I can hear the groans already: not another "Future of Teachmeet" blog post! 'Fraid so.
Earlier I tried to edit my entry on a Teachmeet wikipage for an upcoming event. I couldn't, I had to apply for a password by email (still not received). I signed up for another event via a Google Form as editing a wiki was obviously beyond my ken. Before you all scream, "Elitist (add your own epithet)", I fully buy in to getting people to sign up by any means you like, by pigeon post if that works for you, I just want to edit my wiki!
My irritation led to a minor Twitter rant which kicked off a whole debate that stretched long into the evening providing a useful diversion from Eurovision. You can read the whole #tmdebate here. I hate trying to summarise debates as you can often get accused of putting words into people's mouths, but in this case I shall make an exception.
My original irritation had been festering for a while as a result of a number of issues I had experienced at recent Teachmeets. These included:
- Overt corporate pitches which in one case seemed to involve duping an NQT into pitching for a company;
- Poor organisation with long overruns on talks leading to people not getting their chance;
- Raffles and prizes taking over from the meat of the event;
- Worthless goody bags full of fliers and trial CDs.
It seems to me that as Teachmeet gets ever more successful, there are organisers who haven't full understood the ethos, and corporates who attempt, sometimes not terribly subtly, to muscle in. This, in in my view, was a shame and I felt intuitively that something ought to be done to protect it. I wasn't sure what. It was suggested that the setting up of a charitable trust to look after Teachmeet might help by:
- Providing a conduit through which sponsors could legitimately channel cash (local donations of cash are fraught with issues including tax and fraud) and could thus provide an opening for trusts and benevolent corporates to further their aims;
- Protect the Teachmeet "brand" by complaining loudly about attempts to hijack Teachmeets by business (the trademarking of Teachmeet was also discussed but considered by most as too expensive and, more importantly, too expensive to defend in court);
- Providing seedcorn funding for local Teachmeets to help with the cost of refreshments etc and thus obviate the need for organisers to find sponsors;
- Provide ethical guidance through some kind of charter for which local organisers might sign up to in order to access funding;
- Provide practical guidance to new Teachmeet organisers.
This view was by no means universal and objections included:
- A charity was too onerous and a social enterprise company might be better (or even a co-operative);
- The setting up of a central organisation was totally contrary to the spirit of Teachmeet and local Teachmeets should be entirely left to develop along their own lines;
- The existence of a central organisation and rules to access funding might discourage people from organising Teachmeets.
The debate encompassed much more than this, but this was the crucial issue for me, and one that I think warrants careful and close discussion. Has Teachmeet grown so far beyond its original founding principles that it just has to be left to run in the wild and see which direction it moves, or is it time for those that really value the format and its integrity to take back a little control to keep it free from corruption (in the literal, not financial sense)? Please add your view.