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Amethyst Hinton Sainz | Books, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | October 14, 2013

Teacherprefakeurism. Sound Awkward?


“Teacherpreneur” has got to be one of the most influential educational buzzwords of the decade. I sometimes wonder if Barnett Berry ever regrets adopting the term, along with Ann Byrd and Alan Wieder of the Center for Teaching Quality. Not only has the term been misapplied to teachers who become educational entrepreneurs, but the foundations of the concept have been disrespected by districts whose financial resources have been demolished in recent years, with Arizona as a prime example.

Having been in workshops with both Berry and Byrd, I am convinced that their intentions with the term “teacherpreneur” are absolutely in the right place. CTQ, thanks to hard work, represents the highest aspirations of the teaching profession, as does Berry’s definition of “Teacherpreneur”:

"For us, the word teacherpreneur represents the bold concept that teachers can continue to teach while having time, space, and incentives to incubate big pedagogical and policy ideas and execute them in the best interests of both their students and their teaching colleagues."

For the CTQ and other educational leadership organizations who have adopted the term, a teacherpreneur is not only a teacher leader, but someone whose expertise and ability to innovate pedagogy and create sound policy is honored by the fact that he or she is given “time, space and incentives” in order to do this important work. And, in order to become a true teacherpreneur, a teacher’s work in the classroom with students must be honored as well.

However, Arizona districts cannot afford to create many positions for teacherpreneurs (although teachers have spoken loud and clear through the national RESPECT project and the work of the Arizona Teachersolutions Team, and have supported the idea of various levels of career advancement in teaching). Cash-strapped districts, instead, create “teacherprefakeur” positions. These positions are an awkward combination of full-time teaching piled on with the demands of innovation based on national, state, district and school initiatives, usually initiatives which demand the creation of curriculum and assessments.

A true teacherpreneur would be given a reduced teaching load in order to devote the time needed to truly think, reflect, collaborate and innovate. Teacherprefakeurs who agree to be on curriculum committees are given release days from their classrooms to go to meetings to think, reflect and collaborate a handful of times a year. While they are out of their classrooms, they must provide substitute lesson plans and still must assess student work. In addition, under Arizona’s new evaluation systems, a large percent of their evaluations will be based on their students’ progress. So, in effect, teachers are teaching AND innovating and collaborating all at the same time. In these situations, teachers are not given any additional time and space to do this important work. In fact, they are given additional pressure which takes away from their ability to invest themselves in innovation.

In addition to the extra duties a teacher takes on by joining such committees, the teacher usually agrees to do this important work with little to no financial incentive. Because the teacher is doing this leadership work during the school day, she receives no extra pay. Perhaps a few summer work days bring extra money, if she is lucky. More often, I see districts opting to offer the release time.

The end result is that, typically, there is little to no incentive for teachers who serve on committees during release time to be innovative, except for the intrinsic reward of creating something useful for students and teachers. Luckily for districts, teachers are conditioned to be happy with the intrinsic rewards of the job. There are many intrinsic rewards. And they are what keep us going when the systems around us demand more without giving teachers the professional time, space and incentives to keep giving.

Lately, I see more teachers dissatisfied with this fakeurism. They want to do the rewarding work, but they feel the pressure of accountability in their classrooms, and they recognize that their work with students is the highest priority. Many talented professionals choose to stay in the classroom rather than try to do it all. But education needs their voices and visions, and schools should not have to scrounge for special grants in order to do that. My hope is that slowly, documents like the RESPECT vision statement and the Arizona Teachersolutions Team’s Journey to 2030 will help policymakers to see new, valid roles for true teacherpreneurs.

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Amethyst, thank you for raising awareness around this issue. If we don't advocate, model, and push for it to happen using the know how of CTQ, my concern is that it will wilt on the vine. Not die, wilt.

Shannon I also appreciate your comments here, ones born of experience and expertise. Thank you for the role you play in moving this initiative forward. May many of us join you on the mountaintops shouting the mantra, so that the message reverbs in the valley.

Shannon CdeBaca

I agree that the CTQ folks are absolutely in the right place on this issue. The type of role you term teacherprefakeurism has been around for eons (I have been in education now for 38 years and have lived through several). The key shift needed is a shift in power. For now the control over schedules, finances and policy is in the hands of many well intentioned and often overworked folks who have lost sight of just how tough it is to guide a rowdy group of 4th or 11th graders through a learning journey. I have always thought that if you are out of the classroom for more than 3 years you can lose that perspective (and many often do). Policies that do not take in the complex nature of that work and those relationships often impede classroom progress rather than protect it...not by intention but by lack of the classroom teachers' perspectives.
I lean towards the side that any teacher voice in any conversation about education is a good step. However, not compensating with released time or fair pay (I vote both) sets the stage for burnout or worse. Those who have a powerful voice and are pulled into these double duty same pay roles are the ones that move on to outside the classroom roles. When they do that we lose our most powerful practical voices from daily connections with students and a fair grounding in the realities of day to day teaching.
So, here is my mantra...I am going to continue to shout from the mountaintops for more expanded roles for teachers and with a bit of guidance from the amazing work from CTQ we should be able to navigate the waters to make these positions better compensated with some well needed incentives and tools.

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