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The Value of an Hour

By , March 15th, 2008 | 8 Comments »

one hour

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?ca?tion – noun a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel. I think I’m happy with that.

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  • trex says:

    I think this is a hugely important point. I get so sick and tired of “financial experts” telling me I shouldn’t spend my money when I can do it myself. So many times it is a bunch of bs.

    If you know what your time is worth, there are plenty of times when it pays to pay someone to do the work. I pay someone to clean my house because my time is worth more than $10 an hour.

    I pay someone to mow my lawn because my time is worth more than the $10 I pay the local kid.

    Know what your time is worth and pay for things that others will do for less.

  • viola says:

    Very good article! Hope that makes people be more aware of how and what on to ‘spend’ their energy.

    Thank you!

  • Hilary says:

    trex – I don’t think you read this article carefully.

    It’s about the fact that sometimes, if we derive pleasure from something (like teaching), then it’s not about how the dollars add up. Sometimes it’s worth it to “work” for free because it adds to your happiness.

  • trex says:


    Oh, I read it. I just commented on what I felt was a more important aspect that arises from the entire subject

  • yikes says:

    I hope you won’t try to teach anyone about writing until you’ve looked up the correct usage of “myriad”.

  • Ann says:


    having innumerable phases, aspects, variations, etc.

    Myriad also means a thousand, but this is the definition of my usage.
    Thank you.

  • jaed says:

    I think yikes’s point (which could have been made more courteously) is that “myriad” is an adjective, not a noun. (So you might express your thought as “My myriad students have myriad struggles with each of their myriad subjects.”) In English the Greek word works more like “thousands” than “thousand” – so “a myriad of” is a little awkward, even though it’s often seen.

  • Noelle says:

    myriad = hyperbole

    In this situation, since hyperbole is a poetic/prosaic feature, perhaps we can excuse it as such and allow Ann to bend the rules a bit.
    Also, I enjoyed the article, Ann. I understand your point. Sometimes activity that looks like work, and therefore could potentially be tied to a monetary value, is actually play/rest.


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