Scott Hipsher

Entrepreneurial teachers?

Nobody owes you a career. Your career is literally your business.

Andrew Grove, "The sad news is, nobody owes you a career. Your career is literally your business. You own it as a sole proprietor. You have one employee: yourself. You need to accept ownership of your career, your skills and the timing of your moves."

Are entrepreneurial attitudes and actions beneficial only to business owners? Or can all of us, teachers included, benefit from thinking and acting like an entrepreneur? Can a teacher think like an entrepreneur without starting his or her own school?

Think about it for a moment, when you go to work, who are you really working for? Your organization or school? Or are you working for your own benefit? How long would you continue to work for your school if you didn't get paid?

However we need to also realize we work for more than a paycheck. Work can provide us with multiple tangible and intangible benefits. In addition to meeting our material needs, work can provide us with social standing, a feeling of self-worth and a feeling of contributing to society. Few people choose the teaching profession for the financial rewards only, but often teachers place a higher value on many of the intangible benefits that come with a position in the profession.

Those who take an entrepreneurial approach are not only interesting in making money, but also in increasing the intangible benefits one receives.

Teaching has traditionally been primarily associated with government employment and the non-profit sector, but times are changing. Budget cut-backs are pushing more education into the private sector, or for government and non-profit schools to behave more like private firms. For example, in higher education we are seeing a higher percentage of students than ever before attending for-profit schools and universities and colleges around the world are increasing the use of more cost efficient adjunct professors while tenure track positions are continuously becoming rarer.

As teachers, we can bemoan the situation and complain, or we can see the opportunities and take advantage of them, but regardless of an individual's reaction to these changes, these changes will most likely continue and the clock will not be turned back.

It is felt there are two basic approaches one can take with one's career, the employee approach and the entrepreneurial approach. While these two approaches are seen throughout society, I will focus on the teaching profession.

In the employee approach a teacher thinks like an employee. The teacher thinks about working for the school, and feels dependent upon the employer for advancement and opportunities for skill development. A teacher with an employee approach to a career will have an expectation that an employer has a paternalistic obligation to provide certain benefits to employees. With the employee approach, one feels the employer has the majority of the power in the relationship.

A teacher with an entrepreneurial approach thinks like a business owner whose main product for sale is his or her skills. The teacher thinks about working for him or herself, and feels responsibility for his or her own advancement and skill development. A teacher with an entrepreneurial approach to a career will always keep options open and will seek to improve his or her attractiveness to employers and therefore can negotiate for more benefits with either current or future employers. With the entrepreneurial approach, one feels an employment relationship has to be a win-win situation for both parties and power in the relationship is more or less equal.

A teacher with an employee approach waits for things to happen, a teacher with an entrepreneurial approach tries to make things happen. A teacher with an entrepreneurial approach sees him or herself as an independent contractor, and not as a subordinate in a hierarchy.

It is felt teachers who decide to take an entrepreneurial approach will normally have more fulfilling careers and will gain more tangible and intangible benefits than teachers who take the employee approach.

The following are suggestions on how a teacher can take an entrepreneurial approach to a career.

1. Education

I am often amazed at the number of English teachers who show a disdain for higher education and "book learning." Sure you don't need a college degree to have a successful start-up internet company like Facebook or Microsoft, but you won't get to be President of Harvard without one. While research does show a strong correlation between average wages and level of education, there are many professions where one can advance without higher levels of education, but the education "industry" is not one of them. Study, both through formal programs and in informal ways. If you plan to make a career in education, the number and level of degrees matter, as does the knowledge one possesses, and therefore one should work on pursuing higher levels of education and constantly work to increase one's level of expertise.

For those interested, a previous blog post addressed the issue of seeking higher education without leaving Thailand.


There are many advantages coming from moonlighting. It is hard for most English teachers, especially those with families, to make it on a single salary in Thailand (or the US or UK for that matter) so the extra income is always welcome. But there are other benefits as well. Working in more than one place increases experience levels and increases one's social network and knowledge about the industry as a whole. Also, it is likely to happen to everyone at least once in a life to find oneself unexpectedly without a full-time job and the part time job can keep the wolves from the door (no unemployment insurance for most English teachers in Thailand) until a new full-time position can be secured.

3. Explore new worlds.

Who says a teacher has to only teach? Turn off the TV and try new things outside of teaching, such as editing, writing, starting a website or blog, or maybe open your own small business. Who knows, one of these activities might take off and give an individual employment options in addition to teaching. At the very least, they will make one's life more interesting and make one a more interesting person, as the grammar structures of sentences is usually not the most popular topic at a cocktail party.

4. Put on a pair of rose-colored glasses.

Every teachers' room I have ever been in has its share of negativity. Avoid it. One can spend a lifetime listening to "old hands" rant and gripe about Thailand (or China or other places where one is working), the Thai Educational system, Thai Students, ESL teaching, the weather, the traffic, capitalism, socialism, bar closing times, and an endless supply of other topics. Enroll in a degree program in a Thai university and there will be no shortage of people telling you that you are wasting your money as everyone knows a Thai degree is worthless. Enroll in an online degree program and it is guaranteed many fellow teachers will try to belittle you and tell you that online education is not real education. Try writing a novel and if you share it with others expect an avalanche of criticisms. Try to start a business in Thailand and I would bet dollars to donuts that you would hear from dozens of people that it is impossible for a Farang to have a successful business in Thailand due to corruption and shady business practices of the Thais.

A person with an entrepreneurial attitude will ignore most of the negativity, or at least try to filter out the comments from individuals who feel threatened by individuals trying to make things happen from comments from those with good intentions.

Negativity is not part of any recipe for success, although prior failure often is. So don't let a fear of failure prevent you from making an effort to make something new and exciting happen. We often learn more from our failures than our successes.

So, don't waste your time in the gripe sessions in the teachers' room, instead work on something productive and fun. Avoid negative people, and there is no shortage of them in the teaching profession in Thailand. Negativity saps energy and ambition, instead put on those rose colored glasses and seek out those with a smile on their faces and an optimistic outlook for support.

The conclusion, take charge of your own career, because if you don't , who will?

Scott Hipsher is the author of
Expatriates in Asia: Breaking Free from the Colonial Paradigm,

The Nature of Asian Firms: An Evolutionary Perspective,

Business Practices in Southeast Asia: An interdisciplinary analysis of Theravada Buddhist countries

as well as numerous book chapter, academic journal articles, conference papers and other articles on international business and other topics.

The author has also written about entrepreneurship in the book, Contemporary Microenterprise: Concepts and cases publish by Edward Elgar 



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