Pay for Part-Time Teaching

A friend writes:

I’m a full time pastor, but teach a couple of courses at small Christian colleges/seminaries. How do I begin to think about compensation? I’ve always just taken what they offer, but I now realize that, after all the work I have to do before and after, it’s a small amount. On the one hand, I don’t want to be greedy, but on the other I hope to be treated fairly. Is there a reasonable way of broaching the topic?

I have replied:

Thanks for getting in touch.

You’ve read my blog post on “Fair Payment for Speakers,” right? So let’s assume you have….

Teaching doesn’t pay very well, in fact, in terms of…well…anything. Even those of us who are blessed with full-time positions probably ought never to compute our actual hourly wage, because it might not be too encouraging. That said, however, one ought to be paid properly.

A few ways to approach this vexed subject:

1. Do, in fact, compute your hourly wage—all the time you’re spending on the course. If you’re making less than minimum wage, that’s a problem. So either you’ve got to work less (smarter, perhaps, or just less) or you can talk to your boss and discuss the numbers with him or her. It may be that the college doesn’t expect you to do things you’re doing: I’ve found that teachers sometimes engage in prep, or extra interaction with students, or extensive grading…that the college doesn’t require and that ought not to be charged, therefore, to the college. So you can approach it as “Wow: I’m making six bucks an hour. What do you think is wrong with this picture?” And it may be on you…even as, to be sure, it may be on them.

2. Decide if it’s worth it to engage in this teaching not only for its own sake but also in order to position yourself to do something more rewarding—financially or otherwise. Like unpaid internships, or dismal entry-level jobs, sometimes there are dues to be paid, experiences to be endured, etc., to qualify you for better gigs. It’s true in show business—you gotta play the open mics before you play the arenas—and it’s true in lots of other fields as well. It maybe oughtn’t be that way in any given instance (and I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of unfairness out there), but if it is that way, then it just is…and you just have to deal with it.

3. Resolve that you cannot work for this amount without resentment, and then either get rid of the resentment or get rid of the job. My infallibly wise wife once called me on this very point: “You can’t serve properly out of a spirit of resentment. So charge enough that you won’t resent it, or adjust your attitude, or don’t take the job.” You have to be ruthlessly honest with yourself in this zone, and don’t “guilt” yourself into doing what you really don’t think is right. It’s one thing to feel conceitedly entitled to red-carpet treatment and huffily deign to teach through gritted teeth; it’s another to feel entitled to be treated with simple dignity and to quite understandably recoil when you are not so treated.

4. Many administrators, alas, engage in rationalization, obfuscation, scape-goating, and other reprehensible psychological ploys in order to keep schools going. They may not even recognize that they’re trafficking in such, but they might be. Proceed slowly and carefully through each conversation on these issues, and process each one with a trusted friend or two to ascertain whether you are in fact being manipulated, whether intentionally or not.

5. Having said that, often schools are doing worthy work and there simply isn’t enough money for everyone to receive a proper salary. So if everyone decides to work for less, supplementing their pay with other paid work, then that can be a lovely situation of mutual sacrifice and commitment. After all, much in the way of Christian mission, including educational mission, has to be done cheaply, or even strictly pro bono. The problem comes when money is in fact available for other things, or other people…just not for the teachers (who are at the heart of the school’s mission) or for the junior teachers (who therefore are being, in a word, exploited).

The Lord and the Lord’s work are, of course, worthy of our complete self-offering. But it should be the Lord who calls us to such extremes. Otherwise, the New Testament teaches that workers—and particularly spiritual ones—should be paid properly. So don’t be complicit in someone else’s sin by accepting a lousy wage when you shouldn’t.

Hoping this helps,

John

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