Mixed feelings about giving it away

In the model of the well-paid master teacher, what’s the vehicle for sharing expertise? The teacherpreneur concept is an attractive option to bring more freedom and variation in scheduling and compensation within the roles of teaching profession.

In my last post, I shared some resources for an experiential poetry lesson I’ve been developing and implementing in my classroom for years. This was actually the first time I’ve posted my own resources for others to download. As much as I love the idea of open source curriculum and educational tools, I do harbor some mixed feelings about giving away my tools.

On the one hand, if something that I know could benefit other teachers and their students, the altruistic part of me wants to help. But there’s another voice that says, “This knowledge is worth a lot and I worked very hard to acquire it. I also paid for top-notch training at Bank Street College, an investment in my ability to teach that was well worth it but that came with hefty loans I still pay off every month. And I don’t really get paid enough for what I currently do to feel like I can just give away what I’ve got.”

It’s a tricky thing and I know many will disagree with me. I know a musician who plays and produces music. He does it because he loves it. He loves the feeling of making music, the process of recording it well, and seeing people enjoying his music. But this doesn’t mean he does it for free. If he works for years creating and perfecting an album, he will intend to sell that album. Sure, he’ll give a few songs away for free but there’s a limit to that for two reasons: (1) Music is his means of making a living. Therefore, he cannot give his music away for free all the time; and (2) Even if he could, on principle, the demanding skilled work put into making the music is worth something in the world and should be in the marketplace as well. Perhaps money is not the most creative way to value something as beautiful as music, but it’s a very *real* way to value it. If he gives his music away for free, this will cause him to cease to be a full-time professional musician. He will have no choice but to get a different job and continue music only as a hobby—less music for everything then.

As a teacher, I do make a salary, of course, but compared to the level of skill, stamina, brains, and training necessary to pull it off well, the teacher’s salary just doesn’t compare to other professions. So while I’d like to feel that I would just hand a stranger everything I know in a handbag if I could, the truth is I most likely would not. I have already started the process of supplementing my teacher’s salary by writing, consulting, and giving workshops on curriculum and other teaching matters. I wouldn’t do these things if I didn’t enjoy them but by the same token, I would probably do a lot less outside work if I made a six-figure salary.

So is my perceived need to hold on and use my teaching knowledge and experience in the marketplace just a workaround in response to an inadequate salary scale? Would it be better if I became a master teacher and made $150,000 a year and shared everything I could for free? Or is there something about being both a teacher and a free agent—a social entrepreneur of sorts, with the ability to apply my unique set of skills and competencies to contexts that need them for a fair price—that might be valuable? In the model of the well-paid master teacher, what is the vehicle for the sharing of expertise?

I’m honestly kind of on the fence about which model would be better but I’m attracted to the idea of having more freedom and variation within the teaching profession, in terms of roles, schedules, and compensation.

I believe these questions are at the heart of the debate about teacherprenuerism. Here is Barnett Berry’s Ed Week article introducing the idea. Here is my presentation about teacherpreneurship at the Big Ideas Fest. Here is Nancy Flanagan’s critique of the teacherpreneur concept.

Thoughts?

 

[Image credit: selfpursuit.com]

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