Show TimeTeacher Compensation at Larger Venues

I’m returning to this topic – as I will again in future – because I believe it’s at the heart of the strong, sustained growth of knitting as a pastime and, for many of us, a chosen vocation.

It seems that with the larger show budgets and clout, they do a very good job of representing themselves and setting the rules. These rules make it very difficult for someone earning their living as a teacher to pay the mortgage, while the shows continue to do better than that.

If a venue believes in a teacher enough to hire them, they need to provide the basics. I believe those basics to be:

  1. A private room (not shared, not a “half room”)
  2. Compensation for reasonable travel (not just a “portion”)
  3. Per diem for meals (I only ask for 1 meal a day in my contract)
  4. Ability to teach at other venues in the area*,
    4a. or additional compensation for an ‘Exclusive’ to cover the loss of income**

I’ve spoken to more than one teacher at Stitches where the bitterness from the many demands by XRX (requirement to attend banquet & fashions show with no extra compensation, sharing a room, accommodations far from the teaching venue) colors their interactions with others at the show. The teachers are professional enough not to ‘take it out’ on the students, but the raw feeling of being taken advantage of is absorbed, and HAS to affect their teaching (and their lives.)

The way we allow others to treat us today – personally and professionally – directly correlates to our quality of life tomorrow. I’m finished with allowing venues that enjoy the income from the 30+ student classes I teach dictating what I can do in my outside time – and not compensating me fully into the bargain.

Yes, I’m in a special position. I fill classes and have name recognition. But if someone like me, who happens to be at a good point in my teaching career, doesn’t stand up for all of us, well-known and lesser-known teachers alike, then who will?

I will not always be at this place, careers rise and fall. In fact, speaking out like this doesn’t exactly help my personal teaching career. But NOW is the time for those of us who teach to make our simple – and reasonable – requirements known.

If this continues, the only teachers at these venues will be

  1. New teachers who accept inadequate conditions because they feel they must
    (they don’t, and this acceptance helps keep compensation down for all teachers)
  2. Teachers who feel the visibility of teaching at such a venue is worth the economic loss
    (it’s not***)
  3. Teachers who are affiliated with the venue in some way
    (paid staff of the venue)
  4. Teachers who are subsidized by a related company – non-independent teachers
    (and therefore can use the class to promote a yarn, book, etc.)
  5. Teachers who do not realize their worth.

So what happens to the independent, unaffiliated teachers? They either suck up the one sided contract and sign it, or they don’t teach at the larger venues. This isn’t good for knitting, it’s not good for the students, and eventually it’s not good for the shows, either. It’s a race to the bottom – how little can we pay our teachers and still get ones that will bring in students? – and it won’t stop until teachers stand up and say “No.”

I do understand that some teachers would be attending a show anyway, and figure, “Hey – at least I get part of my expenses covered!” But this is a false economy. The money saved in “expenses” will be lost when that same venue wants the teacher to travel to a show they don’t really want to go to. At that point the teacher has already set the precedent of accepting less than professional compensation, and it’s harder to back track and at that point ask for fair compensation.

Teachers are scared to take a stand and habitually accept less than is professionally feasible from the larger shows. But this is our living. Knowing students are in our corner will give us strength to turn down a job or two. Having students request our classes will make the venues think twice about barring teachers who ask for fair compensation or are ‘trouble makers.’

I am NOT advocating a boycott of any venue or specific show, but I am asking that those of you who attend these shows think hard about how the teachers are being treated, and ask yourself if there is something you can do to let the organizers of these shows know that treatment of teachers matters to the students. And if there’s a teacher you like, let the shows know that you would like to see classes from that teacher.

Believe me, your well being while you’re in our classes matters tremendously to us. I know that your teacher’s well being matters to you, too.

*if other teaching in the area occurs, the travel, hotel and meal expenses should be divided equitably between all venues.

**If a venue wants an exclusive, they need to be willing to pay for that benefit. It is NOT something we should just give away. Our names and reputation ARE our income, if a venue wants to prevent us from teaching in some geographic radius, they need to pay for the privilege.

***I had a reality check and finally understood that teachers do more to bring students into a show than a show does to further a teacher’s career. I was once told by the owner of the Original Sewing and Quilt Expo – after being shorted on my expense check – that “THEY had been responsible for my growing visibility.”

This was in the year that I had 3 books come out and taught at at least 5 venues a month. [sarcasm alert] Yeah, they had a LOT to do with my visibility – my hard work, talent, appearances on Knitty Gritty, blog, designs in magazines, my hundreds of appearances at yarn shops in the previous 5 years – they pale in comparison to my appearance at a sewing expo…

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