Teacherpreneurs—make sure to know what we’re selling

This is a follow up on my previous post, which takes Nancy Flanagan up on her question of whether compromise with ed reformers whose methods we disagree with is possible, and whether teachers compromise their integrity when they become enterpreneurs.

Teacher expertise is valuable. We know this. And in most cases, it’s more valuable than the amount a teacher gets paid in salary. We can change teacher salaries to reflect this more accurately, and I hope to see that happen sooner than later. Teachers can also engage in business that allows them to get paid for the value of their knowledge where it is useful. This could include writing, consulting, designing, project leadership, mentoring, etc. Many teachers do this and may or may not consider it especially enterpreneurial. The good thing is that when teachers do this, we spread our knowledge while making it clear that we are the experts, rather than leading from the classroom alone and letting others with little or no teaching expertise hold the “expert” badges.

This can get dicey because there is so much big money in education right now. Probably more than there has ever been. Nancy Flanagan, Anthony Cody, Diane Ravitch, and many others have pointed this out consistently. The big money is mostly connected to testing and sometimes also connected to cutting teachers’ benefits, salaries, and/or training. In a struggling economy, there is a growing industry around testing the heck out of our students and using the data to evaluate students, teachers, schools, districts, states, and policy initiatives. We know this has adverse effects on teaching and learning, and undermines “teaching as a self-actualized, self-determined, self-defined profession,” to quote my colleague, John Holland.

As teachers step into the realm of teacherpreneurism, recognizing and taking advantage of the value of our skills and knowledge in the educational marketplaces, we need to be clear and careful about what we’re actually selling. Are we offering our expertise for a fair price? Fine. Are we also selling our support or silence in relation to policy initiatives that we know are harmful? If so, think again.

I have no question about my integrity when it comes to writing a book that shares teaching methods I think are really valuable and getting paid for the time it takes me to develop and write it all down. To me, this is a very empowering experience. I have deep respect and gratitude for other teachers who’ve done this, and I’d like to see many more teachers become authors.

I also have no qualms about getting paid to lend my perspective or advice to education policy organizations, as long as:

  • (a) I’m allowed to be an independent, critical thinker throughout the process—not expected to lie or remain silent if I disagree.
  • (b) I am in general agreement with the organization’s mission and believe my work with them will impact teachers, students, and communities positively. There are some organizations and companies that could not pay me any amount to share my ideas with them because I disagree with their positioning, and don’t believe they want to advance teaching as a profession.

I believe (a) is more crucial than (b). In other words, where (a) is true, we generally don’t harm ourselves, schools, or our profession. (First, do no harm.) However, our time is limited, and education is too important to mess around with less than truly positive work. The scenarios most worthy of a teacher’s time are those where both (a) and (b) are true.  

For example, I spent an hour with a major testing/text book corporation giving my feedback on an iPad app they were working on to “help teachers plan.” It was pretty terrible and showed no understanding of the planning process most teachers use. I answered all of their questions honestly and got an $100 Amazon gift certificate. I sold my ideas for a fair price. I have no confidence that their work will advance the teaching profession, though I suppose this app has a slightly better chance after hearing my feedback. Nonetheless, it’s pretty safe to say I won’t be working with them again. Even though I don’t think I did any harm, I don’t believe in what they are doing. So why bother? Even if there were tons of money in it, I didn’t go into education for the money.

To quote my father, “Whatever doesn’t help, hurts.” If you have a goal, don’t get distracted just because the something else doesn’t directly conflict with the goal. If my goal is to teach well and help transform the teaching profession into a “self-determined, self-actualized, self-defined profession,” then don’t waste my time funneling my energy and knowledge in the opposite direction.

One more thought: If (b) is true, but (a) is not… rethink (b).

 

[image credit: daviddewolf.com]