Monday, December 31, 2018

Venture Capital And Fake Teaching Careers

Here's just one example of how the machine works.

Earlier this month at Forbes, Jessica Pliska (who writes about careers) started with this chirpy lead.

Access and opportunity aren’t words often associated with venture capital. Aaron Walker, CEO of Camelback Ventures, is looking to change that. Here, we chat about what shaped his vision for the future of venture capital, the management lessons he took from his time as a classroom teacher and how the San Antonio Spurs influences his leadership.

Walker's Big Vision explanation of his new venture capital company and how it is meant to promote diversity in the financial world sounds like this:

Camelback is designed to erase this phenomenon in the venture capital space, and explicitly elevate the genius of entrepreneurs of color in social impact. Too often, the entrepreneurial space around social impact generates “solutions” pointed at communities of color without solving for the lack of opportunities in those same communities for them to lead, innovate and build.

And later in the interview, this...

The role Camelback has played to kickstart schools, edtech companies and nonprofits hellbent on strengthening communities and solving urgent issues is deeply rewarding. Brandon Anderson, a Fellow in this year’s cohort, developed Raheem AI, a community reporting system powered by Facebook Messenger that shares data with cities to increase police transparency and show when and where policing works. Then there’s Camelback alum Nicole Cardoza, whose nonprofit Yoga Foster supports teachers with resources for their classroom to create sustainable yoga programs that empower students – and teachers – to better process external pressures.

Camelback Ventures is, as near as one can tell (honestly-- do any of these investment guys speak plain English), interested in social impact investing

Our vision is that, in twenty years, Camelback will have contributed to a nation of livable communities where everyone has the opportunity for a quality education and a good life. The way we see ourselves building this future is through our mission as an accelerator that identifies, develops, and promotes early-stage underrepresented entrepreneurs with the aim to increase individual and community education, and generational wealth.

Their flagship effort is their education fellowships.

This intensive program is our core and flagship offering, working to support early stage education and social impact entrepreneurs. We focus on coaching, capital, connections, community, and curriculum.

Camelback is headquartered in New Orleans, and as part of its entrepreneurial support work, it helps launch schools and back school founders. It also makes a lot of noise about teaching leadership.

So how can a bunch of venture capital guys be talking about education and starting schools? That takes us to Walker's background, as highlighted right up front in Pliska's interview. Pliska asks about his big formative experience, and he responds

Teaching gave me a new perspective on how I grew up because it showed me, unfortunately, how much a zip code can still dictate educational access. In Jersey, I went to a great school with peers with country club memberships, but know this was because my parents made the decision to move us to a neighborhood with access to a better school district – a privilege not shared by many of my former students and relatives. Teaching gave me clarity into just how crucial a role a quality education plays, and how fortunate I was to have received the great education I did. This not only influenced my teaching, but cemented my commitment to social impact and educational opportunity.

So Pliska drills down to ask about key lessons from his "time in the classroom."

The importance of collaboration and leadership. Every breakthrough with a student happened through the collaboration of a team. The times we were at our best as a school were the times we were working together. Teaching also dispelled the myth of the respected “lone hero,” and how good leadership, whether in a school building or firm, helps a team function together because of the organizational culture they’ve built.

Raise your hand if you can guess what Walker's teaching experience actually entailed.

Yup. After graduating from the University of Virginia in 2003 with a degree in foreign affairs (and a one-year internship with Sorenson, a research/pr firm), Walker headed to the Greater Philly Area to put in two whole years with Teach for America as a 9th grade English teacher. He got 100% of hist students to pass the 9th grade reading exam in 2005. Then he was off to law school at University of Pennsylvania. Then off to NYC where he worked as an attorney, a portfolio director at the Fund for Public Schools investment fund, founded Teacher Capital Management recruiting firm. Then he founded Expertly, a "marketplace" where "schools, foundations, and education organizations find and engage experts for their insights." He stuck with each of those startups for a year, then in 2013 launched Camelback.

Look, Camelback may very well be doing good and important work. And Walker may well be an outstanding human being who is putting his God-given talents and privileged background to excellent use.

But here we have the TFA template again. Teach for a couple of years, knowing through most of your second year that you've been accepted to law school and you'll go start your real career soon. Despite your brief and shallow investments in teaching and the school that hired you, spend the rest of your career talking about yourself as a teacher and your "career" as a growth experience for you. The classroom is a way station, and the students are resume fodder that you won't even stick with long enough to see them graduate. "Every breakthrough with a student happened through the collaboration of a team" because it takes a team to keep a raw recruit out of the weeds, but after you had just about learned to run without training wheels, you were out the door, using "time in the classroom" as a top-notch virtue signifier ("Oh, I might juggled investment funds now, but I was a teacher").

I'm sure it had to be good for Walker's students to see a Black man in the front of the classroom. I don't know how much of that good was offset by seeing a Black man who got out of Dodge as quickly as possible.

I don't want to attack a stranger who, as I said, may be doing great work now. But even after all these decades of TFA, this kind of thing burns my toast-- investment guys who never for five minutes intended to pursue teaching as a career, just passng through quickly enough to shine up those grad school applications, mindless of the strain that just passing through puts on the school and the students, treating teaching like a summer job and not a valuable calling, but for years and years after proudly calling themselves "teacher" and reflecting on their "time in the classroom" like some tourist who rode through France on a tier bus and now talks about their deep insights into French culture. And after years and years of being in business, TFA has placed this kind of baloney all over the place. Do what you want to do with your life, but stop using and discarding schools and teaching so that you can tout your fake teaching career.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, Peter . . . I think you're being far too generous in your closing. There is no "great work" going on here. These people, whether TFA products or not, only know a kind of pseudo-intellectual babble-speak, filled with entrepreneurship, levers, maximizing, enterprising, designing thinking, accelerating, generating etc. They contribute absolutely nothing to education. I wonder sometimes if they actually believe their own garbled nonsense. If I believed in God I'd ask her to help us all.