What do a teacher and entrepreneur have in common?
“Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach”
The old adage above couldn’t be further from the truth in my opinion. I like to say “those who can, have unrelenting energy, buckets full of passion, an ability to be masterful communicators and work in sometimes tough conditions, teach”
And so begins my thinking that there may be much more in common in the art of teaching and entrepreneurship than may meet the eye. Here are but a few of the traits I believe successful teachers and entrepreneurs share:
The art of selling:
What’s the situation at the front of a class? Well sometimes you are standing in front of 30 teenagers about to tell them about something they may have no immediate interest in. Their lives are full of more “interesting” and “engaging” topics from social media, to BGT, to the excitement and trauma of just growing up. The teacher has to “sell” an idea to their students that what they’ve got to say is interesting, is useful and is worth being away from the mobile phone to hear about.
A great teacher has the passion, character and ability to do this – to interest those pupils and inspire them into their subject and world. It’s not always easy and students may not have the patience of adult consumers who may often patiently listen even when a presentation or pitch is boring. A young student will say it as they see it and tell you it’s boring. A teacher can’t just say “oh well you don’t have to buy it anyway” – a teacher must keep going and try to inspire no matter what. A great teacher is a great sales person but their product is knowledge and life skills.
Management and team building:
A great teacher effectively has a team of 30 people in front of them. They have to manage the mood of their pupils, the interactions between the students and the ultimate aim is to get the best for everyone in that room. A great teacher needs to control and manage all this in a live, closed environment. There is no open plan floor on top of a high rise skyscraper to spread people out and avoid personality clashes - there is a small room in which shoulders bang against shoulders where there is so much potential but so much needs to be done. A great teacher can make that room work for the benefit of those personalities and the class as a whole. Understanding and empathy:
A great teacher knows their students so well – this doesn’t mean they know every single intimidate detail about their lives. What it means is, a teacher knows what makes each student in that room tick. One student may need the carrot, another may need the stick. One student may enjoy a joke made at their expense as part of the class banter another may be traumatised by such a moment. A great teacher understands what makes their pupils stay motivated and happy.
Knowing what the customer wants:
A great teacher delivers the content in a way the pupil needs. Teachers using their language call this "scaffolding" or "differentiation" but what we mean is we can tailor or pitch our product, which is knowledge, to what each student needs. We do this 30 times each lesson for 5 classes a day. Now that takes some understanding of your consumer!
Furthermore I think a great teacher has the balance that the phrase “the customer is always right” doesn’t always necessarily convey. Of course you have to listen to your customers and react to their needs but at the same time you cannot pander to every single whim – you need to tell the difference between a moan by someone who moans at anything and a moan because what you are doing is not up to scratch. This is a teachers constant daily job – to listen to their students but separate the genuine feedback from the not so genuine or helpful.
Adaptive and ever-improving:
When I started teaching a colleague I respect so highly said to me “the day you think you know it all in teaching is the day you should quit.” How right he was and this was the best piece of advice I have had in teaching or life in general.
A great teacher reviews the lesson that has just happened and honestly asks themselves how could that have been even better – is there anything I should and must change to squeeze even the slightest marginal gain out for my class?
What makes teaching even harder is that after a poor lesson (all it takes is a wasp to enter a room on a hot day with 30 hot and bothered teenagers for chaos to ensue) you have to pick yourself up again and not bring those bad vibes to the next class waiting outside. Even if you’ve lost a bit of confidence, are a bit upset or just knackered you have to be ready as you cannot let the pupils about to come in down.
Great teachers are constantly looking for ways to improve and adapt. Whether is be using new technology to refining traditional methods to make them even more effective. The Japanese call this “Kaizen” – which means continuous small improvements in oneself or practices.
Passionate and caring:
A great teacher exudes passion and deeply cares about their plight. This is infectious for the students in the care of that teacher.
There are so many more traits I haven't even mentioned from working under tight budgets, to dealing with time pressure and ever-changing landscapes but that's for another day.
I myself am delving into the world of entrepreneurship with my Pitch to Rich campaign (Pitch to Rich) for the new maths website I am building to help pupils learn maths for free. My aim is to level the playing field in maths education so all have access to quality home support. I feel the classroom is the perfect place for me to stay to keep my entrepreneurial skills honed.
I've heard there is an emerging word for it right now where a teacher starts a business in the educational world - the word being "teacherpreneur". I would argue we don’t need another word – teacher says it all.
Teacher of Maths, Preston Manor, Wembley
Founder of HegartyMaths.com