This post may not be a popular one and may even offend some. That is not my intention. I’m only speaking personally about what feels right for me as an educator and want to dig deeper into the topic on this recent NYTimes post. .
First of all, I get it. In the world of education, teachers are often undervalued, taken for granted, and those that take the risk to do something innovative? Prepare to take that path alone in your school or district. Schools around our country are limiting travel experiences, taking away professional development funds, and often struggle to purchase the latest and greatest devices… or even ones that work. It’s a true fact, not even an exaggeration. And I feel bad for complaining, because the schools I’ve been in, urban, suburban, and rural, still likely had more than many. I’ve worked in schools where I was not allowed to travel out of state or attend any conferences and I was always desperate to push my thinking and learn. It’s why I fell in love with edcamp and connecting online in the first place. But the atmosphere online is not what it once was.
As it turns out, teachers also have an incredible passion for their work, for their students, and will do just about anything to be sure they can provide for their students. Even when that means spending their own money or taking their own spare time to make it happen. Even when that means accepting offers and becoming a part of something bigger than your classroom or school. One minute nobody wants to hear about your new idea, the next you’re signing a non-disclosure agreement and giving input on products you use with your students. It’s easy to see why someone would be drawn in. Like a moth to a flame… we fly toward the light. Especially if we feel at all like that light will burn brighter for our students.
Imagine how things get complicated when companies make offers like, “We’ll send you to ___ conference.” or “Promote this on your blog, we’ll pay you.” Or, “Here, sell this resource you created on our site and give us 60% of your profits.” It’s not hard to understand why this is lucrative. Every company has an Ambassador program now – it’s so overdone it’s becoming the norm. I mean, as teachers we’re often excited about our ideas– like kids-on-Christmas-morning-excited. Find an audience that shares our enthusiasm? We are so in. All in. Like, completely.
You mean someone will PAY me to talk about this product? Someone will PAY me for my idea? The dark side to this? Either sell your idea, or I can guarantee you, someone else will. They’ll take it, package it, and profit. It’s happening. It makes you wonder, should I have been selling this myself? It makes you feel like you are less of an educator because you are choosing not to sell your ideas or monetize your blog. You are just you – not a brand – and you constantly have to ask yourself, is this enough? Am I making the right choice for myself? Should I be selling more of my ideas? If I do sell this, who owns it – my school or me? Should I be saying yes to that book offer? If I create resources for my classroom, who owns them? Do I need to use my own device on my own time? Should I put these posters online and sell them so I can pay for my child’s college fund? So many questions, so many complicated answers.
But there is one question that has an easy answer…
Who is truly benefitting in all of this? At first, it may seem completely that the teacher is. It may seem, on the surface like a win win. You scratch the company’s back, they’ll scratch yours. That it’s all set up to benefit learning. That these companies are “celebrating teachers” and providing a platform to “make extra money.” But, a deeper look? Businesses are. Free advertising, teachers sharing experiences at less of a cost that traditional methods of “spreading the good word” about the product? The teachers are hooked – making money and supplementing already stretched tight income, earning free things for their classrooms because they love their kids.
When I see a company offering to celebrate and empower teachers, I’m leery. We are in the midst of an era defining social media use. The advertising game is constantly evolving. The internet allows EVERYTHING to be monetized. I’ve done the class Twitter account, had experiences where my kids tweeted with an astronaut, people around the world, and built relationships with other classes from our small town. I could tell you a million great stories about the joyful experiences we’ve gained. I even met one of my very best friends because of a shared experience with a space shuttle launch.
But I can tell you, the bottom line is, I’m not a brand. I’m a person. And if I ever feel that that’s not enough, I shouldn’t be in this field. Because the truth is, it’s harder enough to become who you truly are meant to be, without trying to be a brand, too. And at the end of the day, I’m just not sure the payoff is big enough for our kids in our world. And that will always be my bottom line.