Should teachers become part-time entrepreneurs?

A person I greatly respect and admire has criticized me for building this website.

While I'm not trying to sell you anything right now, I probably will at some point in the future. I consider myself an entrepreneur, and I generally think most teachers should look at themselves this way. But not everyone agrees. What do you think? There's a story here.

Last spring I was hired to produce a series of online biology video lessons for a private homeschool organization. (You can see excerpts and some of my practice efforts here.)

Now I get paid a royalty whenever someone buys a subscription to view the videos. It's not enough income to pay a mortgage, but I'll continue to be paid for years into the future, for relatively little additional work. It got me thinking that there are many ways to build additional streams of passive income. There are pros and cons of doing this.

A side business can be a hedge against budget cuts and displacement. In good times it could provide money for classroom supplies.

If I'm really successful I can teach my students how to start businesses of their own, and they'll be better prepared for today's challenging job market.

On the downside, a business draws precious time away from lesson planning and other aspects of the arduous life of a science teacher. This is what my colleague felt was wrong.

"You shouldn't be going after money," he told me. "It sends the wrong message."

A lot of teachers already moonlight for extra income. Why not set things up so you earn your income passively, or at least work for yourself on your own schedule?

I'm putting together a packet of online science tutor-related services, as well as advice and information on winning science competitions, earning scholarships, and college applications. There will also be a lot of counterintuitive, research-based advice for parents who want their kids to excel.

This all brings up the psychological difficulty of charging money for all I do for my students for free every day. I believe I'm giving my students something of tremendous value. My colleague thinks I'm unfairly excluding everyone else by limiting access.

At the moment I'm giving everything away free. But I'm saving a lot of valuable surprises until I'm ready to sell them.

Most of the time I feel proud and excited by what I'm doing. But there is a slight pang of embarrassment when I talk to people like my colleague. Is this a guilty conscience, or just negative social conditioning?

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