Entrepreneurs Wear Many Hats, Teachers Don't Need to Put On One More [Response to Creativity Article in Forbes]
As an English major who graduated into the recession of 2008 with little work experience, I learned a lot about the value of failure. I had taken one class in web development my senior year and decided on a web-based future career. With the tacky blue-and-orange portfolio site I created in my class, I applied to hundreds of jobs over the next couple of years, learning as much from failed interviews as I did from brief internships and freelance gigs with companies that couldn’t afford full-time staff. Little in my formal education had prepared me for this learn-by-failure approach.
Forbes recently published a broad critique of our educational system for making students risk averse and not fostering enough of an entrepreneurial drive in youth. As someone who felt woefully unprepared for the experimentation, failure, and creativity required in bootstrapping my own career, the critique caught my eye. With projections that 40% of the US workforce will be freelancers by 2020, the need for entrepreneurs will only increase. How can educators prepare students to take risks and find their niche in a job market with fewer full-time jobs and career paths?
The Forbes article does not propose any solutions, but it identifies a current focus on rewarding students “for staying within the lines, for doing well on standardized tests” and a lack of “tolerance for failure” as cultural barriers to encouraging creativity and innovation in youth. The underlying assumption appears to be that the problem and solution are primarily cultural, but I’m not convinced. I’ve had enough open-ended assignments or projects that could be revised for a higher grade to see that there are many educators who value creativity and a multiple-approach attempt. I’ve also seen enough students complain about open-ended assignments and not bother to resubmit work to know that even when educators experiment with innovative culture, students resist.
Even the most motivated teachers rarely have the capacity to run open-ended assignments or iterative assignments more than once or twice a semester, but one assignment every few months is not enough to be habit forming for the students. In order to create a classroom where creativity, innovation, and iteration are the norm, teachers would need to regularly create individualized lesson plans, write individualized assessments, and invest even more time grading assignments as students begin to submit assignments multiple times. The problem is that creating a single classroom track, delivering the necessary information to the classroom, developing a single set of assessments, and grading assignments once is already more than a full-time job. In most classrooms, teachers simply don’t have time to make open-ended, iterative assignments the new normal for students. Hammering on the need for a more entrepreneurial classroom culture is not actually going to help educators prepare students until they have the resources to manage personalized, mastery-based learning.
The real chasm between our current educational model and one that inculcates innovation is the burdensome list of roles and expectations that teachers must fulfill. Teachers are expected to be subject matter experts, content developers, content presenters, assessment developers, and assessment graders. Some would even add entertainer and babysitter to an already long list. That plethora of job functions leaves them very little time to foster individual exploration, creativity, and innovation. Giving teachers time to coach the next cadre of entrepreneurs requires outsourcing a few of their current job functions.
If teachers were curators of content, rather than the primary creators, teachers would have more time to spend recommending the right content for each student and supporting their exploration. If teachers did not have to write their own content assessments, they could spend more time on in-person feedback across multiple attempts, scaffolding critical thinking, and coaching creativity. Many organizations already develop lessons and assessments, and some even do so for free. Why expect each teacher to reinvent the wheel? Streamlining the role of teacher to focus on coaching is a requirement for enabling a more innovative educational environment. Blaming educators for not fostering entrepreneurship is like asking them to play ball without giving them space for a field. When we cut down their burdensome job description, educators will be able to build an environment where creativity and innovation are the norm, not the exception.
About the author: Alec is a web developer, user interface tester, and pinch-hitting product manager at Education Elements. He works on apps that help teachers manage digital content, and his favorite feedback when testing a new interface with teachers is "this makes helping individual students easier