Teacherpreneurs catching on in California

After the requisite rubber chicken lunch at the Good Teaching Conference hosted by the California Teachers Association last month, I scampered off to where I would be leading my workshop. The session was sparsely attended, with only 20 teachers, but what we lacked in numbers we made up for with energy and vigor.

We talked about the concept of a teacherpreneur. A teacherpreneur is not a new concept; it has been around for a while and is sometimes called a teacher leader, sometimes a hybrid teacher. What we’re talking about is a teacher who spends a part of her day working in a classroom with children and part of her day doing some kind of educational leadership work.

The teacherpreneur is a blended role rather than a siloed role. Most of education is made up of siloed roles. Either somebody is a full-time teacher or she’s a principal, or a curriculum specialist, or literacy coach.  When we think about education jobs, we typically think about teachers.  We may also think about the school principal, a counselor, and the librarian, maybe the nurse, too.  In addition to those positions, every school has maintance and food service workers.  Some have security personel. Each school district has offices filled with lawyers, human resourse personnel, accountants, professional-development coordinators, curriculum specialists, and, and, and…  Most of these positions are filled by people who will never interact with children.

The concept of a teacherpreneur is basically this: the people who are leading our schools, defining education policy, writing textbooks, and training the next generation of teachers should be the same people who are in classrooms working with children.

Some of our teacherpreneur roles

After being introduced to this concept, our conference group broke into smaller teams and spent some time talking about some of the various roles that a teacherpreneur might fill. One of the workshop participants wanted to work with new teachers. This could mean spending part of her day working at the local university in the teacher credentialing program. Alternatively, this might mean that she could work with an apprentice teacher in her own classroom.

This same participant was also interested in working with policy and with the teachers’ union. I can imagine this teacher working Monday through Wednesday with her students, then flying up to Sacramento to help write sensible education policy. I can also imagine this teacher as an elected official in her union. In my mind’s eye, I can see negotiations between the union and the district going much more smoothly with teachers on both sides of the table. Rather than fighting over who gets the most crumbs from the ever-shrinking state budget, these classroom and district leaders would be working together to use the resources that they have to best serve children.

Another teacher was also interested in new teacher support. She wanted to work with the California BTSA, (Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment). In this role, she might coach newly hired teachers in their first or second year on the job. During this time, the newly hired teachers can be fired from their district without being given a reason. It would be the job of this BTSA coach to mentor that new teacher and to inform the district of whether this new teacher deserves to have her contract extended and have a permanent spot on the staff.

Many of the folks in the workshop were interested in working on curriculum development. With the new Common Core State Standards coming online next year and school assessments being aligned to the new standards in 2014, districts all over the country are currently, and will soon be, looking for professionals who can help align curriculum to the new standards. Who best to do this than the professionals in their own districts who are the experts in educating the district’s children?

Doesn’t it make sense?

The concept of teacherpreneurs would be one giant step toward ending the vitriol that too often sours the discussions we have about the future of public education. Teachers could have a voice in their school leadership, district reform, and education policy. School leaders, education reformers, and policymakers could have a foot in the classroom, where the rubber of their reforms and ideas meets the road of teaching and learning.

It’s an idea whose time is ripe.

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