Teachers Aren’t Marketers

A line from the original series of Star Trek is now so famous it has become a meme on its own.  The ship’s doctor, Leonard McCoy, complains to the captain about doing tasks outside of medicine: Damnit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not an engineer, psychologist, diplomat, or whatever role Captain Kirk wanted him to fill.    

Whether or not an online teacher is a fan of the Star Trek fictional universe, if they decide to teach independently, they can probably relate to McCoy’s frustration.  Independent online teachers must also manage essential tasks outside their primary occupational expertise.  The role forces them to develop the skills of an entrepreneur.   So many online teachers do this now that a new word exists for it: teacherpreneur. 

 If they want their freelance business to succeed, they must spend tons of time not teaching.

A Teacherpreneur

Independent online teachers must learn a variety of skills, such as copy-editing, social media management, and even videography. 

Above all, an independent online teacher must learn marketing.  She must advertise herself constantly to make sure she has a steady flow of new potential students to convert into regular customers.   She must become a teacherpreneur.

Diplomacy and medicine are at least metaphorically related.  Both diplomacy and medicine involve the delicate care needed for healing and the steady work required to maintain healthy systems.  Marketing, by contrast, is as different from teaching as night is from day.   

Teachers focus on their students and the knowledge they are transferring to them, not on themselves.  The traditional photo of elementary school classes has the teacher standing to one side of the rows of smiling children.  Sometimes she is barely in the frame at all.  This is a nice visual metaphor for the slogan of the student-centered teaching approach.  “Be a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage”. 

Teacherpreneurs Try Marketing

Marketing requires the seller to take absolute center stage.  It requires that they become more than a giver of knowledge and wisdom to passive listeners.  A teacherpreneur must be a branded commodity.  

Teachers focus on their students’ needs as learners, who do not know everything and are not always right.  Marketing involves either telling people what they want to hear, creating a desire that didn’t previously exist, or both.  Teachers must be empathetic towards their students, but they must also be willing and able to tell them the truth about their current knowledge and skills.  

Independent teachers should be guided by their students’ goals for learning.  “Upselling” to students threatens to destroy the student’s trust that the teacher is using her expertise to serve their learning. 

A Teacherpreneur is a Gig Worker

If online teachers don’t make it as independent teacherpreneurs, they mostly head back into the gig economy.  All of the stresses and uncertainties that pushed them to go independent return.  They must pay a commission to for-profit platform sites. They have no control over how the platform works.  Like everyone from Uber drivers to YouTubers, they are at the mercy of a for-profit algorithm. The company could hire many more teachers so that each teacher has fewer and fewer students.  The whole situation forces teachers into intense competition.

The Solution is Cooperation

Online teachers have a solution to this teacherpreneur dilemma: an online teacher cooperative. The cooperative model allows teachers to share the tasks involved in marketing.  They can also learn from other teachers who may have picked up skills in this area through their journeys. 

Yet more than anything, a cooperative helps teachers by being the project they can market instead of themselves.  A service-focused democratic venture is a much better object for a marketing campaign than an individual teacher trying to make herself into a product or a “coach”.  “Come learn with us and be a part of the supportive community we’re building that centers you” is a much better message from a teacher to students than “Buy what I’m selling, which is me”. 

MyCoolClass is the online teacher cooperative teachers need.  It brings together online teachers of different subjects so that they don’t have to be teacherpreneurs.  Instead, they can be teachers who do a bit of marketing.

Teacher-members of MyCoolClass can collaborate to build a collective organization that values teaching and learning for their own sake.  They can learn as much as they want to learn about marketing.  Beyond that, they don’t have to feel that they have to manage everything or compete with their fellow teachers.  Marketing a cooperative organization isn’t about who can outshine someone else.  It’s about what we can build together for the benefit of all.

Marketing is still necessary for a teacher cooperative.  But at least now the teacher isn’t sitting all alone in a stall.  

Damnit, Jim, she’s teaching.


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