What Effective Teachers and Successful Entrepreneurs Have in Common

World of Work April 23, 2015

Starting a company is not easy. Building something out of nothing requires effort, grit, and resilience. Successful entrepreneurs have a thick skin, are able to turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’, and can see a golden opportunity in something that others consider a dead-end. 

It is accepted without question that success as an entrepreneur comes with many rewards. In addition to the financial perks, founders and entrepreneurs are often put on a pedestal and treated as founts of wisdom. 

In many ways, being an effective teacher is just as difficult as being a successful entrepreneur. The job requires a similar combination of commitment, improvisation and breadth. And teachers have a lot at stake: the wellbeing of their students and the overall progress of their schools, in addition to their own professional development and growth. 

As a teacher-turned-entrepreneur, I am often struck by how much these two ‘jobs’ have in common. Successful entrepreneurs and effective teachers draw on many of the same skills, for example:

  • Willingness to experiment 

Teachers are continually experimenting with new ideas, methods, and technologies to make their work with students and colleagues more effective. Innovation also helps teachers keep their skills fresh and their motivation level high.  

  • Aptitude for problem solving

Just as entrepreneurs must often “bootstrap” their startup — cobbling together funding sources and using creative methods to keep costs down — teachers are often faced with high needs and limited resources. Effective teachers and entrepreneurs also draw on persistence and native grit to face down intractable problems, trying many different solutions rather than giving up.  

  • Ability to prioritize

Teachers, like entrepreneurs, have to navigate an environment in constant flux. They must be agile thinkers, able to assess the changing needs of students and colleagues. And they must be able to prioritize needs and manage a time budget that is always stretched. 

  • Belief in continued learning 

Both teachers and entrepreneurs believe that anything can be learned: neither group has patience with statements like “I’m not a math person” or “I don’t have a head for business.” Teachers and entrepreneurs will find a way to acquire the skills or knowledge they need to be effective. 

In the almost 15 years that I have worked in education, I have had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of teachers from many different countries who — with their innovative, entrepreneurial minds — have been able to change the lives of thousands of students and their families for the better.

One of the most inspiring examples of teacher entrepreneurship that I have encountered is the work of Samuel Brown from Harlem, New York. Knowing the streets of his native West Harlem very well, Brown wanted to protect his children from becoming victims of the many violent crime scenes going on in his neighbourhood. In his quest to keep them off the streets he founded an organisation that teaches children after school. 

The Our Children’s Foundation was founded almost 30 years ago and offers a highly evolved program that young students can attend free of charge. The effects of keeping children in a constructive, educational environment after their school hours have finished, are remarkable. From learning etiquette to learning how to speak Mandarin to how to work with a computer. Through OCF, students really can become the best they can be. 

But Brown is not alone. There are so many more teachers that deserve to be commended for their entrepreneurial efforts: 

Teachers in the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico teaching their students how to cultivate their own land and grow their local economy, so they will not immediately leave their villages for low-paid jobs in the big city. Educators in Guatemala City, providing food packages to the families of their students, so they will not keep their children out of school to beg for money. A school director in Nairobi, adding a dormitory to his school so students can continue their education beyond primary school. 

These are just a few examples of teachers who are doing challenging, meaningful, entrepreneurial work and deserve our full support. Effective teachers are successful entrepreneurs and should be assisted in equal measure to become even better at their jobs.

Taking it a step further, teachers should also have the robust resources and solutions which exist for entrepreneurs. Technology should point them in the right direction so that they can realise their educational ideas to the fullest. Our platform, TeachPitch.com, helps teachers identify and work with the best resources available in the quickest way possible. 

Since our launch in October 2014, we have been joined by thousands of teachers from over 81 countries, and we are growing rapidly every day. With TeachPitch, we hope to continue to help educators from all over the world — making sure that their efforts are recognized and their educational successes are celebrated, all over the world. 

Read our EduDebate: Building an Efficient, Creative Teaching Force