Like Rick Steves, when I have to fill in the occupation line on a form, I write, “teacher.” Even though I do other things, I’ve always thought of myself that way. I even have credentials to prove it, although the things I teach have nothing to do with the diploma I earned.

In the past decade or so, more and more folks have taken up the teaching title, using their experience, rather than academic credentials, to build a platform. Adult learners like to learn from teachers who have street smarts, not just book smarts (although I hope teachers have both). I even wrote a piece called Teaching From Experience: How to Get Started to show others how to put their expertise to work.

But getting started in teaching isn’t what’s on my mind today. I’m more troubled by bad teaching after receiving this story from an entrepreneurial friend of mine. We’ll call her Joan. Last year she applied for and received  a grant for artists. As part of the requirements of the award, she had to take a class on running a business. Here’s her report:

In that business plan class that was required for my grant, the person teaching it had an unsuccessful business and kept telling us about it. She was pretty hostile towards me when I asked her a question about approaching things differently.

Several people in this  group thought that they were creating businesses that were not going to succeed. Then why do it? Or why not tweak it so it DOES succeed? One guy was going to open up a store with hard to  find magazines.  And he was convinced it would not  work.  

 So I offered up suggestions. Why not make this a trendy get together spot? Why not specialize in certain teas or coffee cake or something like  that? Make it a hangout so shoppers hang out there and buy a few hard to find magazines? Why not offer local readings or travel shows or something else to get folks out  there on a regular basis. All I heard was crickets.

The lack of energy in the classroom was so stifling!  But they were totally riveted when Kathleen spoke of how she lost her business….and how she had to take on a real job and go to business school etc. That was the only  language they seemed to understand.  This woman’s  bitterness should not be passed along to others!

What I found amazing in all of this was she did not point out what a windfall this $4000 grant was…and did not have the creative vision to see how each individual could take their ideas and create something really special.  

When I read Joan’s story, I thought of Sarah Ban Breathnach’s warning: “A disgruntled dreamer makes a risky mentor.”

Being a lifelong learner is a good thing. In fact, it’s one of the things most cherished by the joyfully jobless. While some classes and workshops will be a better fit than others, be smart about which information you invite into your own enterprise. Building a business is about nurturing your dreams, not dismantling them.

Should you find yourself in the presence of a card-carrying dreambasher, do what Joan did: plug your ears.


9 Responses to “Should You Listen?”

  1. Sandy Dempsey

    Makes me realize that with so many poor teachers out there, there has to be room for and students for a good teacher…like me. 🙂

  2. Linda Locke


    Thanks for sharing this. I had a similar experience with a Creative Writing class I took at my local community college a while ago. The woman who taught it was the worst English teacher I ever had. She made everyone read their assignments out loud and made fun of their writing. She told us it was her job to “weed” out the bad writers and discourage them from writing. I watched as the class dropped out one by one. No one was good enough for her. I wasn’t discouraged myself, because I knew she was full of it, but it was so painful to watch her stomp on people’s dreams of becoming a writer. Bad teachers are toxic and if you get one you need to tune them out!

  3. Barbara

    What a horror story. Also echoes stories I’ve heard from folks who’ve had close encounters with bad SCORE volunteers…also wanting to weed them out.

  4. Linda Locke

    I had a bad experience with SCORE too when I started my first newsletter business, reviewing local community theater events. They advised me to scrap the idea. I ignored them and did it anyway and created a successful business out of my passion for local theater.

    This reminds me too of my High School Guidance Counselor. I was a good student in science, math and English and he advised me that I should look into a career as a secretary or nurse. I asked him why he didn’t recommend careers as a doctor. lawyer, or scientist and he just looked at me blankly. I decided after this to always do my own research and never rely upon so-called experts with no imagination and vision for the limitless possibilities we all have to choose from.

  5. Georgia Makitalo

    That was a VERY interesting-blog posting Barbara! And I would say that Joan had quite the experience-and I am glad you shared it in the blogesphere, so we can all learn from this. This story makes me really appreciate my glass fusing teacher even more. Chris constantly advises us on how to prepare as if we WERE starting our own business with glass and is an incredibly enthusiastic vessel for self employment and for creative glass fusing..and SUCCESS. Ironically, last week at the Bingo get together, one of Sue’s friends admired the necklace I wore-and had fused-and told me about her neighbor who took some glass fusing classes last year and were now in New Mexico at an Art Fair selling their wares. They have been VERY successful with this venture! Obviously they never met Joan’s instructor!

  6. Cathy Dempsey

    Oh my, these are all horror stories! Thanks for the heads-up about SCORE; I think I’ll avoid them… Meanwhile, I’m fortunate enough to have found a mentor for my fledgling career coaching biz. She’s been a coach since 1994 and is highly enthusiastic and helpful. You really need that kind of encouragement starting out!

    And Linda’s high school counselor story sounds like so many I’ve heard.. too many of them tell the kids you won’t amount to much so don’t even try.

  7. Barbara Saunders

    I’ve found SCORE to be hit or miss. Ten years ago, I had a former female executive from IBM as my counselor. I’m guessing she’d retired in her mid-forties and remained up on things. I still draw on the advice she gave me. A few months ago, I tried SCORE again and got an older gentleman who was very nice but not helpful. I think he’d been out of the workforce for about twenty years. He suggested I try, “maybe getting on the Web.” (I include their ages only to paint a picture! I know that age doesn’t necessarily predict anything.)

  8. Sue Sullivan

    I’ve had bad experiences with art teachers. I even had one paint over a painting I had done in class. A painting I was excited to bring home and show my husband. Unfortunately, no one will ever see it now.

    I’ve decided, I will only take an art class from a teacher that has been highly recommended by someone I trust or a teacher I have interviewed myself and feel comfortable with their teaching style.

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