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The chains that hold you… (and many Freelance Teachers, too)

Ball and chain fetters freelance teacher (photo: Jason Raitz)

Ball and chain fetters freelance teacher (photo: Jason Raitz)

Iron ball and chains restrict the movements of prisoners. So which ball and chain (metaphorically speaking) causes the biggest confinement for most freelance teachers?

The Parade magazine (2 January 2005) revealed all. It said the focus is on the symptom rather than its underlying cause:

Diets aim at the wrong target, the belly, not the brain. They focus on a symptom rather than its underlying causes. The key to permanent weight loss is changing the attitudes, feelings and habits that determine what, when, why, how often and how much you eat.

Translated, we understand that a freelance teacher is not earning enough because the focus is invariably on its symptom rather than its underlying cause. To find the symptom, we must ask this question: are you under-earning or do you earn low wages by choice?

Let’s first find out what “under-earning” means.

What is under-earning?

The simple answer is a freelance teacher who earns less than he or she can potentially earn. Of course, there are more underlying reasons behind this simple answer. Not earning enough also means the freelance teacher has to go without – in both emotional and physical levels.

On an emotional level, the teacher is deprived of any satisfaction or pride in his job. His sense of achievement is non-existent. Without a feeling of satisfaction there is no sense of pride in achieving or doing anything worthwhile. The outcome is foreseeable: a downward spiral that causes a loss of quality and its accompanying loss of any pride in doing a worthwhile job.

On a physical level, the teacher is lost. Without feeling satisfied and motivated to do a good job, the downward spiral inevitably ends in a loss of students and customers. Without students or customers there is no income, and without income the freelance teacher is going to become physically deprived. And failing physical needs may not be restricted to the freelance teacher himself – especially when he has dependants.

To make the distinction clear between under-earning and freelance teachers who choose to earn low wages, let’s explain the difference between them.

What is not under-earning?

Again, the simple answer lies in a freelance teacher’s voluntary choice. This is a free choice made by the teacher to live a simple (or simpler) life. However, he makes a conscious decision to reap the rewards and satisfaction his work brings and still demand and get (just) enough money to cover his needs and to live on adequately.

A choice can never be one imposed by causes or any reason such as perceived market restrictions, wage limits set by employers, global recession, etc. And yet, many freelance teachers use these very reasons to justify their low earnings and resign inwardly –  to imaginary forces beyond their control – against their inner convictions that this cannot be. Let’s take a look at some of these “outside and imaginary forces” that stalk many freelance teachers resulting in (too) low income. For example, have you heard or experienced any of the five classical reasons for under-earning? These are underlying reasons that cause low earnings rather than a symptom.

Five classical reasons for not earning enough

Have you ever listened to or taken part in discussions about teaching jobs and low wages? Aren’t these five the most classical reason for low wages and why freelance teachers are not able to earn more?

1.       Personal and Social Value of Teaching Work

How do you estimate the personal and social value of the work you do?

Most under-earners belittle or underestimate the value of their work. So take a minute and reflect as objectively as you are able the following questions:

(a)       How does your teaching (your work) help people? Does your work help fulfil their personal free-time desires or improve their job position, their wages and their standard of living? Don’t forget their dependants! The people who are dependent on their success. What benefit does your teaching bring to your students and customers personally?

(b)      What about society in general? Does your work bring society any benefits? Such as helping people avoid unemployment or even helping them get out of unemployment with better qualifications? Think of the value of your teaching to the society as a whole and to the student’s personal life improvement value. What monetary value would you give to your teaching if it had a price label?

The job you are doing is – beyond monetary measure!

2. The Causes of Low Earnings Are Beyond (My) Control

Despite the value their teaching gives to students and to society, most teachers suffer from under-earning because they feel the responsibility for their low earnings lies beyond their control. There is always a reason why they cannot earn more. What is surprising is the creative fantasy needed to produce and support their arguments. The teachers talk as if they are trapped – a victim of their circumstances or the environment or just about any other reason that happens and is beyond their control. You’ll hear talk about:

“There’s a global market recession.”
“The market is a cut-throat.”
“There are too many teachers and not enough students.”
“The timing is not yet ripe to raise prices.”
“Price-dumping is rife in my teaching niche.”

“There are too many unqualified jobbers/students/bored spouses teaching for pocket money where I live.”

“It is not possible to fight alone against policies on low wages, long and unsociable hours, and the number of students in each class.”

“I don’t live in a city where my students can just walk in from the street and sign up for lessons.”

“I live in a city where I have to compete against a lot of competition (from other freelance teachers).”

Have you heard or recognised any of these reasons?

3.       Self-sabotage – Pricing

Self-sabotage is another classic: Many freelance teachers sabotage themselves all the time. Have you ever been guilty of saying this when the time comes to negotiate the fee?

Well, my price is usually Euro 50 but – but for you… my hourly price is 30.

At what point in time could the student or customer negotiate a lower price? When did the student or customer have a chance to protest against the Euro 50? Self-sabotagers often lower their prices in advance and without reason. Self-sabotagers can never get the chance to see when their prices are accepted outright. Instead they plan an automatic loss in earnings before the lessons begin! You know the value of your work. And you know the value of cheap is – cheap and has no value. Stick to your guns and if necessary, stare them down.

4.       Self-sabotage – Volunteer work

Another classic in self-sabotage is engaging to do too much volunteer work. Some volunteer work is admirable, but it has to fit in with your personal ethics and personal satisfaction goals. However, doing volunteer work just to earn a satisfying pat on the back won’t pay bills or the rent. However, it is possible to earn the soul-feeding-satisfaction-pat-on-the-back for good social work and get your expenses and be paid (or some pay) at the same time! Just ask to be paid. Voluntary work always has a better (perceived) value when money crosses the table.

5.       Vagueness – About Money and About Success

The fifth classical symptom is that nearly all under-earners are vague about earning money – and equally vague about their potential personal success. Your earnings lie in direct proportion to your self-esteem. Let me repeat that…

Your earnings lie in direct proportion to your self-esteem.

Who can possibly believe a teacher can teach success (i.e. helping a student to achieve his aims) if the teacher cannot believe in what he teaches himself? The heart of the matter lies in believing in your worth to your students and customers. If you cannot believe in yourself and that your work has a value, who else can?

Who is responsible for not earning enough — for under-earning?

Did you notice the one thing that is common to all five low-earning causes? They are self-inflicted.

Or were you able to cross off each of the five examples above as not fitting? Congratulations! Then you are not a classical under-earner.

The responsibility for under-earning lies in the hands of the freelance teacher him or herself. In each case, the freelance teacher does have the responsibility to decide how much or how little he earns. The problems associated to not earning enough are aimed at the wrong target – the outside influences, the environment, the unlucky events that happen and are beyond our control. The key to change and to raise a freelance teacher’s earnings is in changing his or her attitudes, feelings and habits. These will determine the what, when, why, how often and how much they earn.

Starting a diet to lose weight needs a change in attitude. A change in the brain. It starts with the unlovely feeling of being overweight until it sparks the motivation to lose weight. This mental change in attitude sets off a change in eating habits from the ground upwards. Remember the Parade magazine quoted at the top of this article? “The key to permanent weight loss is changing the attitudes, feelings and habits…” Changing self-sabotage under-earning traits are no different to starting a diet. It will be uncomfortable at first, but it is doable.

Your Next Step

Changing self-sabotage traits means – changing your attitude to the values you hold about your freelance teaching. It will feel uncomfortable because any change usually means a temporary disruption or brings disharmony into a (yours) freelancer’s daily life. However, this type of change is not difficult; it is easy.

Once your brain has logically worked out the immense value your teaching gives to society and to your students, your personal attitude to your own value or worth will increase. At the same time, your motivation increases, the fun increases, and the quality of your teaching increases. What happens then? Your income as a freelance teacher invariably rises in direct proportion to your self-perceived value, too.

Take as much undisturbed time as you need. As you work through the exercises below, see if you notice a subtle shift in your attitude.

  • Make a list of all the possible variations of schooling within your freelance teaching niche – even those you imagine as being possible.
  • Check the internet for similar fields. Not just the services, but look at similar services being offered such as websites, as courses and seminars, in media and in printed material. Find out for what monetary value these similar services are offered, in particular your teaching niche.
  • Read this website’s (FTT) articles on specialisation. There are more coming!
  • Work out where you can specialise in your teaching niche. By specialising you will be making the first steps to setting up your brand-image, making your professionalism visible, and raise your earning capacity.
  • Subscribe (if you have not done so already) to the FTT ezine to ensure you are informed immediately when a new article, product or course is published on the FTT website.

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What About You?

What do you think? Do you have something you would like to add or say about this subject? Add your comments and suggestions in Leave A Reply Comment box below…



6 Comments (Add Yours)

  1. You identified one of the traps I used to fall into – volunteer work. I learned the hard way, and don’t do it any more!

    • Hi Carol,
      I hope you also read that “free” volunteer work is useful and commendable. But in small doses. Other voluntary work should be paid – at least enough so you don’t lose income and lose your ideal standards by lowering your earnings too much.

  2. Brilliant article – made me do a bit of soul searching… Point no 3 hit the nail on head! I had a student from an earlier class wanting private lessons who voluntarily doubled my asking price – am pleased but I guess I should also be ashamed of my lack of self belief.
    I enjoy all your articles – thanks especially for this one.

    • Hi kotus123, (sorry, I don’t know your name)
      Yes, that happens and does prove the point, doesn’t it? If your student doubled your price then you are valuing your work well below what you are worth. Your private student has set out your new minimum price level. Believe me… it’s still not the best price level you can ask for. Set the price higher with your next new student. Read the articles on the pricing your lessons (I’m planning to write more) and then “do it” as the slogan goes. Change is always uncomfortable. But isn’t the value you are giving with your work worth it?

  3. Thanks for this article. There is one thing I would like to add: language schools should think about what they pay their teachers. Some offer only 8 or 10 € per teaching hour, which I do not accept. Obviously there are teachers who are willing to work for a pocket money, while others (like myself) try to make a living. Since there are teachers who accept these conditions, it’s “Take it or leave it.” So you have the choice, a low-paid job or no job at all.

    • “So you have the choice, a low-paid job or no job at all.”
      Or you take the reins in your own hands and actively work against low earnings by acquiring your own students!

      Hi Gabi,
      When you first start out, it’s daunting I know. But then… you are in charge and you pull the ropes. And when you do, your motivation changes and your interest in your work improves in the same leaps and bounds as your motivation. It won’t be an overnight success, but diligent work on marketing your teaching services, establishing a good student/customer relationship, and producing the “goods” (lessons), it won’t take long before you become an accredited and sort after private freelance teacher.
      Yes, producing the “goods” is just as important. You cannot ask for a higher lesson rate with sub-standard lessons!

      Private tuition will always win hands down compared to most language schools — for the very reason you mention. Money.

      Good freelance teachers earn good money because they have students who are prepared (and willing) to pay a price fitting to their teacher’s expertise and qualifications. Conclusion: Good freelance teachers have no need to accept low paying work.

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