Thursday, July 16, 2009

Creating A Professional Teaching Environment

Once again, it's time to think about submitting classes to some of the larger venues, and once again I think I may pass.

I feel it's important to make public my reasons for not submitting classes to venues like TNNA, Sitiches, or Knitters Connection, because the reasons are clear and have an impact on anyone who teaches knitting or crochet for a living.

I also believe my reasons could have an impact on the consumer - those students who take classes at the larger venues - but that's a personal decision each of us make.

Let's just say that if you're at a large venue and your teacher seems stretched to the end of their rope, a little tired, a little overwhelmed - well, it may be because they didn't get a good night's rest because their roommate snored, or they're a little worried about covering their airfare home.

Let me explain...

1) Teaching Fees
In many cases the fees offered by the larger venues are smaller than the fees I get when I teach at fiber shows and yarn shops. This, in itself, isn't enough to prevent me from teaching at these venues. Compensation comes in many forms and the visibility and sense of camaraderie at the larger shows can offset a fee that's $15 less per hour than I'd usually get.

I've been told by many big-name teachers that I should raise my rates. Maybe I should.

Right now I charge between $480-600 for a full day of teaching, which is on the low end of the scale. Most big-name teachers usually charge a flat $600 - $800 per day. (Hmmm, I probably should increase my fee.)

I prefer to use a sliding scale so that a small yarn shop that can seat only 10 folks can still afford to have me, and so I won't be teaching a class of 34 for the same rate I teach a class of 12.

Currently my teaching fees are online, but here's a comparison of my fees vs. TNNA fees:
Up to 10 students - TNNA Fee: $65 per hr Annie's Fee: $ 80/hour
10-15 students - TNNA Fee: $65 per hr Annie's Fee: $ 85/hour
16-20 students - TNNA Fee: $75 per hr Annie's Fee: $ 90/hour
21-25 students - TNNA Fee: $85 per hr Annie's Fee: $100/hour
26-30 students - TNNA Fee: $95 per hr Annie's Fee: $100/hour
31-35 students - TNNA Fee: $105 per hr Annie's Fee: $NA*
36+ students - TNNA Fee: $110 per hr
Annie's Fee: $NA*

*I call classes larger than 30 students a lecture, and have a separate scale for that.
Before you go thinking this sounds like a lot of money, remember that it represents a LOT of work to create and streamline the classes, and I'm not paid for the travel time it takes to get to and from the venue. One day of work may actually represent 2 or 3 days of travel plus one day of teaching.

2) Travel & Accommodation Compensation
A few years ago a trend started to only pay half of a craft teacher's room, thereby forcing them to either share a room or pay the balance out of their own pocket. I believe it began with Stitches, and when other large venues saw this, they jumped on the band wagon. Teachers have accepted this because they feel they must.

I won't.

For the record, I don't mind sharing a room, in fact I rather enjoy it. But that's when my time is my own and I'm not required to be "on stage" for 6 hours the next day.

When I'm teaching (and I have many individual experiences to prove this point) I am a more patient, more well-rested, more balanced - simply a BETTER teacher - than I am when I must share a room.

I'm an odd one, I like the temperature very low, and I fall asleep to the TV. I also avoid going out to dinner, I just stay in my room preparing for the next day's classes, reading or catching up on sleep. These aren't impossible to do with a roommate, but it certainly makes it harder.

I've been asking folks in other industries (mostly men) if they have to share rooms when they attend conferences and teach group classes. I'm usually met with laughter or an, "Are you serious?" look. These guys do NOT share rooms.

Or, as a yarn shop owner recently wrote to me, "After childhood, room sharing should be optional!"

And the option should NOT be that the balance comes out of the teacher's pocket.

#3 - Exclusive Engagements
Often the larger venues have pretty severe "Thou shalt not teach nearby" clauses in their contracts. Knitters Connection insisted that teachers not teach in a 300-mile radius, which excludes Pittsburgh, Toledo, Detroit, Indianapolis, Cinncinati and all points between. That's a LOT of area to exclude from a non-local teacher's territory.

Why do the venues do it? They feel that this dilutes the area, that more classes will cut down on attendance. I feel it's an unfair advantage, one for which they should pay.

If a venue wants to prevent a teacher from holding a second class 50 miles away, they should pay that teacher a premium to agree to an exclusive engagement.

I don't do exclusives at shops, it's not something I feel is fair. I try to find other venues in the area (not too close) so that I can teach more classes (not the same classes) while I'm on a teaching trip.

For instance, when I go out to Rhinebeck in October I'll also look for venues not-too-nearby, but close enough so I can drive there. I'll offer different classes than I'm teaching at Rhinebeck (they got first choice) and the final result should be good attendance at all classes and travel fees reduced for all the venues. I hope.

I've found, counter-intuitively, that when I'm at 2 or 3 venues, class numbers actually increase at ALL the venues where I'm teaching.

Why is this? I think it's the buzz factor. If 3 shops are advertising my visit, more folks hear about it.

Or it may be that the class times at one shop aren't good for a student, but a time at a different shop is perfect. Or a knitter may be able to convince a friend to attend with her if there's a larger option of classes.

I've found this over and over again, so often that it can't just be a fluke.

The wise shops are on onto this, and will band together with other shops in their area so they can bring in more teachers more often. ALL benefit from the excitement - once folks are at a shop for a class, they tend to buy yarn and books, too.

I take what I do very seriously, and I love doing it. Teaching - for me - is not a hobby, it's my career, my avocation, and it's also my mortgage.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with teaching as a lark - that's fine! I hope that everyone has a good time with teaching - it's a wonderful adventure!

However, it is incumbent on all craft teachers, whether this is your income or you're just doing it for fun - for butter-and-egg money - to consider what taking a low fee may do to fees across the board.

Even if you don't see yourself as a professional, treat yourself as a professional, which means agreeing to teach at venues that treat you professionally.

When we undersell ourselves (which - as women - we are sadly inclined to do) we allow the venues to keep fees low, and tack on ridiculous restraints allow a teacher to barely break even. This is wrong, no matter how you look at it.

Why is it that Fiber Shows and yarn shops can cover my fees & expenses, but TNNA, Stitches, Knitters Connection, and other larger venues can't? I don't think it's because they can't.

I think it's because they WON'T.

Who doesn't like getting a bargain? If a show scheduler can demand a teacher at a bargain rate, why not go for it? I'll tell you why not - it's not fair, and it's not right.

Note: I didn't mean to imply in the following sentence that TNNA forces anyone to get a single room, what I mean is that in the guidelines the TNNA Designer/Teacher subcommittee drew up last year it was agreed that the least a teacher should accept is a single room - that's the irony!

It's especially egregious when TNNA offers poor travel and accommodation compensation because professional teachers and designers pay DUES to TNNA, and TNNA's own Teacher and Designer guidelines require full hotel for a teacher for each night before the day they teach.

I'm silly and old fashioned (and liberal) enough to feel that fairness has a place in business. Underpaying the folks who are a large part of the knitting resurgence is bad policy and bad business. Treating folks fairly is the professional thing to do.

Going Forward
How can all of us work to create a more professional environment for Craft Teachers?

I feel there are creative ways to deal with this that will leave everyone in good shape financially and professionally.

  • Don't require teaches to share a room
  • Don't require teachers to attend unpaid events (dinners, shows)
  • Allow teachers to offer other classes locally (unless you pay extra for an exclusive arrangement)
  • Devise partnerships with other venues or vendors to cover initial costs.

  • Hone your skills and be prepared to offer more than 1 or 2 classes.
  • Devise 3 or 4 DAYS of classes (if a venue pays to bring you in, offer enough classes to make the investment worthwhile!)
  • Consider renting a car and taking a room at a less expensive hotel (I do this quite often!)
  • Promise not to teach the same classes within a 50 (or whatever) mile radius
  • Devise partnerships with other venues and vendors to lower the initial costs for everyone!
  • Let the venues know that you do care how the instructors are compensated.
  • Let the teachers know you appreciate what they do.
Note to students: I can't promise that paying teachers better and covering full hotel won't increase the price of classes. But as yourself - do you really want a bargain on the back of someone else?

This "Wal-martization" of our industry is a race to the bottom that no one will win. The choice may not be cheap vs. expensive classes, but cheap vs. NO classes.

This is how WE, as teachers, can create a more professional atmosphere.

I honestly feel by working together we can raise every one's bottom line. Right now it's just too easy for a large venue to say, "Business is bad, we'd better pay the teachers less and not cover their hotel..."

And if we let them do this to us as teachers and students, shame on us.

I want - desperately - to teach again at TNNA. It's a wonderful venue and I love teaching to my peers and meeting so many yarn shop owners. But I can't be a party to my own hanging, and if not me, then who?

It's my choice - my duty - to try to raise the standard of living for craft teachers. I know I'm not alone.
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posted by Annie at


OpenID fingersandtoes said...

Hear hear!!

July 16, 2009 12:44 PM  
Blogger Corvi said...

Damn straight, Annie. "...the laborer is worthy of his hire." It's preposterous to expect teachers to share rooms like children. Organizers ought not balance the budget on the backs of the employees.

July 16, 2009 12:55 PM  
Blogger Cathy W said...

Waittasec. TNNA requires you, as a professional instructor, to ask for a full hotel room the night before a class - but then they don't give you one when you teach at their conference?

Umm. Yeah. "Egregious" would not quite be the word I'd use there, if I'm understanding the situation correctly.

Do you have any "going forward" suggestions for students, besides "Expect a little sticker shock"?

July 16, 2009 12:58 PM  
OpenID craftydiversions said...

Again, thank you for speaking up and sharing your experience for everyone's benefit. I worked for a non-profit for several years and when we traveled we had to share rooms unless it was a reasonable accommodation for a private room, but that was a non-profit company doing good work to help the community. For-profit ventures, especially large ones, should not require people to share rooms. I think it's unprofessional to make such a requirement.

July 16, 2009 1:03 PM  
Blogger andi said...

Brava, Annie! as an up and coming designer/teacher, I have had to face the fact that it just isn't economically viable for me to teach outside of my local vicinity. As much as I would welcome the opportunity to teach at TNNA, Stitches, et al. they just don't pay enough to justify exclusivity. Thanks for continuing to bring this issue to the fore. Perhaps this really is the time for us to unionise?

July 16, 2009 1:06 PM  
Blogger Trillian42 said...

I opted not to take classes at Stitches this year. Partly because nothing grabbed me, but I honestly think it was mainly because of your previous post about this issue. As a consumer, I have power too - I won't support organizations that treat teachers this poorly. I sincerely hope that this CAN be changed!

July 16, 2009 1:26 PM  
Anonymous Shannon said...

Well said, my friend. I am also weighing the teaching options for next year very heavily at the moment, with several competing lines of thought in play. I *want* to see the classes improve at the shows, for the students' benefit if nothing else, but then again, I want to be able to pay my bills, too.

July 16, 2009 2:23 PM  
Blogger Gudrun Johnston said...

Annie...thanks again for laying it all out on the table! I'm only just getting into the teaching side of things as this is such valuable information to have!

July 16, 2009 2:30 PM  
Anonymous Luise said...

Go, Annie! Why is it that women allow themselves to be treated this way -- in 2009? If they don't "need" the money, they (or their spouses' incomes) are being exploited. Individuals earn what they can; what they do with it is irrelevant (to the employer). You're right -- no man would tolerate such treatment.

Clearly, we're still a long way from gender equality, but we can improve things by demanding "fair" -- and saying no if we don't get it (another thing women find hard to do). Fight the good fight. Your talents demand no less.

July 16, 2009 2:43 PM  
Blogger Leslie said...

As I said last year, "you go, Annie!" It's outrageous to pay you less than you're worth, to expect you to share a room when their own guidelines call for you to get a private room and to limit your ability to sell your teaching skills for a 300 mile radius.

July 16, 2009 3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...I didn't have a clue. Thanks for the enlightenment. I guess it doesn't really surprise me.

July 16, 2009 3:55 PM  
Blogger Clumsy Knitter said...

Thank you for continuing to post about these issues, Annie. The concerns (and solutions) that you bring up are very clearly laid out and I applaud you for taking a stand on these themes.

However, it seems to me that change will not come without a significant change in consumer behavior. It is not enough for us students to simply not take classes, but we must also let the venues know WHY we are choosing not to participate. The problem is: without blog posts like yours, how do the students know what the conditions of their teachers are? If I send an email to TNNA or Stitches, are they going to give me a full and honest answer?

July 16, 2009 4:25 PM  
Blogger Daniel Yuhas said...

Go you for posting this! As someone just starting to really professionalize my knitting, it can be so frustrating when everyone seems to be saying, "well, I don't have the money to pay you what you're worth, but the real money is over there..." - wherever "there" is! Thanks so much for spelling it all out!

July 16, 2009 4:26 PM  
OpenID mwknitter said...

I'm outraged that this is still going on & you are 100% right that they would NEVER expect men to share rooms. It is a not so subtle indication that you are being treated like children. For Stitches Midwest, they are charging over $21/hour for classes. I'm sure you can do the math! I won't take classes until they come to a more equitable arrangement with teachers - without jacking the prices way up. I just listened to a podcast by a woman who wanted to cancel her enrollment in a Stitches class - she apparently missed the cut off by a day or 2 & they gave her a very hard time - eventually allowing it but charging her $75 to drop a class which she was fairly sure would be snapped up immediately. I understand they are taking a risk but it seems like they are making way more of a profit than is reasonable. It wouldn't bother me quite so much if it were just them charging high fees (I mean no one HAS to sign up) but it's just not right that it's at the expense of the teachers (&, face it, without them, there wouldn't be much of a reason for anyone to go!) I much prefer fiber festivals myself. In fact, tomorrow is the first day of the Midwest Fiber & Folk Art Fair in McHenry CTY IL & I am taking a weaving workshop. Last year I went to the Wisconsin Shepep & Wool Festival which I recommend VERY highly - great classes & love to see the cute wooly critters.

July 16, 2009 5:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The nearest LYS to me that brings in teachers is 60 miles away. I won't even consider a class that far away if the class meets late enough in the day that I'd have to drive home tired and in the dark or if it is in the winter when I might have to forfeit my fee if the weather is bad.

300 miles of "non-competition"????


July 16, 2009 5:57 PM  
Anonymous Alison (in Australia) said...

Annie, thank you, as ever, for your thoughtful and thought-inspiring comments.

As someone who'll be in the UK in September I'm pleased you're offering classes in a variety of locations: I would love to do a class with you but it's not the primary motivation for my trip, so I'm working in my ability to take a class around other (eg, geographic) considerations. I think your generosity (or sound business sense!) has benefits for others in the industry too: I've convinced my mother to come to your class, and we'll also be taking other classes on the same day. I'm thrilled to be able to spend a day with my mother doing something we both enjoy - and the underlying catalyst for this is your class (& blog). Thank you very much!!!

July 16, 2009 7:33 PM  
Blogger alisonc said...

Thank you for talking about this. I have no interest in racing, if it's to the bottom.

July 17, 2009 8:34 AM  
Anonymous Roz said...

I'm with you. I've never attended any of the conferences -- the bulk of my cash has gone toward magazine subscriptions and supporting my LYS's (there are four I frequent regularly). In the middle of trying to draft my first-ever pattern, I now know just how much work is involved -- and my time is valuable. People would have to pay me if I ever went pro...

It is worth pointing out that if the magazines are an advertisement for the conferences, then I'll never attend Stitches. Their patterns are fugly and un-inspirational, and I've decided to drop the subscription because of that. (Knit n Style's patterns also leave much to be desired, as do Creative Knitting's offerings.) I find the European magazines are much more fashion-forward.

"Women's work" is worth the money -- no matter whether it's knitting, newspaper writing, or curing cancer. Everyone needs to stand up for equitable treatment.

OK -- off the soapbox, and off to get coffee.

July 17, 2009 10:25 AM  
Anonymous Mary Lou said...

Annie, I believe you have found your calling in the craft community, apart from your design and teaching skills. You can rally the troops in a dynamic way. Don't let up. I taught high school in the 1970s for seven years. Papers to grade every night, lesson plans to write, pep club sponsor who went to all of the games, class play director, meetings, meetings, meetings. I never earned more than $10,000 a year, supporting my husband and myself while he finished school. And I wasn't one of the teachers with kids to support, too. Teaching has traditionally been "women's work" for "women's pay". Hold these capitalists-without-souls' feet to the fire as well as you can so that they begin to treat women the way they know they should.

July 17, 2009 2:18 PM  
Anonymous Mo said...

Stick to your guns on this Annie! Your time, expertise and knowledge is a valuable resource and you should be compensated accordingly. I'm sure all these big shows must still be making great profits even if they are reduced a bit in the current financial climate. That's not a valid excuse for reducing payments to teachers. And without teachers, people won't want to take classes, won't come to the shows, so no profits and they'll put themselves out of business!

I wish I was going to be able to take some of your classes here in the uk, unfortunately I can't get time off then.

Best wishes and keep up the fight,

July 18, 2009 5:49 PM  
OpenID independentstitch said...


July 19, 2009 5:09 AM  
Blogger Debbie said...

Fantastic! Fair, honest and a really good analysis of the challenges faced by teachers who love teaching but can't do it just for love, much as we'd like to. Thanks!

July 20, 2009 11:42 AM  
Anonymous Dianne said...

I whole heartedly agree with you. Knitting professionals should be treated fairly and with respect. In a perfect world, you would be able to earn a decent living by teaching knitting classes. This would of course include healthcare for you and your family. In a perfect world, a lot of us would be doing something very different than what we are doing.

As you very well know, this is far from a perfect world. I cannot make a living by designing and knitting socks. I can make a living (barely) by working for a non-profit arts organization. I work hard at my job, and knit in my free time. I wish it were the other way around, but wishes donÕt pay the mortgage.

For many of us, the funds for knitting classes comes from whatever is left over after the mortgage, taxes, utilities, car payment, food, gasoline and other essentials are paid. I would love to take some knitting classes. Heck, I would be at the Sock Summit next month if I could. But I canÕt. I choose to work for a non-profit arts organization, and consider myself lucky to still have a job with healthcare, pay cuts and all. Personally I find that I can buy a book plus yarn for a project or two for the price of a knitting class. If there is something I donÕt understand - a certain cast-on or whatever, IÕve learned quite a lot from videos posted on YouTube.

As far as the heinous practice of expecting knitting teachers to share a hotel room, thatÕs for the birds. I would hate it. However, this is not a gender thing. ItÕs true that men in the corporate world are not asked to share a hotel room. Neither are women in the corporate world. ArenÕt male knitting instructors expected to share a room or pay for half out of pocket just like female knitting instructors? The problem is, society as a whole does not value the arts as highly as we would like. I feel your pain. I truly do.

July 20, 2009 12:40 PM  
Blogger Romi said...

Wow. Thank you for this, Annie.

July 21, 2009 11:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't believe that TNNA makes you share rooms! The yarn business is doing very well and can certainly afford to treat you as adults.

Oh, and by the way, I'm not currently a lawyer, but I'm pretty certain that the no teaching within 300 mi clause is completely unenforceable (which is tantamount to being illegal). Also, because of the nature of your work I would guess that any limit on where you can teach is unenforceable. I really think you should check with a lawyer on this. It makes me crazy that the yarn industry which makes so much money off the spending of primarily women, treats women so very very poorly. Thanks for letting us know, it will certainly make a difference in where my dollars go.

charlizeen on yahoooooooooooo

July 23, 2009 3:05 PM  
Blogger Village Books said...

Right on, Annie!!!!

July 28, 2009 8:42 AM  
OpenID NeedleDancer said...

Once again, you say the wisest things...Thanks for this. I sure hope the powers that hire teachers get this...

August 01, 2009 9:10 PM  

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