Teachers as “Brand Ambassadors”: What Do You Think?

We are happy to say right up front that we know the value of branding.  We see that NCTE has moved from stodgy blue and gold to vibrant lime green that makes all stop and look twice.  This new look is akin to seeing Queen Elizabeth II, the bastion of propriety, don a Lady Gaga meat dress and strut her stuff.  Lady Gaga has millions of followers.  Branding works for her.  So why not use this same approach for the teaching profession?

Consider a recent article in the New York Times about Kayla Delzer, a third-grade teacher from Mapleton, North Dakota. She is characterized as a new kind of teacher who “is a member of a growing tribe of teacher influencers, many of whom promote classroom technology.”

These teachers influencers attract notice through their blogs, social media accounts and conference talks” and “are cultivated not only by start-ups like Seesaw, but by giants like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft to influence which tools are used to teach American schoolchildren.”

Natasha Singer, author of the Times article, states that teachers like Delzer have grown in number “as public schools increasingly adopt all manner of laptops, tablets, math teaching sites, quiz apps and parent-teacher messaging apps. The corporate courtship of these teachers brings with it profound new conflict-of-interest issues for the nation’s public schools.”

Delzer and other teachers like her serve as “brand ambassadors,” and through their work in the classroom and as trainers of other teachers, “promote the products and services” of many companies and receive as rewards for their efforts, gifts like t-shirts, gift cards, and some more costly items such as travel expenses to conferences.

Singer goes on to say that these brand ambassador teachers continue to use and promote products and services despite the fact that “there is little rigorous research showing whether or not the new technologies significantly improve student outcomes.”

This article has generated some fervent reactions in the education blogosphere. Check out these links to the responses of a few noted educators:

Douglas Hesse, former President of NCTE, Executive Director of the Writing Program at the University of Denver and Professor of English, responded to the article on NCTE’s Connected Community. (If you are not already a member of this digital community, we encourage you to join.)

connected community

Meanwhile, we quote his entry here for those readers who are not yet members:

Original Message:
Sent: 09-04-2017 11:37
From: Douglas Hesse
Subject: Teachers as Brand Ambassadors –NY Times Story

I’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.

Larry Cuban, Professor Emeritus at Stanford, former social studies teacher, and extensive researcher on education history and school reform responds on his blog

Steven Singer, a middle school language arts teacher and on-fire blogger comments on the role teachers play as pawns in the technology industry money machine and the problems it can create for the profession and kids.  While he is not addressing the Times article in particular, it is clear that he has strong opinions on seductive forces of the technology industry.

What do you think? We invite you to share your thoughts on this article on NJCTE Blog, or if you prefer, you may email responses to us at njctefocus@gmail.com.

Written by Susan Reese, NJCTE President, and Patricia Schall, NJCTE Board Member

Posted by Audrey Fisch, blog editor for NJCTE

New Jersey Council of Teachers of EnglishNew Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

Teachers as “Brand Ambassadors”: What Do You Think?

NJCTE Wins Affiliate Excellence Award

As Millie Davis explains, the NCTE Affiliate Excellence Award “honors NCTE affiliates that meet high standards of performance for programming and promote improvement in English language arts teaching.” This year, the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English is one of the affiliate winners.

affiliate award

Jean Boreen, chair of the Standing Committee on Affiliates and the Excellence Award committee chair, wrote of the NJCTE affiliate’s work:

Your publications and social media continue to be an exceptionally strong means of communication in keeping members informed and aware; your website is also a strong mechanism for reaching out to your membership. I loved your development of the virtual Hall of Fame; what a wonderful way to highlight great leadership and support of the affiliate. I’m also very impressed with your plans for new members as well as the consistent updating and goal-setting your group is doing; I love the energy that is clearly emanating from the good work you are all putting forward.

We are thrilled to receive this honor. But we aren’t satisfied. We need to continue to grow and improve. We can and will learn from the good work of the other winning affiliates. And we hope to learn more from the teachers of English in New Jersey, as you tell us what you need and want. Let us hear from you!

Posted by Audrey Fisch, blog editor for NJCTE.

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English
New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English
NJCTE Wins Affiliate Excellence Award

New Jersey English Journal Wins NCTE Award

_Badge_Journal (003)

New Jersey English Journal, edited by Liz deBeer of Brookdale Community College and Patricia Bender of Rutgers University-Newark and published by the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, has been named as a recipient of the 2017 NCTE Affiliate Journal of Excellence Award, given by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

This award, established in 1995, honors outstanding affiliate journals and their editors who demonstrate excellence in these publications.

The winning affiliate journal must be a magazine-type publication—print or online–and provide members with scholarly articles on issues and topics related to English language arts teaching. The journals are judged on content, organization, layout, and physical appearance. The variety of articles published are judged on quality of writing, evidence of research and scholarly exploration, appeal to many different groups within the affiliate, coverage of important issues in English language arts education, and inclusion of other types of writing (e.g., poetry, affiliate news, book reviews).

The award winners will be announced at the 2017 NCTE Annual Convention in St. Louis, during the Affiliate Roundtable Breakfast on Sunday, November 19.

Other winners include California English, edited by Carol Jago of the University of California, Los Angeles and published by the California Association of Teachers of English; The English Record, edited by Kjersti VanSlyke-Briggs of SUNY Oneonta and published by the New York State English Council; Ohio Journal of English Language Arts, edited by Patrick Thomas of University of Dayton and published by the Ohio Council of Teachers of English Language Arts; Oregon English Journal, edited by Ulrich Hardt of Portland State University and Kimberly Campbell of Lewis and Clark College and published by the Oregon Council of Teachers of English; Virginia English Journal, edited by Sean Ruday of Longwood University and published by the Virginia Association of Teachers of English; and Wisconsin English Journal, edited by John Pruitt of University of Wisconsin Rock County and published by the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English.

For more information about the NCTE Affiliate Journal of Excellence Award, see http://www.ncte.org/affiliates/awards/journal.

Contact: Millie Davis, Senior Developer, Affiliates, 217-278-3634, mdavis@ncte.org.

NJ English Journal Cover

Read the latest issue of NJCTE’s New Jersey English Journal on the NJCTE website: www.njcte.com!

Posted by Audrey Fisch, blog editor for NJCTE.

New Jersey English Journal Wins NCTE Award