea to open new slots only two weeks before the next month starts. That way students no longer need to book lessons months in advance AND will no longer be able to reschedule for a date which is several weeks later. If they need to do so for personal reasons, they will have to contact you, explain you the reasons and you can find a solution together.

Last-minute cancellations

The second problem online teachers have to deal with are students who don’t show up or cancel last minute. Many new teachers prefer to be generous and nice. They tolerate this behaviour and allow the student to have the session at a later time.

You need a cancellation policy on your profile page

When I started teaching online, I was like that, too. However, after a while, I realised that I needed to change my attitude and develop a business mindset. Nowadays, my cancellation policy  clearly states that students have to pay for the lesson if they don’t show up or cancel less than 24 hours before the start of the lesson and I stick to that policy. And guess what? I have no more trouble with non-paying students.

In your cancellation policy, you may also state that you only accept reschedule requests with 48 hours notice. However, be so fair and tell every new student about this as not everyone reads and remembers rules which are different from which is common on italki. It may even be a good idea to prepare a PDF file and send it to the student before you start working with him or her.

Who do you want to work with?

I’m convinced that it has something to do with prices and how you value yourself, too. When my prices were very low, I obviously attracted quite a few people who tried to bargain for everything. They gave connection problems, sickness, family emergencies, traffic jams or whatever as reasons why they couldn’t attend the lesson and wanted to have their money back.

On the other hand, it also happened more often than now that students simply didn’t show up but confirmed the lesson. There may be teachers who are just happy about having earned money that easily but I think that such a behaviour implies a lack of respect.

You don’t need every student who comes along

I remember the case of one woman who accused me of being greedy because I rejected her request to return her money for a session she hadn’t attended. This accusation hurt because I consider myself a very reliable and empathetic person whose strongest motive force has never been money. I tried to explain to her that it’s just a one-time loss of 15 dollars for her but could mean 100 dollars less of weekly income for me if I always gave in and were generous. She had just two lessons with me and was one of those students you can happily let go. People who don’t appreciate your time and don’t respect you, are not worth your effort. They only bring trouble.

Apply your cancellation policy

Therefore, I strongly suggest that you introduce a cancellation policy if you don’t have one yet and stick to it. Those students who appreciate your work and like to study with you will have no problems with it. You can still make occasional exceptions. For example, I have a student who has been studying with me for 1.5 years now and has never missed or rescheduled a lesson. If she sent me a message 2 hours before the start our lesson that she’s sick and can’t attend, I wouldn’t let her pay for it. Because she’s my ideal student and I know she wouldn’t take advantage of my generosity.

How to deal with unreliable students

Who you work with has a lot to do with your own mindset and how you value yourself. So the question you should ask yourself is not how to deal with unreliable students but rather “How can I find students I absolutely love to work with and who love my lessons so much that they don’t want to miss one?”. Because those students will be reliable.

That’s not an easy task if you constantly question yourself and want everything to be perfect. And when you always feel that you still have to learn so many things. That you’re not ready yet to adjust your prices because you fear that you will lose your students or can’t offer them enough value for your new prices.

I know all those feelings and still struggle with them.

However, if working with ideal students is your goal, you need to overcome these fears and you need to change your mindset.

So what are your experiences with students? Are you already working with your ideal students or do you still have to deal with some unreliable ones? Leave me a comment and tell me what you think about this topic. 

Author: Daniela

Hi! I'm Daniela - a native German who's currently living in Lima, Peru. Besides making a living teaching German and English, I'm constantly trying to improve my Spanish and Portuguese. On my blog, I write articles for (aspiring) language teachers to help them get started and for people who want to travel the world and make some extra cash teaching their native language.

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