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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Should Teachers Profit From Their Lessons?

I just read a New York Times article - Selling Lessons Online Raises Cash and Questions.


Three thoughts immediately came to my mind:

  1. We live in the United States - it is a capitalist country, where the marketplace decides if a product is worth the exchange of currency.
  2. Teachers spend too much time and money on canned teaching strategies that worked in one setting, but likely won't in all settings (including the setting of the purchasing teacher).
  3. Why would school districts / Boards of Education be worried about teachers selling their own ideas?
Let me pontificate on each as quickly as possible - just to raise questions and discussion.

Item #1-Capitalism

Teachers could be the most creative people on the planet if allowed to be so.  In the era of standards, and data-driven-decision-making any creativity they have is being effectively squelched.  "Stop that independent thinking!" says the DOE. "By golly, we'll tell you what is worth knowing for your students; because you really have no idea on your own.  Additionally, we'll judge your effectiveness as a teacher based not on what you do, but on what your students do with the material we say is important for them on a single day of the year.  Teacher, you are our middle-man of indoctrination."

Oops. Sorry. Didn't mean to get so blunt.

Just because a public school teacher works for the government does not mean they shouldn't be allowed to participate in the economic system of the nation.  Teachers work at department stores, restaurants, paint houses, and do yard work to make ends meet.  But if it is true that one learns more by teaching, then wouldn't it make sense that trying to teach other teachers would make one an even better teacher?

Oooo.  Philosophy.

Item #2-Canned Curriculum

Can lightening strike twice? Could what Erin Gruwell (Freedom Writers) be reproduced?  Perhaps, but it probably worked for Ms. Gruwell because the timing and setting was just right for her and the students she had.  Can I learn something from what she did? Absolutely.  But could I do what she did? Not me.  Her gifts and talents are different than mine.  Could she do what I do? Maybe, but I doubt it.

In the above paragraph you can replace Erin Gruwell with Mr. Holland, Rafe Esquith, Ron Clark, Louanne Johnson, or even John Keating (Dead Poets Society), or any of the thousands of other miracle workers in our profession.

Canned curriculum, whether from a big-time publishing house or an individually great teacher, is still canned.  It will not work for you the way it worked for them.  Don't expect the same results.  Teaching is still more about personality, interaction, and human connection than about content, methods, and standards.  That does not mean the later is not important, but without the former, the later doesn't really matter much to students.

Item #3-The Reason for Worry

Do BOEs and School Districts oppose the idea of teachers selling their material because they think they "own" what is delivered in a classroom setting?  If so, that reaks of indoctrination as the goal of education.  So that can't be the reason.

Do BOEs and School Districts oppose the idea of teachers selling their material because they think the teacher is slacking on the district's dollar?  Teachers don't have the time while in the school to write anything worth selling.  They likely do this at home, while on break, and during the summer.  Again, this practice would likely make the teacher a better teacher for the district that may be seeking to ban the activity of personal profit.  So it seems to me that the district would encourage such behavior, unless of course it would reflect poorly on the district is the material was made public and people could really see what was going on in their classrooms, or if it revealed that the teachers required extra compensation (due to furloughs and budget cuts) to make ends meet.  This could be the reason, but probably not.

Do BOES and School Districts oppose the idea of teachers selling their material because they think some publishing company might sue them for copyright violations? Now we might be getting somewhere.  When money becomes an issue, the districts and boards perk up. So there is a possible/probable reason for concern.

Perhaps someone in district administration wants to use the ideas of the teachers for their own advantage.  When they retire (in their early-to-mid 50s) with a resume including district administration positions, it becomes easier for them to become a consultant. Or perhaps the district seeks to be a "pilot program" school and can get "compensated" for helping a college/professor/publisher become rich. No potential conflict of interest there, huh? Not that any of us have seen this happen, but it could; so that might be a reason.

All the above ideas are so 20th century.  In the 21st century, if I were one to oppose teachers selling their lesson plans and ideas, my concern would be competition.  Public schools have battled and belittled homeschooling, religious schools, private schools, and anything else that would create competition and comparison.  In the 21st century, I can envision great teachers creating their own global classrooms.  An organization that would market itself to parents around the world, charge a tuition, and then provide parents with a list of specially qualified instructors (from across the world) to choose from to teach their child. Talk about a true International Baccalaureate diploma.  The Course Management Software is already available, the teachers already exist, the marketplace is developing. I could even see Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and others providing scholarships for families unable to pay the tuition. This competition for the minds of students will become increasingly prolific in the 21st century.  We have made the statement to cause this to happen - "We are educating students for a future we do not see."

Posted via email from Murry's World

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