Should You Teach For FREE?

Published on April 8th 2020 by Hillary-Marie

I just did a recent iTap Chat with iTapOnline Members, where a member asked for advice because they had been asked to teach for free due to the COVID-19 quarantine mandates.

I asked everyone on the call, if they were comfortable sharing, if they too had been asked to teach for free. To my surprise and slight horror, the chat box started overflowing with “yeses”.

It’s not appropriate for an employer to ask their employees to work for free. I would never ask my team to work for free - if it ever got to that point, everyone would have to be laid off and file for unemployment and I’d have to run things myself

My heart is bleeding that there’s a studio out there that hasn’t collected March 2019 tuition, and therefore cannot pay their teachers. That there’s a studio out there that’s been operating beyond their financial abilities. That there are studios out there who will close their doors and possibly not reopen. It breaks my heart that this is the unfortunate reality that we’re all facing.

And so here you are, as a dance teacher, and you’re in this dilemma where you want to help the kids - of course you want to be there for them.

And you have this decision to make…

Should you teach for free?

Here’s what happens when you say YES

If you say yes, you have to decide for yourself if you are okay with potentially receiving zero dollars, even if they tell you that they’ll pay you later - don’t trust it.

If you choose to say yes, you can’t count on the studio still being there in September. You can’t tell yourself, “I’ll say yes and do it for now so I still have a job in the Fall”. Who knows? That studio might not be around then. If they’re at the point of asking people to work for free right now, who knows where they’ll be in the coming months?

It’s all about personal boundaries. You have to decide for yourself, and whatever decision you make, you have to be okay with it. If a studio owner asks you to teach for free and says “I’ll try and pay you later if I can”... don’t be shocked if they don’t pay you anything to do it.

If you feel it’s the right thing to do, go for it. You don’t have to say yes out of feeling guilty. But you can choose to say yes because your heart says this is the right thing to do.

Here’s what happens when you say NO

If you feel in your heart and soul that you don’t want to do it because you don’t have the headspace and heartspace to do it, or because you expect to be paid (because you deserve to be paid and SHOULD be paid), then it’s 100% okay to say no.

Whether or not this studio makes it through their tough times is not your responsibility. This is not your business and it’s not your burden to carry and therefore, it’s nothing to be ashamed of or to feel guilt about if you choose to say no.

Do you know how many teachers who said to me, “what if I don’t WANT to do this? I’m exhausted. This use of technology exhausts me. The stress is making me sick and I can’t handle this. I’d rather stay at home and just do nothing than put myself through the stress of this.”

That’s real. And there are people who are in that boat.

So in the end, it’s up to you, and you have to decide and set the rules for yourself.

Set the Rules

If you decide to teach for free…

How long will you do it for?

What happens the day you decide to cut it off?

Is it until they collect tuition at which point you ask for a partial payment?

It’s up to you to decide.

You don’t want to be pissed at yourself come May 1st and say to yourself:

I did all this, and for what? I haven’t spent time with my family, I’m not eating right, I have no time to cook, I’m out of shape, feeling tired, haven’t spent time with my family, and all for what, to teach dance classes that not many people showed up because it was poorly communicated…

And then get paid $0.

It’s real… it’s okay to put yourself first.

It’s also okay to give back to your dance community

It’s hard as arts educators, because we’ve been taught that we don’t need to make money because we do what we love.

The world needs art, but it doesn’t need to come at the sacrifice of your own well being.

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