Thursday, March 31, 2011

You Say Teacherpreneur, I Say Teacher, But Let's Not Call the Whole Thing Off

I was recently invited by one of the Teacher 2030 book authors to participate in a webinar exploring the concept of the "teacherpreneur." My first thought was, how nice to be thought of. My next thought was, what in God's name is a "teacherpreneur" and how do you say it?

The term troubled me in a way that I felt it shouldn't given how much I respect the educators who are writing the book. I saved the e-mail and decided to send a response once I figured out why the term made me so uneasy.

A few days later, coincidentally, veteran teacher and no-nonsense Education Week blogger Nancy Flanagan wrote a post pushing back on the concept, and articulating exactly why the term bothered me. The entire post is worth a read, but this part especially summed it up for me:

"Don't get me wrong. I'm all for productive change, for highly creative teachers sharing their dynamic ideas about practice and policy. And I think teachers should be paid well for their expertise. But I would call that 'teacher leadership'--the principle that promising innovations should be elevated and distributed, for the benefit of all children and their learning. As Michael Fullan points out: 
Teaching at its core is a moral profession. Scratch a good teacher and you will find a moral purpose. 
An entrepreneur 'acts as a catalyst for economic change.' Plenty of systems in our political economy run on entrepreneurial, market-based models. During the national conversation on health care, people better-informed than me regularly noted that a "free-market ideology is wholly inappropriate to health care issues." There is plenty of evidence that justice can be bought--and sold. Our banking system nearly caused a global economic meltdown--and millions of Americans are suffering under the results of entrepreneurial lending and house-flipping.
Maybe there are some things that shouldn't be controlled by the markets and consumerism. Is good teaching a commodity--or a principle-driven aspiration for community good?"
To me, the answer is clear: teaching is a principal-driven aspiration for community good.

But Nancy's insights don't represent my only problem with the term. To me it sounds new agey and gimmicky. Furthermore, it implies that being "just" a teacher is not enough. A commenter went on to defend the term and provide a further explanation of it here.

In short, the commenter says that teacherpreneurs as she interprets the term are meant to engage with students and families, share their expertise with students and other teachers, and adjust their practice and curricula as they grow and learn. My reaction to that comment is: Isn't that what, say, regular teachers are already supposed to do? Then the teachers who are especially good at what they do become teacher leaders or mentors, right? Why the re-branding in creepy corporate, self-actualization seminar speak? Will this somehow make corporatists accept teaching as a profession or take it more seriously? Why should we define our profession on their terms?

The need to resort to such a term also reveals the chip that education professionals often have on their shoulders. I agree that people who share a profession need a common language, including technical terms, to talk about their trade. I agree that educators deserve to be treated like professionals. But "teacherpreneur" and other such terms go beyond this. I remember some of this from when I was in ed school. "Students don't respond as well to being yelled at" became the "Negative Response to Vocal Cord Amplification Stimulus Theory." Of course there is science to teaching and education research, but the jargon does not make it science. At times, this way of talking about teaching and education seems more like a quest for legitimacy and respect than it is an essential way to communicate ideas.

Of course, it's not the end of the world if some opt to become "teacherpreneurs" and this post may not have convinced anyone who uses that term to abandon it. But I'll remain a proud and confident "teacher," thank you very much.


  1. Oh, thank you, thank you.

    Like you, I respect the people who are geeked about this term--very much--and I like their ideas about teacher professionalism. But to me this seems like the equivalent of "Dress for Success for Women," (ask your mom) back in the 80s, when women were encouraged to look and behave as much like men as possible in their quest to crack the glass ceiling. It's buying into the Invisible Hand school of teacher leadership.

    Thanks for this piece. Will share widely.

  2. The term perpetuates the business model being currently pushed, as well as the tech-centric bent of so many of the actual edupreneurs, like Tom VanderArk.

    It's a horrible name and educators should reject it!

    Oh, you're awesome.

  3. Hi Rachel,

    You referred to my comment to Nancy Flanagan's recent Ed Week blog post. I am one of the co-authors of Teaching 2030. I invite you to our Future of Teaching blog John Holland, another co-author, wrote a post that further explains teacherpreneuriship that you may be interested in reading. I hope you can join the discussion in our upcoming webinars.

    Carrie Kamm

  4. If teachers are to be thought of as businesspeople what is it they produce, market and sell? Is it the students? Is it their test scores? It seems like the corporatization of schools is leading to the marketing of test scores as the products of schools. Schools are becoming test score factories and are supposed to compete in the marketplace to attract "consumers" of education... those people we used to call "students."

  5. Thanks for the comments, all! I agree TFT that it sounds tech-centric and Mr. Cantor, the idea of "the marketing of test scores as the products of schools" is right on the mark.

    Just to clarify, though, I didn't mean to imply that the educators who are exploring the idea of a "teacherpreneur" are interested in a market-based approach to education because they absolutely are not.

    I guess the term has different implications for me and you than it does for them. To me, the term "teacherpreneur" is loaded. I can't help but have a negative reaction to it, even if I have a positive reaction to the characteristics they ascribe to it.

  6. And when everything has settled into dust, that ugly word, with all it's shallow implications, shall lie there like a neglected toy, testament to the faddish and fickle nature of the unimaginative mind.

  7. To me the term is too loaded with market-driven business competition connotations.


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