It’s a busy tutoring afternoon and you check your email right before your first student only to be smacked in the face with an expert game of Schedule Tetris with a parent.  The following question was posted inside of the Just for Tutors Facebook group (accessible only to The Novice Tutor eBook purchasers) and is a great example of the scheduling nightmares that many tutors face each and every week.


(shared with permission)

Hey Adrianne, Abby (names have been changed) wants to take a pottery class.  This means she will have to miss tutoring for the next month, but then we'll come back.

Mom really wants her daughter to keep coming. We tried to find another time for the second lesson but couldn't manage it. She offered to continue to pay for the second lesson to hold the spot. Her intention is to go back to 2 times a week as soon as X-country finishes.

I don't have any current written policy regarding holding a slot. I have some feelers out, but no one chomping at the bit for the slot. However, I am limited to 3 days a week for my private tutoring, so space is limited.

Do I:


  • Take her up on the offer and accept payment and continue to hold her slot.

  • Hold her slot by not mentioning it as an option with new students, and hope that they are true to their word about going back to twice a week.

  • Hold her slot only until I have another inquiry and then offer her the opportunity to either pay to hold it or take her chances when they are ready to continue.


This is one of those times when what feels right as an educator and what feels right as a business person protecting my interests are two different things. Help!”


This is quite the pickle to get stuck in.  One one hand you want to be empathetic, you have a family too and totally understand.  On the other, you are a business owner and if that slot sits empty you lose out on money if the student doesn’t return.


What’s a tutor to do?  Look at some of the great advice this tutor received.

JH:  I would pick option C or A. There is part of me that feels strange about accepting money for that sort of an arrangement, but you have to make money from that spot.

AV: I couldn't have said it better. Totally agree!

AH:  If you do hold her spot, I would write an addendum to your contract and have her sign it. That way she can't try to get the money back if she doesn't continue, and she can't try to use it towards future lessons when her daughter starts coming.

JR: Yes, I like option C. And yes, I understand your dilemma – I think so many of us have the same problem. Usually, parents will just cut the lessons during the sports time, so I'm happy that you have a mom willing to pay to hold a slot!!

RW:  I would allow her to pay to hold it, but write a contract outlining what you are both agreeing to. That way you are confident that you will earn money for that spot, and she is assured you won't fill it on her.

SR (Tutor in the pickle of this story):  I wish things like this didn't feel so hard for me. When I crunch the numbers, I can still see it both ways…..a lot of lost income for me and a lot for them to layout to hold the space. I got burned by someone in the past and held a 5:00 time slot for them for an entire sports season, only to have them feeling “too busy”.

KB:  Is there any way you could tutor her online during CC?

SR (Tutor in the pickle of this story): I'm not currently set up for online….but that raises some interesting ideas.

KB:   I'm not either but have a client who is playing football. I've been emailing him 2-3 times per week with problems to solve and checklists for his other assignments (I help him with staying organized and caught up as well as Math). He is required to send me responses and updates each time within 24 hrs. His parents are still paying me with the expectation of returning after season is done. It is working ok – not as effective give as in person but it's a good compromise and I've left his spot open.

JR:  Scheduling woes…school here has been in session for ~3 weeks now, and my schedule is more or less set. But over the weekend, 2 families emailed asking to change my schedule…for their kids' new dance, basketball, etc. classes.

I enjoy these two families, but I don't feel like playing Schedule Tetris and inconveniencing other families who have already arranged their times if these two families are choosing sports ahead of reading and writing lessons. We live in a big city and there are lots of sports activities available…or they could have communicated earlier. I guess it will be adios kiddos.


This is such a great conversation and the tutor walked away with several solutions to playing Schedule Tetris.  Let’s talk about a game plan for this kind of scheduling.


Preventing Schedule Shifts:


In the above conversation, you may have noticed that several said to add an addendum to your contract stating that you will hold a student slot for X amount of money and time.  That is a great solution if you already have a set of policies, but if you are just getting started this is something you’ll want to consider adding right from the get-go.


Accept Payment to Hold Slots


Another great idea would be to accept payment for holding a slot for the student.  What does that look like?  Will you provide any kind of support in exchange for holding that spot?


Offer Online Tutoring


Online tutoring came up as an option for helping this student out during their extracurricular activity.  Online tutoring would allow you to avoid driving to the library or the student’s home.  If you haven’t looked into tutoring online, be sure to read all of our posts about this topic here.


As-Needed Basis


Another idea would be to move the child into an “as-needed” tutoring basis while the student is in this activity.  The parent would have to call and be at your mercy for availability for tutoring each week.  This would allow you to fill that student’s slot and still be available for the other student as they need help.


One thing is for sure with tutoring, you’ll always be playing a little bit of Schedule Tetris.  Ultimately, it is up to you how you handle scheduling.  If you don’t like playing the game, you have the right to shut it down right from the beginning.  For me, I don’t rely solely on my tutor income so I can give some flexibility to parents and do so because I am so appreciative when others are flexible with us.


What about you, how do you handle Schedule Tetris?  Click one of the share buttons below and let me know in your post.

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