Why don’t teachers like big business ?


Ooohhh… playing with fire with a question like this.  Let’s see what happens ;-)

image courtesy of Pablo Sanz Almoguera


Last week I asked the question, “why did you become a teacher” and received responses from over 30 teachers from all over the world.  A refreshing theme in many of the comments was that we enjoy “sharing” “helping” or as one PLN-member put it well, “[we] have a common thirst for knowledge and the ability and desire to help others develop through that knowledge and to touch their lives“.


This generosity and sense of community is a core part of my beliefs as a teacher and I’m glad to see I’m not the only one ! ;-)  Which brings us to the topic of today’s post, and one that moves from a positive upbeat “why” to a seemingly negative disapproving “why not”….


Why don’t teachers like big business, or even  just business ?


Is it true ?


In this blog I’ve already addressed how I would have never seen myself ‘doing business’ in a post back in the spring, and how, in the end, I’ve understood that ‘business’ is not the dividing line, but really the people and actions behind the exchange that count.

To come back to the issue, I think many of our gut reactions to the question is simply that many business, especially large multi-nationals, are greed-driven, putting people and the environment in second place.  If teachers are drawn to generosity and helping, then of course they’d be upset with profit-driven companies going in an opposite direction.  I was reading Kirsten Winkler’s take on the Future of Ed-Tech Business models last week.  It’s a nice piece and one of the first comments shed quite a bit of light on the issue:

I think that teachers would be very willing to buy from any brand that stands for what the teacher believes in. If there is a trouble with brands it is that many of them don’t stand for anything that resonates with teachers. I bet that teachers are probably more critical of brands than most but just like everyone else they are starved for authencity.    -China Mike

Times are changing.  Take a look at our industry and see how there’s a bottom-up movement for independent publishing, opensource materials and a “fairer” way of sharing and doing business.  It’s changing before our eyes and we can all be a part of it.  The internet, globalization and English as a lingua franca are driving these changes and with change comes opportunity.  My team at Edulang is considering how we can participate and we want to think globally with our approach.

I’m going to be honest:  Being a small team of 10 in the enormous industry of ELT is tantamount to being David among a number of Goliaths, and yet I know our positive direction will help us succeed.  Later this week I’ll share how we’re going to be doing things a bit differently, a bit more in line with teachers’ values and I have to admit, I’m EXCITED and I hope you will be too !   WATCH THIS SPACE  ;-)



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  • http://twitter.com/mikemcsharry mike mcsharry

    Having worked in businesses ranging from massive (Glynwed) through enormous (Xerox) very, very big (British Leyland) I can understand some of your concerns. A problem many big businesses have is one of PR to the common man. TV reality shows (in my opinion, The Apprentice sucks. In reality, Sugar would sack the lot at first interview) do not portray business accurately. This is compounded by news reporting – when was the last time you recall good news getting the headlines? My last recollection was the plane landing in the Hudson.
    We’ve started to see the spirit of Andrew Carnegie re-surfacing in the behaviour of people like Bill Gates with his Foundation. If you look around you may see  many businesses quietly doing a bit – sometimes very locally (Waitrose, Asda), sometimes in a vertical way (the Card Factory and MacMillan) and then you get the businesses who make a song and dance of it (Coinstar with their donations on the telly).I could personally show you a very powerful local businessman who very quietly supports multiple local charities – just because he’s a good bloke.

    I feel a very long, probably boring, blog post coming on – I’ve been stewing one for a while.

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Hi Mike-

    Thanks for your comment and I look forward to your blog post.

    The first issue with any of this is generalization, and that’s what I was trying to address by saying  ”it’s not busines’ per se, as it is the actions and people behind that busy-ness”.  I too have known very generous local business leaders.  It all depends.  

    That being said, what board of directors is going to choose to lose profit for ‘the good cause’ ?  Who goes into stocks for “philanthropic” reasons ?  You mentioned the news, and yes, we don’t often get much of an up-lifter there, do we ?  Yesterday, it was about how the bank crisis in 2008 actually ended up being profitable for the banks… doesn’t seem right.

    I know there are good people doing business all over, but I think the scales lean the other way much of the time.  In big business, profit and power is king… whereas for teachers, relationship and empowerment is king.  A conflict of values, and I believe that companies that embrace that reality and forge that middle path will find success, especially in a day in age where PR is now about co-mmunication.  Consumers are now in touch with brands online and there’s an exchange and an accountability that never existed before.  

    Interesting times.  Thanks for your thoughts, Mike and I look forward to hearing more from your experience.   Cheers, Brad

  • http://twitter.com/mikemcsharry mike mcsharry

    This is a sticky one. Profits = taxes (and all that they buy!). I agree that there do seem to be a band of folks who profit regardless. In the Strawbs song ‘Part of the Union’ they have the line ‘you’re still down there if you’re working class’. 

    Still no change there then.

    Oddly, plenty of ministers seem to be doing very nicely. 

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    I’ll agree it’s sticky, and yes profits do go to taxes, as do charitable donations detract from taxes. 

    For what it’s worth, I believe all of these issues are gaining a certain sense of transparency which I think is good.  Change can be slow or it can be very fast.  I often see it as an organizational or systemic issue;  when things are localized and small, then tend to maintain a more ‘humane’ nature.  

    I certainly don’t pretend to have the answers, but I think asking questions and discussing it with our community is a good way of getting there, so thanks for your contribution !

  • http://twitter.com/MusickEd MusickEd.com

    Here is one teacher’s opinion – you might find it surprising! http://discoverlearnplay.blogspot.com/2011/11/music-education-business-win-win.html

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    All depends on the situation and glad your example is a positive one.  We need more like it !  Cheers, Brad

  • http://tamaslorincz.edublogs.org tamaslorincz

    I tweeted about this post yesterday, and have been thinking about it ever since. This is how far I got:
    I think this is a very interesting and at the same time  immensely complicated question. Teachers in my opinion have developed a bit of a victim mentality. They see that everyone is out  to get them: administrators – with increasing teachers’ workload, the governments – with constantly moving the goalpost and using education as a political battle ground, parents – selfishly demanding special attention to their kids, kids  - constantly being kids. 
    Big business is just another bully that tries to tell teachers what to do and how to do it and making a profit on doing so.
    If you feel that you are being exploited and that others are making financial, political gains from taking advantage of you, you will turn against whoever you feel is doing this to you.
    I think what is very exciting these days is that the businesses that plan to survive have realised this tension. So far they tried to buy into teachers’ loyalty with free gifts and giveaways, but now they are trying to engage and involve teachers in creating materials, to understand teachers’ needs and aim at the niche that they can provide for. The relationship if not that of the seller-purchaser anymore.
    We have yet to see how this spins out, and surely many of the businesses will crumble down. The ones to stay are those who understand this new relationship and can make a profit on it without profiteering. The trend is collaboration and engagement, and that’s only possible between equals. If teachers don’t perceive themselves as victims but as partners, the relationship can become mutually advantageous, and both will strive to make teaching better and learning more enjoyable.   

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    I agree that it is very complicated, but I also agree that this is the nature of emotions, a blend of histories and perceptions.  There probably is a bit of victim mentality, and from all sides as you’ve mentioned.  I’m just as concerned with teachers’ reactions as I am with the reality and intentions behind administrators, governments and businesses.  When they are geared at profiteering and misuse of power, then it should be addressed and if we’re to stop being victims, it means that we need to speak up.  

    I think now is a good time to speak up too, as you pointed out:”The relationship if not that of the seller-purchaser anymore”  

    SO TRUE, and we’re seeing this trend not just through education, but all over.  Smart businesses are becoming more transparent and through social media are establishing relationships of collaboration.

    I really enjoyed your take, Tamas.  It’s constructive, honest and has foresight.  Thank you very much for sharing it here and I look forward to discussing this and more issues in the future.  Cheers, Brad

  • http://twitter.com/seburnt Tyson Seburn

    I think it’s fair to say that you’re right about the greed and needs of the business over needs of the teachers/students.  When I moved from the academic side to the administration side of the private language school I worked at for many years, I became disheartened by the approach to decision-making about courses they wanted to offer and the disorganisation of launching these programs without considering what the principles were or who should teach it.  It was almost always a last-minute decision in both cases, after students had paid their money.  Then on top of it was the marketing, which I accept is a necessary part of any successful business, but what was expected of the marketers, who didn’t know much about the programs themselves, definitely put a sour taste in my mouth.  And that was not an isolated case in the private sector.

    Having said that, business models are an intriguing puzzle to play with and I appreciate that aspect.  It’s just too conflicting for me to get that involved in that side, even with 4C.  I’m sure I’ll never be a self-made millionaire.

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    I’ve seen the business behind language schools in the US, China and France.  Remember my first teaching job where I was paid $13/hr whereas the student was paying $35.  That marked me, and as you say there’s a lot of administrative, behind-the-scenes actions that are done with business in mind, not education.  Part of it all, I guess.

    There is no doubt that strategy and business models are a fascinating puzzle… and there are folks that are VERY good at that… would they be those self-made millionaires ? ;-)

  • http://www.edukwest.com/pay-what-you-want-edulangs-social-experiment-lets-buyers-decide-how-much-to-pay/ Pay What You Want – EDULANG’s Social Experiment lets Buyers decide How Much to Pay

    [...] also wrote a post on the EDULANG blog about the PWYW project in which he quotes my old friend China Mike in the comments I think that [...]

  • Anonymous

    I could be wrong, very wrong, but I sense that small companies run by individuals try to “be good” whereas large companies just try to “do good”. There is a big gap between these two things in my mind. Often companies that just want to “do good” take the next step by simply (appearing to do good) or simply assuming that mere economic activity = doing good (contributing to employment and paying taxes). Hence, in their minds, the bigger you are the more good you do.

    The trouble from the small and “being good side of things” is that it is damn difficult to consistently be good. Religions often talk of the follies of our ways and the imperative to be humble. How do companies who try to “be good” avoid falling into this trap? This is apparently what happened to Google.

    This is complicated stuff- both being good, and doing good and I applaud you for talking about it. One thing I have learned from many of the world religions is that we should not expect or assume that our efforts at either being good or doing good will receive the approval or accolades of others. Which is perhaps why, many of the people who do good or are good, choose to hide these actions from others.

    So as a business, small or large, if we chooose to either do good or be good, do we deserve to expect the approval or accolades of others? And if not, why do these things publically?

  • http://twitter.com/seburnt Tyson Seburn

    A portion of them, I’m sure.

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Interesting points, Mike.  Thank you for stopping by and sharing them (and for contributing indirectly to the writing of this post).

    I think it all boils down to others’ perception of us.  Businesses expend a lot of effort on their “branding”, as do politicians and movie stars.  How about the religious, as you mention ?  Do they overtly share their “branding” so to speak or do they remain silent.  Depends on whether they’re a public figure or not.  

    From the point of view of my team, we need to be visible and easily understood.  We want folks to understand that we’re a small team and that we’ve worked really hard developing our applications and that most recently, our direction is a positive one—- we want people to use our apps and we want them to decide what their value is.   (http://pwyw.edulang.com/)

    We see this as having a positive impact on our customers, on the ELT ecosystem, the english-learning world and with enough reach, obviously on us as well.  I know for certain that we’re not interested in making millions.  We simply want to do what we like doing:  innovating, designing new apps and sharing them with the world.  In this case, it’s best to be transparent and make that understood… so I think that’s more of showing who we are and simply doing what we do.  Do we expect approval ?  No, but we like it ;-)