Last month there was quite a lively conversation about an article titled “Silicon Valley Courts Brand-Name Teacher, Raising Ethics Issues.” A lot of educators were upset about the seeming “attack” on teachers this article contained, as it seemed to question the reason teachers become ed tech brand ambassadors.
It’s important for teachers to have access to the tools they need to teach well, and sometimes these ambassador programs provide that. Over my educational career, I have been branded by a few ed tech companies. For example, I was a Microsoft Innovative Educator and a Tech4Learning Innovative Educator. Both titles were earned based on evidence of higher level learning taking place with those tools in the classroom. I didn’t have to keep using their tool to maintain my title, or prove that I was using the tool for a certain percentage of my day.
However, I was also a titled educator for another ed tech company, and in order to maintain my title and digital badge, I had to continue showing use of the tool through blogs and posts to their website. After a year, I elected to delete the digital badge from my signature and instead focus on what I knew to be the best for my students and the learning experiences they required. Their requirement of unfaltering brand loyalty was a red flag. Even though they sent me a tshirt, then a sweatshirt, and a coffee mug, and an Amazon gift card, none of those perks provided better learning for my students. And when the brand requires X amount of lessons or use over a period of time, that puts the product over the needs of students.
I taught in one of the first nationally-recognized 1:1 programs and there were many days when I felt the best tool was one that didn’t require a battery. We were an English class. We needed to read, and discuss, and think, and process. But I got a lot of flak for that from the program director… a lot! Because the program and the publicity and the money being brought in to the district was more important than my understanding of student needs… that’s a slippery slope. And one that we, as educators, need to keep in mind when we agree to become a brand ambassador.