The Ridiculous Upheaval Over EdTech Ambassador Programs
New York Times business columnist Natasha Singer, caused an upheaval over the holiday weekend in her piece entitled “Silicon Valley Courts Brand Name Teachers, Raising Ethics Issues.” The entire piece paints a picture where back room shady deals are made between teachers ready to sell their soul to the devil for a couple of extra free t-shirts, a software license or a 3D printer. How could an everyday American not walk away from reading this piece thinking that Kayla Dezler’s third grade students in North Dakota weren’t for sale. But they’re not.
There has been a lot of discussion over the matter of teachers being “used” as brand ambassadors for different edtech companies and whether it’s ethically wrong. A slew of heart felt tweets from both sides of the argument have swamped the #edtechchat hashtag on Twitter and the top edtech blogs in the country have very diplomatically weighed in. Or at least tried to. It’s our turn now, and we are going to strongly favor the side of edtech ambassador programs if disclosed to through the proper channels.
First off, there are different types of ambassador programs out there floating across social media. Some of them are as innocent as can be, where teachers just gravitated towards a tool they liked and it just happened. Such is the case with FlipGrid and Buncee. Neither company expected their ambassador programs to grow so big out of just teachers sharing with one another.
There are other programs out there that are comping teachers with free software, swag, trips and sometimes actual money. Most of that money is actually given in the context that they are reimbursing teacher expenses associating with traveling or putting on presentations about their products.
Why is this a bad thing in education?
Educators are often the lowest on the totem pole when it comes to “government workers”. You typically won’t find teachers teaching because they’re hoping to get rich. They’re doing it for the children. It’s a known fact that teachers spend on average $600 a year of their own money to aid in their teaching of students. They spend this money or resources, supplies and professional development. This $600 figure is outside of what they were reimbursed for. These ambassador programs offset some of those costs for teachers.
Imagine for a second if doctors were to pay the same percentage of their income to ensure their hospitals had the prescriptions, equipment, etc for their patients. Not only would there be an uproar from the public, they simply wouldn’t do it.
This brings me to the comparison that’s been used this week between teacher ambassadors and pharmaceutical sales. Part of me wants to say suck it up, it’s part of American capitalism, it happens every single day. The neighborhood feed store gets a free John Deere tractor so that they sell John Deere tractors in the store. You may get upgraded to the premium champagne because you frequent the local steak house. Even fire and police departments get new technology to use as part of “beta testing” programs (they too are government workers).
But it’s still different.
A lot of the people who took the position against ambassador programs in the #edtechchat seemed to carry a hint of whining and jealousy because not all teachers can be given the same perks. Life isn’t fair, suck it up, isn’t that part of what we teach our kids anyway. But fathom for a second.
Nothing about public school teaching is fair. Teachers teach for pennies on the dollar, many have second jobs. As a parent I would prefer my daughter’s teachers have second jobs in education rather than waiting tables at Twin Peaks or Hooters.
But back on this fairness talk, take the Los Angeles Unified School District for a second. The largest school district in the country. Do you think for a minute, that the elementary school in Compton has the same teacher pedigree, resources, facilities or technology as the elementary school in Beverly Hills, would you be up in arms if I said “f-ck no”. So what if a teacher in Compton tweeted a few times, shared a few Instagram pictures and did a couple of YouTube videos in order to get a free 3D printer for his or her students.
We don’t live in a communist country, we live in a country where hard work and resourcefulness should pay off. Teachers that are considered thought leaders and mini celebrities didn’t get there overnight, nor were they created by the big evil edtech companies (not based in Silicon Valley). They worked hard at it and more often times than not they’ve given countless hours of free time, extra time, to their students, their student’s parents and their colleagues.
None of the companies that Singer cited in her story make bad products. Most of them are household names. SeeSaw is already well known in the education industry, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple are all companies we hear about every single day.
At the end of the day are teachers’ feelings getting hurt because they don’t get the same benefits as ambassadors, yes. But what’s really important here is the kids right? And are there any kids getting hurt by these ambassador programs? It’s actually quite the opposite.