I am not saying I got ripped off

I recently did some work for a teacher training center that I’d worked for in the past. I’ve worked for them many times over a period of many years. Those of you who know me might know exactly which center it is. I will not name the place nor rehash my dealings over the years with this particular institution in this blog post. Here, I would like to briefly detail a recent experience that I had working with/for the teacher training center and share some thoughts that emerged from the experience.

The course was delivered late last year. We can say in general terms the course was delivered online and the topic was about using English in English class as English teachers. I will spare you, dear reader, from the acronyms. The course participants were elementary public school teachers who mostly taught English or hoped to soon. Per the stakeholders’ request the course was something of a mix between an English class and training and practice on using English in class as teachers. It was supposed to be fun and offer participants some insights on their own teaching. Before the course I was given a sketched out “syllabus” which was something between a list of topics/themes and a schedule.  A few weeks prior to the course I tried to organize things in way that made sense to me and also matched what I presumed had been shared with (or even requested by) the board of education that would be funding the course. 

Prior to starting work on this project there was a lot of negotiation about the fee to be paid. The center and I went back and forth over email. Perhaps I was not as understanding about the impact on currency exchange rates as the institution might have hoped. I was also not as willing (that is, not at all) to work for less money than I made 10-12 years ago at the same institution. The negotiations were friendly but firm and I might have been asked to “understand the unique situation” the institution was faced with. After a series of offers and counter-offers we came to a tentative agreement on the exact (well, as exact as possible) scope of the work and the fees and such. I remembered the old adage that the best way to get what you want is to be prepared to walk away from the table. I was very willing to walk away but we finally reached an agreement after many rounds of negotiation.

One interesting result from the negotiations was that once I submitted the finalized schedule and a slightly more detailed list of topics and activities, we agreed that there could not be changed by the center. Back in 2021 I ran some courses for this center and sudden changes to the courses very near the start of the course drove me up a tree. I had a hard time dealing with the sunk costs of my labor and time with no additional compensation for re-writing major portions of the course. I tried to make sure that this would not happen again in 2022 when I delivered the course I am writing about here.

We can consider all the above the background. I think the 2022 course went well and I received some very positive and thoughtful feedback from the participants. I enjoyed working with the participants and believe I gave them some useful things to think about for their teaching as well as experiences to reflect upon and input and feedback on language and other matters. Not all my initial choices in terms of planning were stellar but I think in the end we got to some very useful things and it was a fruitful experience.

When I said goodbye to the participants, I felt that typical bittersweet feeling at the end of a positive training experience. Also, I felt justified in my hard negotiations both in terms of overall pay and in my plans not being changed by others. I suppose if I am being honest, I felt a bit underpaid for the whole thing.

A thought that I could not escape after the end of the course was that I did all the work and the center took all the money! I designed the loose syllabus and planned each session (with varying degrees of meticulousness). I invented assessments and gave feedback on them (even though I was not contractually obliged to do so.) I took the notes and random ideas that has been shared with stakeholders and made a mostly coherent course from it.  I felt like the center gave me a list of buzzwords and I created something meaningful from them. I felt like I did everything.

I suppose the center advertised the course and got a particular city’s board of education to pay for it. They had the big idea for a course on the particular themes of the course. The center paid for a Zoom account and let me use it. I assume the center sent reminder emails to the participants before the course started and maybe provided some technical support. During the Zoom sessions someone from the center reminded participants to turn on their cameras. I assume the center printed and mailed off certificates to the participants. The center had the good sense to hire me and acquiesce to my “demands.”

As I thought about the experience I felt like the (wonderful) participants would not have enrolled in the course unless it was funded, supported, and acknowledged by their board of education. That is to say say that I don’t think they would have joined such a course without getting certificates and professional development credit from the BOE. While they were interested in the content, I felt pretty sure most would not pay out of their own pockets for such a course. So maybe the center provided something of value? This veneer of an official course held some truck with the BOE and the participants themselves, I suppose.

I have no earthly idea how much the BOE (and by extension the taxpayers) paid for the course but I believe I would have done it 100% on my own for far less money. Maybe the BOE would not have been interested in hiring me, a random dude off the street in a different country, but I know that nearly every decision about the course was made by me. While the center took the majority of the profits the means of production are right here.

I am sure I am not the first person to experience something similar or to feel the same way. I wonder how people dealt with similar situations.

One comment

  1. Jo Gakonga

    There’s an answer to this- cut out the middle man…. I never thought that being self-employed would be for me, but I love being able to help people AND charge what I know I’m worth. At the risk of this being a plug, if you want to know more, my Video Creation for Eduators programme will show you have to do what I’ve achieved and I’m running a new one in May. More infor here or get in touch if you’d like a chat about it…. https://www.elt-training.com/course/voice

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