The Cost of Being a Pole Instructor
So you want to be a pole instructor? Awesome! First, head over to the Alloy Images blog for a fun take on the joys (and occasionally not so fun, but still funny aspects) of being a pole instructor. They do a great job at covering it with glee!
Now, let’s get down to the serious stuff. Being a pole instructor comes with a lot of responsibility (duh), but what may not be obvious is that it can also cost a lot. Not just financially, but physically and emotionally, too. I’ve been thinking about this off and on, discussing it with my friends who teach, and I’ve finally put together a list of costs associated with teaching pole – with some bonus help from members of one of the excellent, private Facebook groups dedicated to teachers and studio owners. (Thanks all!)
You might think that teaching pole is a means to extra income. Sometimes, that is true! Buuuut, not always. Here are some costs to consider:
If you are teaching pole, you must have proper instructor insurance. To not insure yourself as an instructor is to leave yourself open to potential lawsuits should a student be injured in your class. While studios should have their own insurance, that coverage will vary (it may not cover you as an instructor), and you should ALWAYS protect yourself, regardless of the level of insurance at your studio. Do your research into coverage; make sure you choose a plan that covers pole. Personally, I have insurance through Alternative Balance. They offer options for part-time and full-time instructors, plus they specifically cover pole. My yearly rate comes out to just over $200, before adding my studio as an Additionally Insured. Make sure that you add every studio you teach at to your policy – this can cost anywhere from $10 to $25 per studio, on top of your premiums. Other policies are out there, and they can be expensive!
As a pole instructor with a muggle job that provides me with health insurance, I am afforded the privilege of not having to pay for it fully out of pocket. But if you plan to make pole your central means of work, health insurance is something for which you will need to budget – you do NOT want to get injured without coverage. Trust me. Plans will vary, but when I was getting insurance through the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) from 2013 to 2014, I went through Covered California and saw plans that provided bare bones coverage for very little, to “Cadillac” coverage plans that cost a few hundred dollars a month, even after subsidies (at the time, I was making about $24,000/year, so my subsidy offers were decent, and I went with a medium level plan that cost around $125/month).
There are a number of Pole Certification companies out there, and none of them are particularly cheap. You’re looking at a minimum of $500, to close to $1000, for any certification course. Now, do you absolutely NEED to be certified? It depends on your studio (some will require it). Personally, I have some mixed feelings on it.
I am certified through Pole Moves. I found my certification helpful for a lot of things that a good teacher will need: warm-up concepts, verbal cues, safe spotting, how to plan and manage a class, etc. Those things are invaluable, and a certification can really help you in these matters. What it cannot do is give you apparatus mastery and the personality that is suited for teaching. Some folks are natural teachers, or can cultivate that skill set to become good teachers. Others…just don’t have it. Even if they’re incredible polers who have apparatus mastery…they might just suck at teaching. It happens. A certification may help that, or it may not. Overall, I feel that certifications are a smart investment, but I do not feel that they will automatically make you a good teacher.
Another type of certification that is important to have (but seems rarer) is CPR/First Aid. A quick search on the Red Cross certification website shows prices ranging from $75 to $120 for a certification class, depending on the type of certification you want. This brings me to the concept of group fitness certifications: in addition to a certification that is pole specific, you may also want to be certified for group fitness through an organization like ACE, AFAA, etc. This takes time and dedication, but also money – anywhere from $300 to $600 register, not including other fees for prep materials, tests, etc. (it varies depending on the organization).
As a teacher, it’s important to continue to learn. That can cost money. Maybe it’s a new certification, a private with another instructor, a trip to a pole-centric learning event (i.e. a convention or a retreat), additional classes, etc. Trips to large pole events or retreats can cost A LOT – thousands of dollars – and even additional classes can add up. Some studio compensation packages include free classes for instructors, but others do not, which brings me to…
Being a pole instructor can mean some extra income! Yay! But…not always. Before coming on board with a studio, make sure you know their policies:
What is their class rate?
Some studios pay a flat fee per class; others pay a flat fee plus additional compensation for good class numbers; some only pay in trade (free classes/rehearsal time). Make sure you know what your compensation will be before you agree to teach at any facility. This includes fees for privates! Most studios take a cut of earnings from privates, as much as 50%.
Will you be an independent contractor or an employee?
As an employee, your taxes will automatically come out of your paycheck. As an independent contractor, you will be paid up front, but have to pay out taxes at the end of the year, once your studio issues you a 1099. This means that you’ll need to budget enough money throughout the year to cover your year-end tax bill. Being an independent contractor may also cost you in other ways, like possible fees for music licensing and additional fees for tax processing (if you freelance at multiple studios).
What are their studio cancellation policies?
How many students are required for a class to run? For our studio, it’s a minimum of 2 students. If your class is not performing well, you may not end up teaching as often as you think.
Will you actually get paid?
Beyond the established pay rate of the studio, you need to know: will they pay you? This is a serious issue within the pole community. I’ve heard many an anecdote about instructors being stiffed by studio owners, both for traveling workshops and regular classes. If you can, do some research and talk to the other instructors at the studio – make sure that the owners can pay you, and that they can pay you on time. You don’t want to work for someone who is not on top of paying their instructors.
Tools and Supplies
While most studios will have the basics of what you’ll need to teach your classes (i.e. poles, yoga mats, yoga blocks, etc.), you may end up needing to purchase other supplies, like stretching/resistance bands, massage balls, grip aid, knee pads, shoes, pole clothing, etc. Even things like music purchases or music subscription service fees (i.e. Spotify), class planning supplies (including advertising, i.e. if you pay for online design templates to create posters for your classes/workshops) can add up. I have the added issue of supplying props for my movement class, like chiffon. There are also other things to consider, like gas to and from various studios (if you’re teaching at multiple places), portable mood lighting or music devices (iPods, speakers, etc. – not all studios have speakers), and professional pole photos to help market your classes/workshops.
The nice thing about being an instructor is that you can write off most of your supplies at tax time; but you still have to pay for them, so it’s still money out the door.
Recovery – Part I
Being an instructor can take a serious toll on your body. Doing something 18 times, in slow motion, while talking, is exhausting, and the wear & tear can be all too real. As an instructor, it’s important to take care of yourself, and that often means spending money on things like massage, acupuncture, trigger point therapy, chiropractic adjustments, and more. As an example, at one point earlier this year, I saw an acupuncturist for needles and cupping ($90), a trigger point therapist for release work massages ($195 cash), and a chiropractor ($60 + tip for masseuse), all in the span of less than a month – with multiple visits to the trigger point therapist. That’s A LOT of money spent to keep my body functional.
This doesn’t even account for things like proper diet (good food costs money) or supplements, or self-work tools like foam rollers, massage balls/tools, or in my case, the help of a nutritionist. My point is: this shit adds up. And that, in and of itself, can be stressful.
Teaching can be a ton of fun, and it be incredibly rewarding. Any time I see a student nail something they’ve been working hard to get, or find themselves breaking through to a new level, it is THE BEST feeling. I get so happy and so proud. I think about how far students have come, how much I love seeing them work and try and succeed, and it makes my day.
That being said: teaching can also be exhausting.
If you are teaching a lot, you may not have time for yourself. You may be giving up time to do basic things, like errands, or you may be giving up time with your friends and loved ones. If you end up with classes on the weekends, guess who is not going to get to hang out with their friends who have muggle jobs? Yep.
Even if you are like me – muggle job, teaches once a week, with the occasional subbing gig – it’s still hard to make time. On nights where I teach a couple of classes in a row, I am doing it after 8 hours at my day job. I get an average of about 30 minutes of “me” time between driving home (30-45 minutes) and driving to the studio (30 minutes). I usually nap, then shove some healthy snacks into my face on the drive in. When I get home, I usually eat something, plus I still have house stuff to do, and I want to spend time with my husband, and the next thing you know, it’s midnight, and I have to be up in 6 hours. I’m usually quite tired the day after!
Beyond just time to do things and hang with your friends and family, you may also not have time to train. “But, I am teaching all the time! Of course I will train!” Eh, not always. Many instructors I know are so busy instructing others that they rarely get to take classes and be a student themselves. Nor do they always get to go to the studio and work on their own stuff.
You also have to set aside time for the administrative side of things: planning/practicing your lessons, creating/practicing/breaking down choreography, promoting your classes online with video or posters, hustling for new opportunities, etc.
It’s natural for students to become attached to their teachers – and vice versa! – but boundaries are important. Some students will need more attention and time, but if these requests are coming outside of class, and taking up a lot of time, there may be a need for a boundary.
Boundaries can also come into play when your friends take your class. Teaching your friends can be super fun, but if they aren’t respecting you as the instructor – goofing off, talking over you, doing moves not at the class level or part of the lesson – it can be stressful. In that case, boundaries are a must.
Last, but not least: for whom will you be working? What is the personality of the studio owner? How do they run their business? Are you okay with any of their idiosyncrasies? Or will they end up driving you insane? This is an important thing to consider – ask other instructors how they like working for the studio, and of course, use your own judgement. Nobody wants to work for a crazy, flaky person, and if you end up in that situation, boundaries will be important if you want to continue to work for them.
Giving vs. Receiving
As instructors, we give in order to allow students to flourish. Sometimes (often), one small win for a student makes it all worth it. But to put so much of ourselves into something can be draining. You have to make time to feed your own creativity and soul, in order to be of any use to others. This is important to your emotional well-being, and – surprise! – it requires time and boundaries.
While we all make jokes about how our bodies change through pole, being an instructor means putting your body through different rigors. Repeating moves over and over again, spotting people properly, hours of movement, even talking through moves as you do them…it requires a lot of your body.
Recovery – Part II
I mentioned the financial cost of recovery above, but beyond that: you must take time to recover. Whether this means time off between classes to let your body rest a day or so, to taking time to roll out your muscles and stretch after class, to sit in Epsom salt baths after a hard class, or to even stopping to eat a proper meal and hydrate, it’s imperative you do it. Your body will crap out on you, if you don’t, and then you’ll be forced to take time off.
I’ve mentioned this twice, but diet is an important part of keeping your body in good shape. I don’t mean weight loss. At all. I mean eating the proper fuel to allow your body to function and recover at the best of its ability. This means taking the time to prep your food, and eat your food, and not rush around all the time. It means reminding yourself to keep hydrated. It’s time, and it’s money, but it’s necessary to remain in your best physical condition.
If you’re like me, and you have chronic health issues, this self-care is vital. I have to eat well, and remember my supplements, and make myself drink lots of water. And I have to get good sleep, and do all of the other recovery things I’ve already listed, just to maintain some semblance of functionality. I also have to work regularly with my Nutritionist, and see my doctors…which hey, costs more money!
Teaching requires a lot. Despite aaaaaall of this, I truly love teaching (even when I’m tired and over it, which does happen from time to time). I had to stop teaching pole work classes for about 6 to 8 months earlier this year, due to my health issues, and I missed it. I felt so left out of the progress of my students, and I missed the community a ton. Now that I am slowly coming back to teaching regularly, and being able to pole on my own, I don’t think I realized just how much it means to me. I recently took a day off of my muggle job, just to attend an instructor jam at our studio, and spent 4 hours in the company of a handful of other polers, playing and exploring new stuff. I left SO HAPPY.
My point in putting together this exhaustive list of things to consider is simple: if you want to teach, you should be informed about every aspect of it, not just the fun and amazing things. Knowledge is power, y’all!
Note: I’ll be updating this post if any new suggestions on “cost” come to me, so check back periodically to see if anything has been added!
How to Deal: Substitute Teachers
We all have our favorite instructors – the ones whose classes we seek out and never miss if we can help it. I’m willing to bet most of us have had a moment where we look at the schedule and find out that our favorite teacher as a sub for their class…and we cancel. I’ve done it. I’ll admit it.
Sometimes, it’s simply that I was looking forward to a specific thing from a specific teacher, and I’m not in the mood to be open minded (terrible, I know). I want what I want. The sub may be great, and I may know that already, but I just…wanted that other thing. Other times, I know the sub and know that they are not my cup of tea. Maybe their style is not like mine, or they focus on moves that aren’t traditionally for me (i.e. anything overly bendy). Or…and this has happened…maybe I just don’t like them. As a person. That happens. And, I’m not about to drop money to spend 60 to 90 minutes with someone I don’t like.
Canceling class because of a sub is the right of any student. I would venture to bet that most studios expect some cancellations for subbed classes when there is a regular, much-beloved teacher who is out. But, I would also venture to say that a lot of the time, those students who do cancel because they want their favorite teacher are maybe missing out on the chance to learn something new, or even find some gem in the instruction that they didn’t think they’d find.
I recently went to a class, expecting a teacher that I really like to be there, and found a sub. I was a little let down, but happy to just be in a class and getting a chance to exercise. All of the students were polite, but a little reserved, as I think tends to happen with a sub. I think there’s a definite tendency to sit back a bit and take measure of the teacher, but also of what they intend to teach. And nobody wants to step on any toes at the outset (unless you’re a bratty student), so there’s also that tendency to hold back initially.
For students, I think dealing with a sub requires some measure of getting over yourself and being open. Maybe they aren’t teaching what you wanted to learn, but that does not mean that you won’t get something out of it. Maybe they’re a new teacher, or new to you, but either way, it doesn’t matter. What does matter? That you give them the same attention and respect that you would give to your regular teacher, and that you make an effort to follow their lesson plan, even if it’s different than what you are accustomed to. Because, truly, you never know what might click for you. Maybe that teacher will spot some bad habit you have that is keeping you from nailing something – a habit your regular teacher may accidentally overlook because they know you better. Maybe they’ll have another way of explaining something that makes more sense to you, for whatever reason. You never really know!
On the flip side, if you are subbing someone else’s class, you have to expect some amount of dissention or discomfort from the group, but there are some things you can do to prepare. One suggestion I like is to approach each of the students and ask them individually what level they are at – what are tricks they are working on, what are they comfortable with (giving them examples, like shoulder mount, invert, etc.) – most teachers ask the class as a whole, which can work, but in classes with mixed levels, that can be tricky. And some students may be too shy to be honest in front of the group. While this suggestion does take more time, it may also allow the sub a moment to connect with each student and personalize the experience – that is, to be less of a stranger.
Another technique is to ask what the regular instructor has been teaching them – this can give you a good idea as to what the class may be looking to learn and where they are in terms of level. This does not mean you have to teach the same curriculum, unless it is required by your individual studio. But, it may give you the advantages I listed above, as well as the chance to add on. What I mean is: perhaps the regular teacher taught an Extended Butterfly to Flatline recently, but you can rock an Extended Butterfly to Reverse Poisson – that means that you can review a trick they know or have been working on, and add something really cool to it that they may not know. It’s a little familiar, but has a fun twist.
I think it’s also good to see if you can chat with the studio manager or the teacher for whom you are subbing and get a measure on the class: are they shy? Are they unruly? Do they have a tendency to go off the reservation and try stuff they shouldn’t? Are some at a higher level than others? How long is the usual warm up? How long is the actual class? (Sounds funny, but I once had a sub end a class 30 minutes early by mistake.) It’s also good to ask the teacher what has been on the agenda, too.
Having been on both sides of this issue, it’s an interesting and delicate one to me. I am generally averse to subs as a student, as I find that I tend to have some needs as a student that not all instructors can handle well (i.e. I ask A LOT of questions about small things within the technique, as it helps me to break down tricks better and make adjustments based on my own body – and not every teacher knows how to deal with that). I’m not fluid, bendy, or strong enough to just roll with any teacher, either – if I come in and there’s some back bending trick, I effectively just lost a class. And, I tend to feel bad about working on my own stuff in someone else’s class, so it’s a double fail.
That being said, I HAVE totally gotten stuff out of classes with subs. And, I always think it’s an excellent lesson to shut up and be open. In a recent class with a sub, the instructor had planned curriculum for a class that was far less advanced than the level of the students present (it was mixed level). As such, it was a lot of review on conditioning, which was a really good workout, although a little dull. Still, there were one or two things I hadn’t done before, so I got a chance to at least try those things, even if they weren’t really what I was hoping to do that day.
And, as someone who has subbed classes, I know it’s tough to do, especially if the teacher you are subbing for teaches in a completely different way than you do (which was the case for me). As much as I might pout about not getting to see my favorite teacher, I do have empathy for the person subbing – it’s not easy! As a sub, you’re generally trying their best to do right by the class. Ultimately, while it’s good to know and understand someone else’s way of teaching, you must be comfortable in order to be effective. If someone’s style is completely different than yours, don’t sweat it! Just let the class know ahead of time what to expect: how the warm up will run and how you teach. It won’t guarantee that they’ll be totally into it, but at least they won’t be surprised.
So, the next time you have a sub, consider attending class and being open to what they have to offer – you’ll probably get something out of it! And, if you’ve got a class to sub coming up, do your research and remember to have fun!
Update: A friend of mine mentioned that she’s seen students go as far as to arrive to class, change into their clothes, then leave as soon as they see there is a sub…or leave right after warm up…or even ask if there is another class going on they can take instead while IN FRONT of the sub. All of those things are rude. Just flat out rude. If you arrive and find a sub you weren’t expecting, it can be a disappointment, but you’re there already. Commit and make the best of it, especially since you’re going to lose the class credit if you don’t. If you haven’t gone into the class yet and want to inquire about switching, do so in a discreet manner and only involve the front desk. But once you are in that door, honor the instructor and be present. Don’t be a douche.