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.