To teach or not to teach – is that the question?

Getting down and dirty in a London photography workshop. The people who take the best pictures are usually the ones who're prepared to do whatever it takes!

It’s not the easiest of times right now.  The Walker household income needs to be considerably bigger (we’re running at a loss each month) and I’m not contributing much at all to it – cue feelings of guilt, worry, and shame.  I should be pushing forward with expanding my photography classes but I find myself strangely reluctant to do it.  And the other day I began to wonder if trying to make money out of teaching photography is a good idea.

I love to teach.  I like the interaction with people I haven’t met before, many of them interesting and fun.  I like the look on their faces when they suddenly understand something they’ve struggled with up to now.  I like the thank you emails I often get afterwards.  I enjoy the process of constructing a course and the creativity needed to come up with interesting ways of getting something across that’s basically very dull.  I love to learn new information, distil it, simplify it, and pass it on to others.  I like to help.  I like all of this.

What I don’t like is that, towards the end of last year I was doing so much teaching that I didn’t have time to think about my own photography and wasn’t taking many photos at all.  I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I do make work for myself that isn’t strictly necessary.  I research everyone’s cameras before I do a class, because trying to figure out how eight different cameras do the same thing is both time-consuming and sometimes quite alarmingly worrying.  I regularly tweak or re-write handouts because I think of a better way of doing them.  I spend time looking for new materials that will better illustrate what I want to teach.  And then there’s the printing out of booklets and handouts for everyone and the organising of folders and materials.  And the admin, let’s not forget the admin.  All this takes time, energy and effort but if I’m going to do it at all then I want to do it well.

I also don’t like the fact that I’m struggling to earn an income that will do more than feed the cats.  It’s true that money’s never been much of a motivating factor for me, but the less you have of it the more important it becomes, and at the moment I’m pretty well stony broke.

Last year I did a lot of work for a friend who runs a photographic tour company in London.  I devised a workshop, wrote a 24-page booklet to give to students who came on it, helped recruit new tutors and talked through the structure and format of the workshop with them, wrote another 12-page booklet for a different course and re-typed and reformatted a booklet that was written by someone else but needed to look better when printed out.  I gave photographic advice, brainstormed ways of moving forward, spent time answering emails from students asking for advice, devised another course – which never ran – and taught a large number of workshops.  What did I earn for all of this?  Just over £1600.  Not only is it nowhere near enough in terms of the hours I contributed, I then had to watch new tutors coming in and earning money using my course and my materials.  I’m not usually a grudging sort of person, but I feel that stinging just a bit.  I love to help out, my friend was extremely appreciative and I don’t regret doing all this as it’s been good experience, but there comes a time when you have to start looking after your own interests.

I thought the answer would be to expand my own workshops in my local area and it’s clear that there’s a much better return for effort if I do this. However, to earn anything like the amount I need I’d have to do huge amounts of marketing and promotion and I’m really not very good at that and, even worse, I don’t enjoy it at all.  For me, the advantage of working with my London friend was that she would take care of the promotion side of things and I could get on with what I do best.

So I find myself procrastinating.  There are many other workshops and courses I could put together, and I have more ideas than you can shake a stick at, but I have a deep feeling of reluctance inside to get moving on these.  At the beginning of this year, after a spell when I was often working both days of each weekend in London, I contracted one virus after another.  I’d no sooner get over one bout of flu or cold than I’d go down with the next.  And when spring came and the threat of viruses diminished, I developed problems with my back and my knees.  Illness, for me, is often a message that I’m not living my life in a way that’s good for me and this endless run of ill-health seems to be telling me that I’m off-track somewhere.

I’ve had a lot of time to think, and realised that when I do large amounts of teaching it takes my attention away from what I really want to do – work on my own personal photographic projects, study towards a photography degree, and write about photography.  I do love to teach, but not at the expense of everything else.  So recently I’ve been wondering if I should do something entirely different to earn money – a part-time job (assuming I can find one) that I don’t bring home with me and that leaves me time to play, to experiment, and to think.  I’m wondering if trying to make your passion into a living is maybe a bad idea and that it’s better to separate the two.  I’ve always thought you should follow your heart and your passion and earn money doing what you love to do, but did I get that wrong?  Or is it that I simply need to find a new way of doing things?

I’m still undecided.