Why what we charge in the tuition industry is a feminist issue

To mark International Women’s Day 2023, this blog will focus on my beliefs around why we chronically undervalue ourselves in the tuition industry.  Whatever gender you identify as, this is relevant to you.  Feminism is about equality across genders.  It is about highlighting and challenging patriarchal systems that hold most of us back, regardless of what gender you identify as.

Where does undervaluing of education come from?

As with everything, to understand it we have to look at the history (my favourite subject!)  Let’s go back to the late nineteenth century when schooling became compulsory for children aged 5-13. 

When elementary education became compulsory in 1880, and free in 1892 to educate “the masses”, the teaching profession as we know it today came into existence. 

Prior to this time, children who went to school, or received an education via a private tutor, were from families who could afford to pay for their child’s education.  I say children, I mean boys.  Middle- and upper-class families who paid to educate their daughters were rare, and even if girls did receive an education, it was often very restricted compared to their brothers’. The teachers/tutors they would have had were mostly (if not exclusively) men.  Because education was elite.  It wasn’t available to everyone.  It wasn’t about masses of children, but developing the select few.

Working class families needed income and children were sent out to earn their keep from a young age.  School was not part of their world.

Unlike other professions developing at the time as a result of the Industrial Revolution, such as medicine and the law, which came with high status and a high salary to match because they dealt with important things like life and death and dealing with criminals, which were only open to men (women were unable to attend university to train in these professions), teaching was not accorded the same status.

Why?  Because it was working with children.  And working-class children at that.  Children = women’s work.  Women’s work = caring and menial – less important than the life and death, saving society from criminals work of the men. Women’s work = we don’t need to pay them as much as the men.  The younger the children, the more menial the work is perceived to be.  Of course, there were male teachers too, but because teaching was an option for women, it was afforded a lower social status. 

And we are still living under the consequences of this patriarchal belief system 130+ years later. 

How this impacts what tutors charge today

Many, if not most tutors today come from a teaching background.  According to government research (which I normally take with a big pinch of salt, but it seems about right in this case) 75.5% of teachers in the UK are female (even higher in primary schools).  However, only 38% of headteachers in state secondary schools are female.  Women are at the chalkface; men are in positions of power.

Following these statistics through to their logical conclusion, a large proportion of private tutors will be female. 

Image by 14995841 from Pixabay

We come into tuition from a profession which is chronically underfunded, which has one of the highest rates of unpaid overtime, who work some of the longest hours for some of the worst pay in any OECD country (www.neu.org.uk), where “doing it for the children” is used to justify overwork and underpay in the form of toxic positivity.

This becomes ingrained into us.  It is normal.  It is how it is.  It comes with the job.  We stop even noticing that we are undercharging and working for free because it is so normal to us it is practically invisible.

We also think we can’t charge as much as other service providers because “it’s for children”.  We are a caring profession.  If you charge well you stop being caring. You are greedy, cruel and unkind.

Or so we are conditioned to think.

Why what we think about what we “should” charge is nonsense.

It’s nonsense, btw.  I charge well (compared to most tutors).  It doesn’t make me cruel or heartless or greedy.  The amount I care is not reduced by how much I charge. In fact, I am able to help more vulnerable children and support charities, organisations and ethical businesses as a result of charging well for my service, because now I can afford to.  If anything, charging well has enabled me to show I care more, not less.

It’s time to challenge this chronic undervaluing (in all senses of the word) of caring professions such as tuition.  As educators, we know how vital education is.  Any problem society faces, from obesity to climate change, the key to making things better is always education.  Education is the key to moving out of poverty, better physical and mental health, financial security…  The list goes on about how and why education is absolutely fundamental to society.  It is as important as the life and death work of doctors, and the law and order of lawyers and barristers.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Yet because education is about children, and a predominantly female workforce, and those “menial”, wishy-washy, “feminine” traits of caring and nurturing young minds, it is not valued by the holders of power (the patriarchy).  This trickles down to society; insidiously, subtly over many years.  It is so ingrained it becomes deeply embedded in our beliefs about our own value.

Teaching is not something anyone can do.  It requires training, deep understanding of how people learn, and skill in applying this appropriately.  It is a very highly skilled job. 

How to start shifting your mindset around charging for tuition

  1. Charge appropriately for your qualifications, skill and experience. If you have undertaken training to develop your practise and skills, you have invested in yourself.  This needs to be reflected in your price.  Charge appropriately for your qualifications, skill and experience.  The more qualified, skilled and experienced you are, the higher your fees. It has nothing to do with where you live, what age or subject you teach, or what gender you identify as. Charge appropriately for your qualifications, skill and experience and this starts to raise us, and our profession, up.
  2. Recognise that you are worthy and deserve to be paid appropriately for your service. I tutor because I wholeheartedly believe in the importance of education and love supporting children in their learning – giving them opportunities and a brighter future.  But not at the expense of my wellbeing – physical, mental and financial.  I can’t support them properly if my needs are not being met.  It’s basic Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but the system only wants us to apply it “to the children”. 

Just because the service we provide is for children, it doesn’t mean we should charge less than for services for adults. This comes from the toxic positivity of “doing it for the children”.  What this phrase actually means is, “do everything you can for the children, at all costs to yourself.  The child is more important than you in every way.”  This is not true and dangerous.  The most important person in a classroom?  A qualified teacher. 

Charging well and being caring are not mutually exclusive

Caring professions are essential (as the pandemic and recent strike action highlights), and women are drawn to them, yet because of the patriarchal conditioning around this type of work which really took hold during the Industrial Revolution, women continue to be undervalued and receive lower pay.

And when we become tutors, either self-employed or via an agency, we don’t appear to be questioning the chronically low hourly rates, compared to other professions which require equally qualified and highly-skilled people to do them well; or the amount of work we do for free through the normality of charging by the hour (read why I don’t charge by the hour here). By continuing to work in this way we continually undervalue ourselves and our profession, perpetuating the problem.

By charging well for my service I’m saying:

This service is important

This service delivers life-changing transformations

This service requires a high level of training and skill

I deserve to be paid well for my qualifications, skill and experience, regardless of my gender.

I’m going to finish with a quote from Phillipa Perry, psychotherapist and author, taken from the podcast “The Kindness Economy by Mary Portas”:

“It’s culturally implanted that we [women] do the caring and we need to change the culture… I think caring should be as valued as a trait, in men, and in women, as much as being able to add up is.”

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