Why ‘teacherpreneurs’ should not feel guilty

Teacherpreneurship is a natural and acceptable part of the evolution of education, especially at the postsecondary level and in the digital age

teacherpreneurs Two of the reasons educators often give for why they became teachers are “helping students” and “learning new things” (Vaux. R. 1999-2013).

In fact, research has shown that professors really do care about students having a successful edventure. These two desires go hand in hand as dedicated faculty work hard to learn more ways to meet students’ needs as well as pursuing their own passion for learning.

In fact, learning along with students, among all of the new opportunities provided especially by e-learning today makes the Digital Age the best time to become a educator. Faculty can choose to instruct a variety of course types online (e.g., traditional or MOOCs), work as instructional design experts, lead innovative new collaborations in education between the government, private, and/or public sectors, create edtech such as learning apps, and other such activities. The options online seem endless, and yes, a teacher could even return to a traditional face-to-face classroom.

Many of us in education have so embraced these opportunities to serve our students and our need for lifelong learning that recently the terms “teacherpreneur” or “edupreneur” were coined to describe us. As education blogger Jennifer Funk explains, these are faculty who are dedicated, knowledgeable, innovative, and driven by “a generosity of spirit” (November 21, 2012). Teacherpreneurs have one foot firmly grounded in instruction as they share their expertise beyond the confines of the traditional brick and mortar institution.

All of this is truly exciting except for one weakness: Educators tend to feel guilty for moving through opportunities. Recently, when teacherpreneur, Megan Allen, writing for the Center for Teaching Equality, shared how guilty she felt at seeking out and accepting new roles as an educator, I could empathize (14 July 2013). I vividly remember the time I left my first full-time teaching position at an inner city high school after eight years of innovative instruction for a new opportunity.

My students created a giant goodbye card. Amid the colorful well wishes one student wrote in plain pencil: “I hate you for leaving us.” For a few minutes, I hated myself, too, and wondered if I had made the right decision to move on. However, for teacherpreneurs, such as Megan Allen and me, moving on is the right path.

(Next page: 5 reasons to embrace adventure)

Teacherpreneurs must embrace the edventure of their own careers and not feel guilty. Here are five reasons why.

1.  Timelessness

First, it’s understood that trends and their associated labels, such as “teacherpreneurship” and “edupreneurship” come and go, but what these terms mean has always been a part of the occupation. As one of civilization’s oldest professions, teaching has always had a keen focus on the edventure, the heroic everyman/woman saga of meeting life’s challenges head-on and learning to overcome them in new ways. Take a look at the biography of Aristotle, one of human civilization’s greatest teachers for an example of how long edupreneurs have been around.

More recently, as Teach for America’s Nihal ElRayess stated in her EdSurge post, “What It Takes to Be a Teacherpreneur,” (4 October 2012), entrepreneurs have six main characteristics that also describe educators. They are:

1. Visionary

2. Passionate

3. Creative

4. Empathetic

5. Persistent

6. Fundraiser

I concur with her comments that the stereotype of the teacher as rigid conformist to rules, regulations, and schedules is humoros for anyone who has actually held a position in the field. How often have we had to provide a creative vision for a struggling student or school with passion, persistence, and empathy? I can’t count the number of grants I’ve written, equipment I’ve begged and bartered for, or the boxes of candy I’ve sold.

Teacherpreneurship is a timeless characteristic of who we educators really are.

2.  Transformation

Although educators have always been dedicated innovators working for student success, times change. In the ancient world, the Peripatetic teaching method (walking around with students) was all the rage. Today we would laugh if a teacher considered that a remarkable innovation. Clearly, the context of teaching has evolved, especially over the last decade, just as the landscape of education has changed. Consider the rapid growth and options of e-learning over the last decade within the context of the war on academia over such issues as gainful employment, student loans, and teacher evaluations (c.f. Silverstein, M. America’s War on EducationThe Moderate Voice. 2 June 2012).

Within this ever-changing, dynamic environment, we educators work hard to help students learn, grow, and succeed, not only in school but beyond into their future careers and roles in our global society. Why wouldn’t we do the same for ourselves? In fact, educators are required and expected to complete a certain amount of professional development hours and activities each year so that they can achieve the goal of helping students transform their lives. Educators must take part in writing/publishing, presenting, research, and other such activities to stay current in their fields. Better still, they must stay on the cutting edge of trends and innovations in their respective professions.

Why then would we expect faculty to remain stagnant? Teacherpreneurs must not feel guilty because they themselves model the transformative role academics plays in our lives.

3.  Evolution

However, not feeling guilty is more than just about a timeless characteristic of educations and modeling academic and career success for students. The third reason teacherpreneurs need to approach their on edventure boldly is too evolve not only themselves and their students, but also to advance the learning within the bigger picture. A teacher plays a key role in making the world a better place, and often the results aren’t seen until years later.

Did Aristotle realize that his works would have deep and lasting influences in fields, such as rhetoric, science, politics, art, cartography, etc.? As he researched and cataloged a continuous flow of organic and inorganic artifacts sent from Alexander the Great’s campaigns in the east over an eleven year period, did he know about the lasting effects of his research? Probably not.

Similarly, as educators who have evolved as edupreneurs, we won’t necessarily know how our contributions to our students’ success and our respective fields will play out in the long term. Most of us who have been in the profession for a while have watched some students go on to start their own businesses or non-profits. We have seen others who win awards for their work in a field we helped inspire them to pursue. I’ve even had a few apply for teaching jobs in my department. I would also like to think that some of my writing and work in the area of human rights and ethnic preservation have had a lasting influence.

Teacherpreneurs must not feel guilty because the very example they set can change the world.

4.  Survival

The fourth reason that edupreneurs must not give in to feelings of culpability is also inherent in our very being. We, too, must survive. Salaries in education are lower than in other professions with similar training, professional development, and training requirements. Budget cuts often include people, and the days of working an entire career at one school are over. For example, the inner city high school I spent nearly a decade devoting my life to chose to end all foreign language instruction in spite of the awards my students and I had won that year. The district did offer to retain me, but teaching in a role that would have been a step backward not forward. I chose to move on. Not everyone had this chance. Similar scenarios where award-winning, innovative programs and their edupreneurs are cut play out all too often.

At the postsecondary level and with the advance of online education, an increasing number of adjuncts are hired to teacher courses at multiple institutions with seat maximums steadily rising. When the e-learning revolution began around the new millennium, seat counts for online courses were typically limited to 18 students. It quickly jumped to almost twice that number, and now open courses with unlimited enrollment are all the rage. MOOCs often offer little or no faculty involvement, which leaves adjuncts in a worse position than ever before (c.f. the New Faculty Majority’s “Adjuncts as Donors” series). Having pointed out some of these issues, it’s not realistic to expect educators to maintain a normal standard of living for themselves and their families within this sinking big picture.

Teachers must become teacherpreneurs to survive, and if they must also sell lesson plans, move from one good opportunity to a better one, or otherwise climb that very same career ladder we encourage students to advance upon, there is no reason to feel guilty.

5.  Continuity

The final reason that teacherpreneurs should not feel guilty is because edupreneurs will become better educators in two main ways. First, gaining work experience within more than one context will broaden the edupreneurs’ knowledge and talents in ways that would not have happened otherwise. For instance, my experience working at the secondary level has made me a better educator at the postsecondary level because I have a better understanding of curriculum and student preparedness than I would otherwise.

My experience in traditional ground campus course delivery and administration coupled with my work online also provides a depth of perspective when it comes to making decisions about such areas as technology. Likewise, my career in writing and publishing provide real world examples and skill development that I can pass on to my students.

Second, professionals who are provided with opportunities to grow and develop tend to be happier and more stable (Hollon, J. 24 January 2013). Edupreneurship helps to stem the flight from the profession that is so detrimental to the field and to our students. As an administrator, I embrace my leadership role in helping to provide increased opportunities for those I supervise. Any school would be wise to do the same if they wish to develop and retain good educators.

The depth of talent and stability provide continuity that teacherpreneurs should not feel guilty about pursuing.

Overall, teacherpreneurship is a natural and acceptable part of the evolution of education, especially at the postsecondary level and in the digital age; therefore, educators should feel excited and energized by the opportunities available, not guilty. Please share how you as an edupreneur are pursuing your own edventure in the “Comments” area below or with me via Twitter.

Michael Keathley is a higher ed writer and editor. Please join Michael on Google+Twitter, and Facebook. This article first appeared in

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