Elmi Zulkarnain Osman, PhD–The Educator Turned Entrepreneur

Teachers Naturally Have the Entrepreneurial Spark in Them

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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

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

Aptitude for problem-solving

Just as entrepreneurs must often “bootstrap” their start-up — 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

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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.

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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 (as a teacher and then a lecturer), I have had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of educators 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.

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There are also many examples of teachers in Singapore and everywhere else around the world 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. To all the teachers out there, I salute you!

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