I’m a tutor by trade. I teach a myriad of students who have a myriad of struggles with a myriad of subjects. I use my position as a former student, writer, and educational professional to get into the annual writing conference for high school students put on by the college. I teach workshops, more in the sense of creation vs. edit mode kind of workshops. This year, I had thirty students.
Afterward I went to one of my kindergarteners to work with basic literacy skills. I shared with his mother during my weekly evaluation report that I had just spent the day with teenagers at the workshop. Her first question caught me off guard: “How much do you charge for that kind of service?”
This question floored me for a number of reasons. I think I stumbled through some sort of stupid answer, but I began to ponder what it really means. She’s totally right, that in my chosen profession I place a monetary value on my time spent as a teacher with individualized exercises developed by research and preparation. Unlike teachers in the school system that are salaried for their time, I charge by the hour. It’s perfectly natural to assume that time spent teaching not just one student hourly but thirty students for a two hour stretch that I would place a monetary value on that service as well.
I don’t. I’ve taught this workshop for four years. Unlike some workshop teachers, who are professors at the college or one of the high schools, I came up with four original topics and set of exercises. As popular as something was, I didn’t teach the same thing next year. I prepare for weeks. I research, develop, and practice, like a speech. And then I go and do it all for free.
It’s not that I don’t think my time is valuable. For instance, I could have stayed home with my kids, researched for the students I have, or spent the time writing or editing — you know, something with traditional values like family or money.
What I did wasn’t professional advancement, either. I never have call to teach more than one student at a time. It’s part of the nature of a private tutor. I didn’t teach about anything I had to research this year (once I did a Mystery Writing workshop, but not because I was a mystery writer). In fact, I learned personally very little from the experience, except that teenagers don’t know as much about the blogosphere as I thought they did, and that black clothes and silver jewelry help give me credibility with that demographic. Maybe my short plug about my position in the community may get me some students, but I wasn’t there to advertise.
I don’t get to write off the lunch I took or the miles to get there because the workshop isn’t part of my job. Maybe I can write off the guest writer’s book; it is a book of unusual exercises for writers and their fiction, but then again, I don’t write fiction.
I didn’t do it as a favor, so I can’t value it as a return favor, either in the future or the past. I didn’t save on heating and electricity at my house for the day as it was still inhabited by my family. I couldn’t have counted it as community service had I been sentenced any. It wasn’t stress-relief like shopping or the beautician’s; on the contrary it took three tai chi sessions to work out the stress. I didn’t get adult time away from kids because I was surrounded by kids.
So what was the afternoon I spent at the writing conference worth, an afternoon I spent hours in preparation for and five hours away from any of my professions? Maybe… maybe I had a vacation? Stressful leading up to it, exhilarating while it was going on, and not really frugal. Many employers offer vacation time, so it has some societal (if not monetary) value. Maybe my writing conference was a vacation: va