Would a little common sense please stand up?

Some time ago I posted about how my submission to present a paper at a conference had been accepted, and I was getting quite excited about the prospect of sharing some of the work I’ve been doing on curriculum development with colleagues in a wider context.

My expectation was that I would be presenting the paper voluntarily, and my school was going to support me in this by absorbing the $350-400 cost of relieving me from my teaching duties for the day, and chalk it up as a Professional Development activity (as one of the professional teaching standards is explicitly about engaging with the wider teaching profession, it is entirely fitting).

Now the politics of these kinds of conferences can be a little tricky. Recently, fellow teacher-blogger Darcy Moore wrote this fairly concise piece about the issues of asking teachers to write/present/work for free when event organisers are charging sometimes quite high fees for people to attend the conference.

In the case of the conference I had offered to present at, the cost to attend the 2 day conference could be as high as $520 for a person who was not a member of the organisation, and a discount applies for members. I notice that there is no option to pay to only attend one day of the conference, which is a little odd given that one of the days (the day I am scheduled to present) is a work day and the other a Saturday, and schools may not have the funds or the inclination to pay as much as $850-900 for a teacher to attend the event ($520 attendance + >$340 for a day’s relief).

The reason I don’t object to working for free is because the organisation is a non-profit group who generally work to support teachers in a specific domain of education, and the many people working behind the scenes are volunteers who, like I plan to, give up their time for free in order to offer something to other teachers.

I know that not all teachers agree with me, and believe that they deserve remuneration for their efforts outside of their teaching roles, or at least believe that the costs of their participation (school relief, travel expenses, etc) should be covered by the organisation that is accepting payments from attendees. I’m not quite as firm on that issue – sure, it would be nice, but I believe in teaching as an open-sharing profession and am happy to throw in when I can.

So you can imagine my utter disbelief when I received an email with what amounted to an invoice for the cost of attending the conference at which I was going to be presenting! It seems that not only is this organisation expecting people to take time off of work, either at the expense of the school or by taking leave from work, but then insisting that they (or their school) pay for the privilege of their contribution to the conference!

Further to this seeming like an odd policy, I personally have no recollection of ever agreeing to the clause that having my paper accepted for the conference would come with an obligation to pay attendance fees. Now to be fair, in an email I sent to the organisers I did acknowledge the possibility that I did not thoroughly read the terms and conditions of my paper submission – and if the obligation of paying to present was in the terms and conditions then I would have been writing this post significantly earlier – however the email I received stating that payment was required seemed to me to indicate that when ‘reminded’ of the need to pay, a fair number of other presenters were withdrawing, which to me would suggest that others were also unaware of this requirement.

Now to put this in perspective – if the conference can cost up to $520, the fee being asked of presenters was just under $200, so half of the members early-bird fee of $390-something. However there are over 50 sessions on offer over the two days, which means that if every presented is being asked to contribute $200 then there’s $10,000, and probably most of the costs of running the conference, covered right there (and as a person who used to organise weddings and some corporate functions before becoming a teacher, if they’re not covering their costs for $10,000 then they’re desperately in need of my services to run a workshop in event management… for a fee worthy of a consultation with an experienced professional, of course!)

But of course they probably aren’t charging some ‘keynote’ speakers (most of whom are also teachers) for their participation, so that figure may not be a fair reflection of their income.

But then consider how many participants must be expected to attend for 50+ presentations over 2 days to be viable? Even if only a couple of hundred with attendance of 10-15 at every session, 200 attendees multiplied by an average attendance cost of $450 ($520 at the highest end, $400 at the lowest end) that is still an event income of $90,000!

Ninety Thousand dollars! And that’s with an estimate of paying attendees that I think is somewhere on the conservative side, and they expect the teachers who have volunteered to play a role in making the conference possible to pay a fee to attend! Where would the conference be without teachers volunteering?

In my case, it’s even more absurd because I had no intention of attending the rest of the conference… because I was donating my time to help the organisation generate promotional materials by recording interviews with presenters and attendees to be shared online, so the nominal reasoning of charging me for attendance was not even valid!

As far as my participation goes, it will depend on the response form the organisation to the email i sent in response to the request for payment.

The one thing that bothers me, however, is where this sits with my personal principles. I’m the sort of person who won’t patronise a restaurant or business if I discover that the staff are being paid under award wages, and even if this organisation waive the requirement for me (and my colleague – we are giving a joint presentation, so 50+ sessions may actually equate to more than 50+ presenters!) I don’t know how I feel about supporting an event or organisation that takes this kind of policy approach to professionals who volunteer their time and make such events possible.

Maybe it’s time to get more involved with TeachMeet…

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1 Comment

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One response to “Would a little common sense please stand up?

  1. Yes, I agree. That just doesn’t sit well with me, but I rarely attend conferences as my school can’t afford to send me so I’m not sure how they usually operate.

    I’m dying to know how this turned out. Did you have to pay in the end?

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