Susan Reese and I just completed editing the back-to-school edition of the NJCTE Newsletter, e-Focus. I include below an article we published inviting our readers to respond to the concept of teacher as “brand ambassador.” After you read the article, we invite you to respond to it here on the blog.
Sent: 09-04-2017 11:37
From: Douglas Hesse
Subject: Teachers as Brand Ambassadors –NY Times StoryI’m still pondering a story I read in yesterday’s New York Times (9/2/17) about teachers establishing themselves as brand ambassadors, primarily for technology companies who provide both classroom/school and personal benefits for promoting devices and/or applications. A certain chunk of the teacher’s time and efforts is to make visible, primarily through social media, themselves and their classrooms: to promote themselves as brands, famous for being famous teachers, “emulatable,” as it were. Now, there’s certainly nothing entirely new about this. There have long been famous teachers, famous at least within the profession, whose teaching practices and ideas get noticed and circulated, some of them even achieving status as “The Smith or the Lujan Method.” But those fame-garnering accomplishments have large occurred, historically, through professional organizations: presenting at conferences at various levels, publishing journal articles, occasionally authoring books.
Historically, there has been some sense of an implicit disciplinary vetting that occurred within knowledge communities; sometimes ideas and practices passed through levels of peer review (as in conference selections or publishing), but not always. And of course there’s been a version of “brand ambassadors” when the “apps” being promoted were textbooks, not software; publishers sponsored professional development led by one of their authors. The relationship within English studies between not-for-profit professional expertise and for-profit circulation of materials has always been a complex one. (As a textbook author myself, I’ve tried to resist what have felt to me the crassest requests for promotion.) What strikes me as different in the NYT article is the more overtly entrepreneurial cast. The tools of social media allow folks largely to bypass the professional associations and channels–organizations like NCTE–that traditionally provided authorizing (or sanctioning) functions. Instead, there’s more or less direct marketing, with the teacher him or herself being the brand.
The NYT article raises questions about ethics, noting that teachers treading roads that other professionals (especially physicians) have trod: the possible tension between obligations to one’s students through professional standards and enticements to one’s self-interests through business opportunities on the side. As the story points out (and as I concede), the nature of both school funding and teacher salaries–not to mention, the erosion of teacher status–makes the enticements pretty reasonable and understandable.
Now, as I said at the outset, I’m still pondering this all. I have concerns, but I want to be thoughtful before pounding my shoe indignantly on a desk. I am struck, however, by the consequences of these practices for what it means (or doesn’t, really) to be a professional whose professionalism is both signaled and sanctioned by membership in professional associations.