Show Me the Money


We all remember the line “Show me the money” from the movie Jerry Maguire. I have been noticing that many young decorators do well at a cake show, appear briefly on a tv reality show or hear how great they are from their family and the next words spoken are: “I should teach….I will make tons of money!”. Additionally, people always write or ask me how they can get more teaching jobs As a well traveled road warrior from the teaching circuit, I decided it was time for a blog on the realities of teaching.

I think that when students see some of the prices people charge for classes, they think the teachers must be rolling in the dough. I will admit that I see some prices and have thought the same thing. I decided it was a good time to talk about the costs of being a teacher, especially one that travels. I thought I should also talk about the perceived glamour of being a teacher around the globe.

Let’s start with the price people set for their classes. What goes in to the pricing? More teachers are providing all or most of the supplies, so that is the first consideration. Keep in mind that it is not just the cost of the materials like icing and armature, but also how much it costs to get them to the class location. Lauren Kitchens estimates that half her class fee is eaten up by this part alone! When your shipping costs alone exceed $700, you know that the cost of offering that class is HIGH! Classes with dummies, wood, metal armature and lots of fondant are expensive because of what you get to play with in the class.

Now let’s talk about the tools. There are a lot of things needed for the class that the teacher will be able to use in more than one class. The cost of purchasing and maintaining those tools still factors in. Think about how quickly it adds up to have 25 spatulas, tips, rolling pins, silpats, ball tools, etc. I remember a young talented artist who wanted to teach. He was outraged at the cost for the supplies and complained that he was going to have to spend all the class fees just to purchase the supplies – there was nothing for him if he did that. He wanted his boss to buy those so he could make some money I will admit that I smirked inside a bit. I had another friend who decided to teach. She had won one show and was ready. She said she had a list of 4-5 things she needed to buy to provide. Then she assisted in some of my classes and revised that list. In the end, it was three pages long! There is so much more than meets the eye!

And yes, it is expensive! I didn’t start full force into teaching. Over a three year period, I started purchasing tools. Each time I developed a new class, I had to start buying more tools. I was lucky that I could buy things over time and search for the best prices. If you wonder why some teachers never seem to develop new classes, this could be a factor.

Once you have all the stuff that goes into the class, you have more things to factor in. We will start with the easy things first. You have to book a flight or drive to the class location. Driving allows you to haul more without the expense of shipping, but eats up your days on either side of the class. The drive there is not so bad, but starting a long drive after teaching a day or two of classes is just too much! If you fly, you have to think about bag fees. Most of us that travel a lot are huge fans of Southwest, where our bags fly free. Even with that, most of us STILL end up with extra bag fees depending on how much we have to transport.

Then, we get to book hotel rooms and arrange for a rental car. True, some big names get this included in their teaching contracts. I expect they are not reading this and it doesn’t apply to the rest of us. We have to pay all travel related costs. Often, we get to pay to park that rented car at the hotel site. It is like a two edged blade! We have to rent bigger cars for the luggage. Every little thing starts to add up. This is why you will see me and many of my teaching counterparts rooming together and cramming too many people and luggage into a car…we are trying to save money to not go in the hole that trip.

The other really big variable is to compensate for the time you are gone from your business. If Lauren Kitchens is gone, cakes are not going out. That lost income does not prevent her from incurring overhead, payroll and all the other bills from running a business. She must earn enough to cover those costs or she cannot leave her shop. Ask any of the teachers in retail and they will say the same. And remember, it was probably much less expensive for me to leave my shop in OKC than it is for Ron Ben Israel to leave his shop in NYC. The fees are relative to what THAT teacher will lose by going away to teach. Now remember, we are still just working on the costs associated with teaching. Last, but not least, you hope to earn something for yourself to compensate you for sharing your knowledge.

One of my favorite stories is that Peggy Tucker’s husband had finished her books from a trip and said “You made $30 on that trip.”. She said, “I made THIRTY dollars!!!”. Irritated, he said, “yes, $30″. She was still glowing because she was just happy to be in the black. He thought she had to be crazy to have done that teaching trip for just $30. I have had many trips where I lost money by going, but refused to let down a show or class host. I have also had a few trips where I came out enough ahead to offset a loss or two. It is a bit of a crap shoot. And sometimes you must go at a loss to establish yourself in a new area. Think of it as a loss leader. You hope that IF they ask you back, your next outing will be for a profit.

Often, someone else picks what you are going to teach from a list of possibilities you provide. They also are just using their best judgement as to what they think people will want to take. The class that sells out in Virginia can be a bomb in Georgia. There is often no way to tell. Teacher extraordinaire Lorraine McKay posted the other day that she was going to stop offering classes in Scotland. She simply cannot fill the classes there. The economy is tough and money is tight. People fret over whether or not to take classes. I did the same the other day when I concluded that I simply could not afford to take Robert Haynes class…and I have wanted to study with him for a while!

“But Ruth, teaching is so glamorous! You are always going somewhere fun!” True. I get to go to lots of places. Unless I add a day onto the trip, however, I never get to see the town. When you are there to teach, it is all business. Most trips, I arrive the afternoon before the class. I go buy supplies from the grocery store that I didn’t want to carry. I go to the hotel or class location to get my fondant, etc. Now I get to start the other thing you have to compensate yourself for…actual class prep. I mix colors. I divide the icing and bag it. I make any fragile parts needed for the students. Sometimes I am still editing class notes that night. Usually, I will get 2-4 hours sleep the night before a class.

You arrive for class early to set the room. You teach all day, rarely actually eating anything and often skipping bathroom breaks until the end of the day. You are generally dehydrated from talking the whole time and forgetting to drink your water (or coke)(which is also why you never went to the bathroom). Class ends, you pack up, clean up and end up eating a late night meal. Susan Carberry is the queen of late night room service when she finally gets to sit down and eat!

I forgot to mention the fun of schlepping all the supplies to and from your classroom. In Florida, Susan and I had 28 boxes, not counting our luggage filled with supplies. Many hotels will force you to have a bellman to use their luggage carts, which means you start tipping per box and piece of luggage! You get to pay from the car to your room, from the room to the classroom, from the classroom back to the room and from the room back to the car. I swear I heard Susan’s wallet scream in Orlando.

So am I telling you to forget your dreams of being a teacher? Absolutely not. I am telling you to do your research first. Know what the class you plan to offer will cost you. Know what the effects of travel will be on your health, happiness and relationships. Know how many students you must have to make a trip worthwhile. Know the business that you want to go into. And don’t mistake it…it is a business. But it must also be your passion. You must love teaching with all your heart. You must be doing it for that love more than for a paycheck. When you are missing your spouse, your children and your furry babies, you better be sure you live teaching with all your heart or you will not be able to do this for long.

You may wonder why so many teachers have become vendors. I always said that I wanted to teach, not to sell. The harsh reality is, the class fees just don’t cover it all. You have to sell supplies to increase your odds of not taking a loss on the trip. I always tell my students that I am a reluctant vendor. It is true. That is not my passion and I do not sell forcefully because that is not the reputation I want to have. But my husband has made it clear that he would like me to occasionally make a profit. And since he is letting me galavant all over the world, I can make that effort.

So what do you do if you know in your heart that you are dying to teach? Start locally. Demo for your cake club. Demo at the ICES Days of Sharing. Ask local cake shops if you can teach there. Offer a class at your bakery or home to a smaller group. Get your “sea legs” for teaching. Write an tutorial for one of the cake magazines and submit it for consideration Have someone tape you; then watch yourself to see where you can improve. Once you have your supplies, class materials and timing down, start volunteering within your region. If you attend a cake show, see if they need a demonstrator or teacher. Have references. Have photos. Do the same at neighboring Days of Sharing and other cake club meetings. Take classes from people you hear are good teachers. Learn from how they run their classes. See how they manage time. (read my earlier blog on what makes a good teacher!). Expect rejection, but keep working. The next time you ask could be the magic time.

I once had a friend complain that no one asked her to teach. I looked at her in surprise. I never thought to wait to be asked. I wrote emails asking to demo and asking to teach long before I was allowed to do so. I sent CDs of photos to Cake Camp and Florida Mini Classes, along with references and a resume. I never thought anyone was going to hand me the opportunity…I set goals and started working towards them. I was patient. I had decided it would take about three years of hard work to become a nationally recognized teacher. I probably underestimated. While I am getting closer to that goal, there are many parts of the US and oh, so many students who have no idea who I am. I am fully prepared to keep asking for teaching opportunities and will keep being one of the hardest working teachers on the circuit.

What is your takeaway from this blog? By all means, teach. But teach because you love to teach. Teach because of the joy you give to your students. Teach because you cannot imagine doing anything else Teach to keep this amazing art form alive. Forget about the money. Show me the passion.

14 thoughts on “Show Me the Money

  1. Thanks for sharing, very good information. I often wondered what else went into teaching besides hotel, supplies, and tools

  2. Ruth hit it spot on. Peter and I started teaching three years at with what supplies we had. And, of course, you forget all of the extras that need to be purchased once you get to an unknown location. Yet another great article from our sugar diva extraordinaire!!!

  3. I so agree with you Ruth! I teach because I want the students first off to learn and enjoy the craft they are learning, but most of all develop the passion that I have for the craft. I LOVE teaching, even with all its ups and downs. Yes, one does not always make the BIG money, but when I see the smiles and the joy on their faces when the leave the class with their project completed… that is payment in itself. Yes, teaching can be expensive, and yes, people or students cannot even fathom all that goes into making a class a success, but it is worth every cent when you enjoy what you do! Thanks again for your wonderful words of wisdom!

  4. LOVE, LOVE LOVE this blog. Really opens our eyes to what goes into teaching. I’ve been a Wilton instructor at my local craft store for 7 years and do it because I love it. One of these days ill finally take a class with you..

  5. Great article! I never really thought about all of the expenses that go into just getting yourself and all of your supplies to a location.

  6. Excellent article. Add in if you’re teaching an unusual technique, you can’t ever have people bring their own stuff. I’ve bought out local Targets to get enough proper basters for the gummy class. Oh, and if it’s a new thing, people don’t sign up because they don’t get what it is, and then after it’s cancelled or runs only for a few, dozens of people tell you how they wish they’d signed up, but then you run another one and where did they all go?! Same with that thing I just released…at least two dozen people begged for me to make that available and there’ve been all of four sales, none of which were those who begged. I hardly had delusions of fame and glory but the whole thing is depressing.

    I wish I could roam around teaching, but I have mom duties. Plus I’m in this predicament now of having given too much free away locally so now I’m expected to keep doing that around here.

    And then I still routinely get asked, “How come you don’t teach more often?” Gee, I wonder…

  7. Great article Ruth! As always- you are so on the money.It is enlightening to hear the “behind the scenes” reality of all of this. It looks glamorous to us peons, but it is not- it is hard work and it takes a special person to be able to do it. Thanks again for your insight and honesty. :)

  8. I’ve taken several classes with really great teachers on the circuit, and I’m always teacher’s pet :D Anyway every single one of them tell me they love teaching but have confessed how hard it is to do and how little money there is in it for them. I’m not blind – I see all the boxes and bags they bring with them! I’ve noticed they don’t take care of their physical needs like bathroom breaks and making sure they stay hydrated. And lunch is a joke – they never get to eat that crappy sandwich because all the students take that opportunity to bombard them with personal questions. I even had one teacher confess to me over beers after a class that they were shocked how much the school charged for the class – they had no idea the school charged over a thousand bucks – and they (the teacher) was only getting paid a very, very small fraction of that, which was easily eaten up in 2 nights of hotel stay and car rental. So I feel for you all, and SO appreciate your dedication.

  9. As always Ruth, your words are wisdom. I still think I’m a leaner not a teaching. This is your gift among many other gifts you have.

  10. Great advise Ruth. I can’t imagine what all you instructors sacrifice just to share your knowledge with us. As you know, I am no where near the caliper of you pros, but I enjoy teaching my Wilton classes and taking classes for my own development. Even teaching a Wilton class becomes a chore when you only have two students in that class. Depending on where you teach [A.C. Moore, Michaels, etc.] you have to teach that class if you have two or more students in attendance. In my case, I work all day in a kitchen from 5 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. then go onto my class, teach for two hours (plus 30 minutes for set up) and then get home at 9 p.m. Trust me, I don’t do it for the money, I love what I do. Thank You to all the instructors out there that continue to care.

  11. It is a great article. I’ve taught a few times, and yes, there are several expenses involved. Researching the types of classes you want to teach is key because it depends on the supplies you are supplying, the tools needed, the distance, etc. Let’s not forget about claiming the income for taxes either! That could really bite you in the butt depending how much you make.

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