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.
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.
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.