Teaching Artist Compensation 101

October 1, 2017

How can a Teaching Artist determine what constitutes a fair wage? Let’s look at Teaching Artists fee structures, and at what our Arts-In-Education employers expect from Teaching Artists during different phases of the work. I’ll start out global, and get more specific as we go along. At the end of this blog, I’ll provide you with a TA Fee Calculation Worksheet, and I hope you’ll feel more able to relate your TA fees with the actual work --contractual or hidden—required of you.


Do you see your Teaching Artist work as a gig, or a calling? Musicians refer to almost any job as a gig, and I grew up using that word with the understanding that there was nothing mercenary about it, nothing worthy of disapprobation. Work that pays is a gig: my bass gig, my film score gig, my teaching gig. A calling is associated with a higher or more deeply felt, perhaps altruistic, purpose. Work that you take on according to an internal drive to do so is your calling: your calling to work with children or seniors, your calling to spread the gospel of Dance. For me, Teaching Artist work is both a gig and a calling. I appreciate, in fact depend on, the income that the work generates. At the same time, I want to be of genuine service to workshop participants in my care. I want to do good and meaningful work at a fair wage.


The organizations that sponsor your TA gigs (museums, presenters, performance or exhibition venues, arts ensembles, government programs or service organizations including homeless shelters, prisons, and—oh yes—schools) have already worked out what wage they can offer you, and (more or less) what activity and proficiency they expect in return. You can’t bid a TA gig the way you can a mural, or a recording session, or a set design for a play. The exception to this might be certain pilot programs where you and your organization understand that there is going to be a lot of troubleshooting, program development, or curriculum writing involved; in that case the fee and work expectations may open up for discussion. But in most cases the fees are set and are not going to change. Ultimately that inflexibility is good for the organization, and good for you. They have to adhere to a budget to survive, and their survival means continued work for you and other TAs. They are (I hope) being very clear about what they can offer, so you can determine if the fee vs. work expected is fair.


Nationally you’ll find a very broad range of fees offered and work expected. For your actual teaching time (those minutes you are with students in a workshop or classroom), a rural area might offer $20/hour, and urban presenter $70/hour. Most TA gigs fall somewhere in the middle. Some organizations provide and pay you to attend professional development, aka PD – but many offer a PD fee that is half of what they offer for teaching. One organization might pay lavishly for you to attend performances with your students, another doesn’t even expect you to do so. You might or might not be given a travel stipend, or a materials budget. Some organizations pay for planning time or paperwork, or for assessment; others expect you to take care of those aspects of the work without having them explicitly represented in the fee structure.


So the fees are set, but there is no single determining factor by which you can measure their fairness. That’s OK, you say; I am an artist and am pretty good at working with complexity and at least a dash of ambiguity. The National Guild for Community Arts Education has a working group that is developing a TA Pay Rate Calculator, but until that is up and running, you’ll need to estimate the time it will take to do the job right. To make that estimate, let’s break the work down into its component activities, and tot up the resulting hours.


Our work takes place in three phases: Planning, Teaching (your actual time with students), and Follow-Up (documentation, assessment). Each should be considered separately when working out the hours a TA gig will actually require.  


Your planning time is affected by two factors, a) the material support (curriculum) available, and b) your previous experience with the workshop type, art, and or participants. If you find yourself handed a curriculum to follow, your planning time goes down by a factor of two or more. You don’t have to create a curriculum – just read it and internalize the goals and means it lays out well enough to use it effectively during your teaching. Writing your own curriculum… well, that’s another blog (or five). But for the moment, please consider: writing a lesson plan for a 1-hour workshop takes me between two and four hours, especially if it is the first time I am teaching to that work of art or art-making process. It might take longer if it is my first time I am with an unfamiliar age group, in part because I have to allow time for re-writing lessons as I learn to work with the class (if you think it will be easier to write lessons for 2nd graders you’ve never worked with than for the college students you know well, please think again). Planning can take more time if I am writing a Preparation Workshop, one that prepares students for an encounter with a work of art, because I have to take the time to get to know the work of art before I can teach to it. It can take less time if I am writing a Studio Workshop that centers on making works of art in a medium that I’ve mastered.


Teaching time seems simple enough: if you meet with students from 11:00 to 11:45, that is forty-five minutes of teaching, right? Yes, but also consider other factors directly connected with that teaching time. Do you factor in your commute? If it is more than 30 minutes one way, I believe you should. If you are asked to travel but only asked to teach for a short time, anything less than three 45-minute sessions, the request may be burdensome: you are traveling an hour or more to teach for less than the commute time. Exercise some caution regarding work time vs. commute time, and let your program manager know whenever you have concerns about it. Set-up and clean-up time should also factor in to your teaching time calculation. For one of my favorite music TA gigs, the final Celebration Concert requires me to spend almost three hours transforming a large empty classroom space into an pro-audio and video equipped performance venue for 100 people, and another hour striking it all away. I even provide the actual audio (PA, mics, stands, cables, digital recorders) and video (computer, digital projector) gear. It all makes for a beautiful event, but none of that time or those materials appear in my fee agreement. I accept this as fair because it is connected with a long residency where I have almost zero set-up or clean-up for the rest of the time. I’d suggest that anything over fifteen minutes of combined set-up and clean-up time occurring daily starts to be a factor to be considered.


You’ll find the Follow-Up requested by sponsoring organizations is as varied as the fees offered. You may be asked to assess your own work, your students work, or your relationships with partners at the teaching location (classroom teachers, other staff). The assessment might be anecdotal (you reflect, and respond with written notes, following to a prompt sheet) or according to a rubric (you read, reflect, and fill in dots). The prompt-sheet style assessment is the most common. In addition to assessment, various kinds of documentation will be required. You may be asked to provide evidence of student work (photos, videos, actual physical artifacts). You will absolutely be asked for lesson plans. Be careful to understand what the organization requires and what they provide. An approved road-tested lesson plan form can be a wonderful support for your work. It might also be something of a time sink (where you watch hours go slipping down the drain), depending on the level of detail required, or the density of the organization-specific terminology used (each organization might use the terms activity, exercise, workshop, session, class, lesson, unit of study, residency, plan, design, curriculum, pedagogy, goals, learning objectives, and big ideas differently). Veteran Teaching Artists have developed their own style of written plans; some are very personal, written in shorthand, and others are easy for any reader to follow. You sponsor will want to see the easy-to-follow kind, and it can take a good deal of time and effort to create a document that serves both you and the reader in an efficient way. Beginning TAs might do themselves a favor by strictly adhering to whatever form the sponsor requires, and learning from how such a plan plays out over time, its usefulness. In terms of follow-up, I also add (and don’t consider as part of my bill-able time) a self-reflection where I assess every lesson plan and make notes on how to do it better “the next time”, if there is a next time. Doing so is an investment in my craft. Over time I’ve become better at planning, and more free and responsive in teaching interactions, thanks to (unpaid) self-reflection.


Here is the promised TA Fee Calculation worksheet that attempts to factor in all of the above. It represents a formalization of something I’ve been doing informally for many years. I’ll include PDFs of both a blank form and a filled-out sample form for your consideration. Finding your personal balance of gig/calling and fee can be tricky. A tool like this worksheet, put through a couple of peer-informed redesigns, might be useful. If the worksheet works for you, or if you have improvements or alternatives to suggest, and especially if it does not work for you – please let me know. And if you like my approach, please keep an eye out for my soon-to-be-published book View, Design, Respond: A Teaching Artists Companion. Thanks for reading and responding, and may your calling always match your well-compensated, personally satisfying and community-serving TA gigs.


TA Fee Worksheet - Blank

TA Fee Worksheet - Example



Guest Blogger: Daniel Levy

Daniel Levy is an award-winning composer and working musician in New York City, where he writes scores for plays, musicals, opera, and film. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Miami University in Music Composition and a master’s degree from NYU/Tisch in Musical Theater Writing. 




Member: Teaching Artist Guild, Natl Guild for Community Arts Education, ASCAP, Dramatists Guild. See Daniel’s LinkedIn Profile

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