What to do when you’re bringing in new teachers who want to be paid too much


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Today on Studio Expansion TV, we’re tackling a bit of a tricky topic. It’s what to do when you’re bringing in new teachers who want to be paid too much.

There’s this interesting trend that happens where new teachers who have just graduated from university or a full-time performing course come out into the big, wide world with a somewhat unrealistic expectation of how much they’re going to be paid.

They are wanting the kind of rates you would pay a teacher to host a workshop or master class as their weekly pay. As a studio owner, that rate of weekly pay is unsustainable.

But we’re torn because these teachers are fantastic. They’re highly trained. They are valuable, and they are worth it. However, we legitimately cannot afford to pay them what they’re asking, and now we’re in a bit of a pickle.

That’s why I want to share with you a strategy that has been incredibly powerful for many of our studio owners.

It involves reshuffling the perception for these newly graduated teachers based by how we define value and their pay scale for working in a studio.

The tricky thing about these types of teachers that we’re bringing on board is that often, they will be looking for opportunities in a lot of different places. What can often happen as well is that their reliability isn’t what we’d want, and that is a big, red-flashing warning sign for our retention.

So what we want to do is to be able to educate these newly graduated teachers and share with them what is important about working in a studio. And the best way to do this involves the secret strategy I’m going to share with you today.

It’s to have a conversation, a sit-down with this new teacher and to share with how much we value their training and credentials and that we understand why they are asking for this amount of pay, but that at the moment, it’s a little out of grasp to be able to pay right now.

Then you want to propose that the two of you work out an arrangement based on the teacher’s retention.

What you want to explain is that you will work out an ascension pay scale that rewards these newly graduated teachers based on their performance when it comes to the most important thing in the studio – retention.

You see, what often happens is that these new grad teachers will come out all aspirational about teaching, but then they’ll get a gig on a cruise ship or accept a performance opportunity, leaving you in a lurch.

If you are going to pay top dollar, I want you to get absolute commitment. You structure it so that they commit to their teaching obligation, and work everything else out around their teaching commitment.

Here’s what you do. You say to them, “When you first come on board, we’re going to start you off at “x” amount per hour or per class.” At the end of three months, we’re going to look at your retention numbers and how you grew the program.

If you’re achieving “x” amount of retention percentage, we’re going to put you up to this higher pay scale. If you can achieve an 85% retention rate over time, that’s when I can really start to reward you financially.

The best thing about this for you as a studio owner is that you’re not putting your neck on the line. When retention is great, when classes are at capacity, you can afford to pay your teachers more without putting yourself at risk.

As opposed to locking yourself into the higher rate for a new teacher, I want you to demonstrate what you value first and foremost across everything in the studio – retention.

This is how you appease these newly graduated students and show them, “I’m willing to help pay you more, but you’re going to have to prove to me that you can keep your students and stay with the program.”

What this does is that it really reinforces that the type of teacher you are looking for  – a teacher who puts education at the heart of what they do. We want to hire loyal work horses, not flighty show ponies.

Often newly graduated teachers are a little bit of the show pony. They want the fun, the glitz, and the glam, but they haven’t yet learned the skills of a true teacher, of a really dedicated teacher who knows how to maintain the connection and retain students.

So by approaching the matter of their compensation in this particular way, it trains them very early on that this is all about retention. As a studio owner, you are safe and not at so much risk financially. As teachers, they can feel confident and proud that they’ve got a way to increase their earnings without having to risk their continuity of income.

The most successful studios I know with outstanding retention and large studios, have made a very big decision. And that has been to choose to hire teachers who see teaching as their career, not someone who is using teaching as a stop gap.

You and I know the difference. There are teachers who come on board wanting the flexible hours and something to do in between gigs.  Instead, you want to bring teachers into your studio who are going to be there for your students, who are going to be committed to being at their weekly class.

If you apply this powerful strategy, it will weed out those applicants who aren’t passionate about teaching and about retaining students.

I want you to have teachers who are so committed to retention in your studio that they are totally invested for all the right reasons. That’s why I love this strategy.  I want to encourage you to try out for yourself because it works so beautifully.

Hiring and mentoring your dream team in the studio is one of the most common complex parts of your role, and probably you’re finding it’s increasingly complex.

So in the interim, I want to ask you, what challenges do you have when it comes to hiring new team members? What are you finding has shifted in terms of when you are wanting new team teachers? What are they seeking from you and what are you not comfortable with?

In sharing we can be able to help you navigate this challenges as a studio owner so that you truly are comfortable and strong and leading this team in the direction you want it to go.

So pop your comments in the section below and download our Retention Tips for studio owners because truly, it’s going to make your life so much easy with keeping students and attracting new great teachers.


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  • Lisa Saunders

    Yeah….lots of studios use this model. Sorry, but I have a few problems with this strategy as it’s laid out. As creative professionals, can’t we come up with strategies that nuture and inspire talented individuals toward the teaching profession (if that’s what we’re really after)? Don’t get me wrong: I totally get the reality of numbers when running a studio but, even though phrases like “highly-trained” and “worth it” are sprinkled here and there, I just really didn’t see any strategy for demonstrating value and worth to a teacher for solely just that. I read this as a profit share system that motivates and rewards for taking a stake in the company. …sort of like a partnership. Now just for a moment, look at it from the candidates’ perspective: they apply because the owner says, “I want a teacher”. Then, when we sit them down, we don’t talk about compensating them fairly for their skills and training, we say we will only pay them for how they contribute to the bottom line. Well that isn’t teaching, is it? Doesn’t that sound like a business partnership? How confusing. So sure, they want to teach and may go along for awile, but it’s not what you originally asked for or what they responded to. And now, you’re having to weed these candidates out? It’s little wonder some studio owners have trouble retaining their teachers! So, why not think about recruiting based on some version of a co-op or empolyee-owned model instead? Bottom line, I think it’s time to put this notion of teachers as “work horses” to bed and solve retention issues by being more intentional in the recruiting process: decide if you want a teacher or a partner. Bottom line, it’s not honest to put a strangle hold on teachers because studios can’t afford to pay what they’re worth. I sort of cringe at the idea of contracting with teachers who I think are valuable–new or old–as though they’re indentured servants. Supporting teaching artists who realize their worth as the heart & soul of our studio business is part of increasing the value for arts-based businesses, too.