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Those Who Can, Do TEACH!

Voice of ExperienceMax Fischer recently attended a local Chamber of Commerce meeting. The evening's motivational speaker got Max thinking about how successful business people and successful teachers have much more in common than either of them might think.

Max W. Fischer

Some of the harshest critics of education can be found in the business world. Steeped in the highly competitive atmosphere of business, local entrepreneurs are way too focused on overcoming competition and other obstacles, and on the almighty bottom line, to possibly comprehend what goes on in the classroom. Drop any business leader from your community in a classroom, and watch them flail!

The converse is also assumed true: Educators could not possibly understand what running a business is like. "Those that can, do; those that can't, teach," business people have often said with an air of disparagement.

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Just a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the annual awards ceremony of my local Chamber of Commerce. That evening's presenter was a motivational speaker whose main bread-and-butter is business-training seminars. The guy -- an absolutely engaging speaker, I must say -- focused his comments on the most critical elements of successful businesses. As I listened to him talk, I was I was amazed at how closely his thoughts about successful business people paralleled my take on the skills it takes to be a successful classroom teacher. Let's see if you agree

Relationships are key. Customers don't buy products from people they don't like. A condescending capitalist will struggle to turn a profit.

A teacher who expects respect from his students -- or parents or colleagues -- without giving any in return is bound to fail.

Business marketing must excite the customers; they are your bottom line. Successful businesses effectively market their products or services by linking them to positive feelings. Slogans, jingles, attractive models, and celebrities are tools of the trade for accomplishing that goal.

Being able to motivate and engage learners is of paramount importance for any teacher. Our paying customers -- parents and other taxpayers -- really do take note when their children come home from school engaged and excited.

Being able to deal with change with a positive attitude is a key to success. What ever became of the tech exec who proclaimed in 1979 that home computers would never be practical?

While many teachers might not be endeared by "No Child Left Behind," most of us are able to strain its vital message: the status quo isn't good enough. Thinking outside the box to reach under-performing students is a cause whose time has come.


Experimentation -- and, yes, failure -- is a part of every business; it is at the root of almost every success. Thomas Edison once said, "I have not failed. I've just found ten thousand ways that won't work." A certain level of that adventurous spirit is required to succeed at developing new products and services to woo customers.

Teachers must honor the best of education's established practices, but they can't shy away from investigating new methods to reach students. Instructional methodology must be perpetually evaluated and improved upon -- or tossed aside as ineffective.

Sweat the details, and go the extra mile. Our speaker regaled his audience on how movie actor Jim Carrey goes to great lengths to choreograph his antics in each scene of a movie. Similarly, he said, business people must anticipate and have a plan for meeting their clients' needs; they must always be willing to go the extra mile to accomplish that.

The most successful teachers take time to write students congratulatory notes, dissect the pace of each day's lesson, and give concerned parents timely updates. And they use their summers to develop new skills. Successful teaching, like a successful business (or successful acting), is not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation.

Lead your people; don't push them. The speaker's most animated comments were reserved for the relationship between a boss and the worker bees. A business manager who can appreciate and capitalize on the strengths of each employee is one who can develop a well-rounded team and a business that will thrive.

One of a teacher's primary objectives is to recognize and build upon each student's strengths. Often a student's strengths can be used to improve skills that might not be so strong. Our aim is to engage all students -- one student at a time -- in achieving our learning goals.


While I was one of just a handful of non-business leaders in the audience, I found little in our speaker's remarks to which I could not relate. I found myself nodding in total agreement until he made one last comment. "I've never gotten angry with my personnel," he said. "I've only gotten angry with the suppliers of inferior material. I really let those suppliers have it for jeopardizing my business!"

And therein lies the difference between teaching and business: Teachers may rage internally at the dysfunctions of families and society that our students endure. We cannot, however, unleash our anger at the materials we are expected to transform. Businesses can reject inferior material; we embrace our "materials" and nurture them.

I left the awards ceremony wondering how many of the movers and shakers of local business in that audience really understood how closely their best practices relate to those of teachers. With such significant common ground, I have to wonder how much more could be accomplished for students if members of both professions worked together more closely. If business leaders connected with schools in their communities they would quickly learn what you and I know: Those who can, do teach!

A teacher for nearly three decades, Max Fischer currently teaches seventh graders the marvels of ancient and medieval history. A National Board certified teacher in the area of early adolescence social studies/history, Max has authored nine resource books for teachers in the fields of social studies, health, and math. You can read a previously published article about Fischer: Simulations Engage Students in Active Learning.

Article by Brenda Dyck
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