A Teacher’s Perspective

My friend Maddie Kertay of Bad Ass Quilter Society fame posted this awesome blog post on what it takes for her shop to bring in a national teacher.
File Feb 14, 6 21 59 PMI’m a nationally known quilt “personality” who lectures and teaches in addition to my full time job in the comic book industry.

I NEED my quilt teaching job.  It helps pay the bills and keeps my household running, especially during my ex-husband’s 19 month unemployment, and especially now that we are recently divorced.  I am not wealthy by any stretch, and many many days I struggle to keep both the full time job happy and the full time quilt business afloat.

2015 income breakdownThis is what my income looks like.   This is my actual 2015 business income.   Notice what the majority of it is.  Teaching and speaking.  And the other big chunk?  In person sales.  That would be vending in person at guilds or quilt shows, where I am also teaching or speaking. In fact the entire right side of this pie chart is teaching and lecturing income related on my balance sheet.  Without one, the others are greatly reduced or don’t exist.

I know how hard I work at creating my classes and getting ready for them.  I feel like I bust my ass.  I want people taking my class to really enjoy the process and have a great time.  I absolutely love to do it, and I say at the end of each lecture that it’s always my “great honor to be chosen to come speak to you tonight”.

But when you book me at my rates, here’s what is happening that you don’t see.

-My 19 years of quilting experience, and my 35 years of sewing experience, including college level theatre classes on costuming.  Without this, there is no talent for me to speak or teach from.
-The countless hours I spend devising your class, down to how each hour should be paced and managed.  Planning for students who work too fast or too slow.  Crafting classes that will be appealing.
-Devising and creating Powerpoint lectures that guilds want to book, that usually include extensive trunk shows which must be packed and brought.  I bring my own laptop and a projector which I had to buy for nearly $1000.
-Crafting the class and lecture handouts via computer.   Printing is all done by me on my new home laser printer (another $700).
-Choosing the supply list so that students are not overwhelmed or bring things that are not used.
-Testing the class with groups of friends, for free, so that they can give me feedback and your class is not the first time I have taught it.
-Hours practicing the lecture so it’s not the first time I have given it if it’s new.
-The planning for additional merchandise to be created, printed or made, and then packed and brought.
– The overall marketing of the classes, including emails and direct mailings to guilds, submitting proposals to teach at shows, and via social media.  I provide a press kit to guilds to promote me to their membership that is constantly updated.
-If class kits are involved, then it’s more hours printing, pre-ordering, cutting, packaging, and assembling.
-The prepping of invoicing, directions, contacting the guild for class counts, and other administrative tasks.

That’s a lot of work.  In this month alone, I am speaking to 5 guilds and teaching 4 classes.  Last month I spoke once.  Next month I have zero of either.  So the work widely varies on how often it is or could be booked.

Now let’s talk about my contract:

-I charge $350 for a one hour lecture, and $600 for an all day class.   I could write another post about how I justify my rates, but let me tell you that I have had other teachers email me in a very unfriendly way to tell me my rates are too low.  If you think my rates are too high, I will point you to here for my resume.
-I ask guilds to reimburse me for my travel expenses.  This is customary in every other industry, including the comic book industry.  Stan Lee will not come speak at your convention unless you pay him, and also all of his travel expenses.   Yes, that means food too.
-I ask guilds to house me in a hotel. Besides the absolute horror stories I have heard from other teachers about staying in someone’s home, when you teach or lecture all day, you want to go to a space that is yours and not have to be “on” the whole time.  You want a space that’s quiet and meets your expectations, not someone’s spouse getting up at 4 am with a barking dog when you have to teach the next day.   That said, I do work with guilds on this one.  It’s part of the job, but not my preference.
-I have a 60 day cancellation policy.  I have to buy kit materials, etc, and anything under this is too short to cancel.

Lately, guilds have called saying that they would like to still have me come and speak, but they cannot fill the classes so they need to cancel them.  I get it, I have been on many guild boards, and I have done every job on them,  I understand the struggle.  While I try hard to convince them to promote it some more and to see if anyone will register late, they sometimes still cancel the workshops.  That’s $350 I’ll still get, but the bigger amount ($600 for the workshop) is still a big loss to my bottom line.  I still have to pack and get all my stuff out to the guild, but now will make a fraction of what I was expecting.  This is a hard pill to swallow.  Absolutely none of the teaching/speaking money is a guarantee.  If it falls through, and I can’t pay the bills, then there’s nothing I can do.  Many teachers are now taking non refundable deposits on their classes, and I am considering this due to the cancellations.

I sympathize with Maddie on this one.  Some guilds think that some teachers are bored housewives who don’t have to work, whose husbands subsidize their side business.  Many are not thinking about the one-woman small business they are cancelling on.  I know lots of teachers who are running full time art businesses, who depend on lectures and teaching as part of their income mix.   I have to have a full time job.  But every day I take off in order to teach and speak and it’s not profitable? That eats into my bottom line.  Every cancellation hurts.  Every guild or shop that passes on having me come out because they can’t fill classes hurts too.

quilt guildsHere’s my last point.  A class at a major quilt show is about $35 to enroll, and a basic 3 hour class runs as high as $85 with materials included.  That’s $120 to take a class at a major show, not including transportation or housing if you don’t live close by, etc.  Take a look at what QuiltCon charges… $90 for 3 hour class, and $35 entry for four days of the show. At my local quilt guild, we have national speakers teaching for under $50 per person. We quilt teachers are in your backyard, where you can bring your own supplies and sleep in your own beds.   Please please please consider taking the classes that are offered around you!  You will be helping an artist, and getting a great value for your investment with a high quality class from a teacher who cares.