Should assistant instructors be paid?

A colleague from South Africa asked this question in response to our post, The Role of Assistant Instructors:

I have a brown belt, whose father has, after I gave him one month free as gratitude for his assistance now asked that I actually pay him per week for his assistance. I have never heard of this and was quite shocked (as his dad was also an old regime karateka). How would you treat this and do you actually pay assistant instructors?

I have some opinions myself, which I will share, but I’d love to hear from others, so please comment!

I come from a traditional point of view in which students are required to do assistant instructing as a part of their training. It’s quite valuable for the student, and it can be quite helpful for me… but it can equally be of concern. These assistants, lacking the judgment and experience of a seasoned instructor, are frankly, at times, as likely to lose a student as to help them. To ensure one doesn’t lose students due to bad handling by inexperienced assistants, one must provide training, instruction and supervision to those assistants. Sometimes you must do this on the fly during class, when you see things going awry. One could easily make the case they should pay extra for the privilege, rather than being paid. In any case, I always hope my students will appreciate the gift of training and be humble about their own abilities and position.

On the other had we do want to appreciate our helpers. A colleague of mine lets his helpers earn scholarship points toward training camps and seminars. I’m sure others have creative ways of showing appreciation (please post!).

You must have appreciated your assistant’s help, in wanting to give him a free month. Now the father has put you in an awkward position. I suggest you go back in time (ha ha), and create an assistant instructor program in which you state clearly what is desired and expected from assistants, set learning goals for them, and make it clear that while they are helping, they are also students. Then perhaps set up a system of rewards that you feel are appropriate, which show appreciation, but which don’t promote the idea that every helper should be paid. Set this forward for all now-and-future helpers. And decline to pay this fellow, while stressing how much you do appreciate the help they provided. Offer to let them continue on your newly-defined program, and be prepared for the dad to be unhappy.

That would be my advice – but what say the rest of you out there?

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4 Comments on “Should assistant instructors be paid?”

  1. Ricki Kay Says:

    I would tell the individual ‘thank you very much for your assistance,’ and if he is truly interested in becoming an assistant instructor he can sign up for your assistant instructor training program, which is a 1 ( or 2 ) year course depending on what rank you start at. You will be glad to train him, and then when he completes the course you will be glad to consider him for a paying job. In the meantime, put together an assistant instructor program for your students starting at a certain rank. Students have to register for this program; they pay you by the quarter (making a 3 month commitment to assist 1 hour a week, as well as attending a class each month). They have to meet certain criteria all along the way. To be truly an assistant instructor would be someone who you could hand over a group of students, or an entire class, and they would know what to do without any guidance or direction from you.


  2. The term “assistant instructor” can mean many things to many instructors/schools/organizations. In my school, and others where I have studied and those where I was an instructor, an assistant instructor is someone who is able to run a class without anyone else helping, but is not regarded as an instructor. Anyone that helps an instructor during class is considered an assistant – but not an assistant instructor.

    If you have someone that is under black belt running a class on their own, then that time would (should) be regarded as training experience – both as their colored belt training (as you learn and internalize the material better when you have to teach it to someone else) and as instructor training. This, of course, assumes that you have some form of instructor training program. Even if they are not in an instructor training program, their teaching (if that is what they are doing, as opposed to helping you or another instructor out during class) is learning experience for their next (and future) ranks.

    If a black belt is teaching class on their own, then payment depends on what you have established at your school. Some schools will still regard that as training for their instructorship. Others will pay the black belt a small amount (usually close to minimum wage) for their service. Other schools will have a tuition reimbursement program for every hour the person teaches.

    It seems that you do not have a formalized program setup for assistants or assistant instructors. If that is the case, I strongly recommend that you set one up as soon as possible. If you need any help, feel free to contact me as I have set many of these up for instructors (not to mention my own schools).

    If you do have a program in place, then it seems that it was not clearly explained to the student and the father. If this is the case, show the student and the father the paperwork explaining how the program is broken down and what they are to expect from the program. If for some reason you don’t have your program written down, I STRONGLY suggest that you do this immediately. Again, if you need help with this, please feel free to reach out to me as I have done this many times before for other schools, instructors, and my own schools.

    In the end, for a brown belt who is (I’m assuming) teaching a class on his own, I would suggest that every hour he puts in teaching he receives a partial credit for his tuition (equal to half the going rate of a per-hour income for an instructor), and clearly indicate that any assistance that this student provides goes toward his own training.

    Please feel free to reach out to me if you would like or need any further assistance.

    Sincerely,
    David Bordeaux
    https://DavidBordeaux.com/
    emailme (at) davidbordeaux (dot) com

  3. Tanner Critz Says:

    I have paid assistants, unpaid assistants, and those that relieve a fraction of their dues by helping. I think the most important element is to have a clear structure for what you need from helpers, a clear path to get there like an instructor program, and clear guidelines on what would be required to be paid.

    The way I’ve decided to organize it is to make the assistant program available to green belts and up. They come to a meeting every week and have a time to assist every week with particular duties and skills that they’re working on. People farther along in the program can run warmups or a particular drill that we’ve discussed so that they can get better at pacing and using their voice. The third level can take a rank group during class to work on their curriculum. I give them class outlines each week and then they work from there and we discuss each week. The fourth level are able to take the whole class for me when I’m gone.

    As far as pay, I make the distinction between helping, which you could miss because of school or work issues, and taking charge where you take ownership of the class and would organize and prepare substitutes if you were unable to attend. Assistants that teach more than one class per week start taking discounts on their dues. If they’re handling four classes a week, they don’t pay dues anymore. This option is only available to people that show reliability, teaching aptitude, and enthusiasm for the program. Otherwise they just assist once a week to aid in their own development.

    The part of this program that has been the most successful has been sending out weekly teaching plans and then meeting with all the assistants about it that evening. This has helped keep them on the same page, inspired, and feeling like a team.


  4. Most dojos have assistant instructors that help out as a part of their training (ours does). There is no pay involved. Our students have to be a intermediate belt to begin to help with lower belt students. At advanced rank, they can do more. Even some of our black belts are assistants and help out but they are not paid.


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