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Chemistry writing beyond books

Here’s why I won’t present another AACT webinar (and neither should you)

February 14, 2020

But if you ever get a chance, you should definitely write an article for ChemMatters, the high school magazine published by the American Chemical Society.

In case you don’t know, the AACT is the relatively new – American Chemical Society sponsored (that’s important to this post) – professional association for chemistry teachers in the USA. Since its birth in 2015, I have been a fervent supporter of AACT, both in word and deed. I was the inaugural High School Ambassador for the organization, always promoted them by ‘talking up’ the value of membership on social media and in person, wrote articles for them, and also conducted a few webinars too. I donated books as raffle prizes for members, and have been privileged to enjoy professional relationships with Adam Boyd and Kim Duncan, two of the principal officers of AACT. I have nothing but deep admiration and respect for Adam and Kim, as well as the wonderful Christine Suh at ChemMatters, who is a joy to work with – they each are truly nice, and good people.

The AACT webinars are hour long presentations, given remotely, where the presenter delivers subject material of interest, and then does a Q & A at the conclusion. On the day of the webinar the time commitment is probably in the region of 90 minutes, but of course, prior to the presentation itself there are likely to be many, many hours of preparation. In short, to do the webinar well, and to engage maybe in excess of 100 people for 60+ minutes, there is a fairly significant chunk of a teacher’s time required.

I think that if one were to ask Kim, she would say that my webinars were ones that have generated a lot of interest among the group. So why won’t I ever do another webinar for the AACT? No, it’s not that I’ve fallen out with anyone at AACT, nor do I have some weird, fundamental opposition to webinars, but rather I’m tired. I’m tired of having my time go uncompensated. I’m just not prepared to give up hours and hours of my expert time for nothing in return. The AACT does not pay presenters for their time in preparing and giving webinars, but ChemMatters DOES pay for articles written by contributors. I guess this is because ChemMatters has a budget from ACS, and that AACT does not. Their relationships with the parent organization are also different.

Some of the people that write for ChemMatters are full-time science writers, i.e., not teachers. As you may know, as well as being a full-time teacher myself I am also science writer. Since the beginning of time writers have been asked to provide pieces for no pay in order to, ‘gain exposure’, and for just as long writers have fought back. Our (writers) time and craft is too valuable to be taken for granted. Teachers are hopeless in this regard, and continue to give away their time, and their intellectual property for nothing. This is not clever, in fact, it’s dumb. By undervaluing themselves they are undermining the profession, setting horrible precedents that are then taken advantage of by admin, sometimes by parents and children, and in this case by the AACT. This has been a drum I’ve been beating for virtually all of 30 year career, and it’s only become worse over that time. Teachers really are fools in this regard.

Am I throwing AACT under the bus here? Not really, and I don’t feel remotely ‘bad’ about this post for one reason. I know that most teachers will ignore my advice, keep giving away their time and intellectual property for nothing, and as a result, will keep the ‘profession’ firmly unable to demand better pay and conditions. There’s a lot of teachers that really are mugs, and I’m positive the AACT webinar program will not suffer as a result of this post.

The bottom line is this. The AACT could truly promote the well-being of chemistry teachers in the USA by offering a stipend for the preparation and delivery of a webinar or an article. That would maybe do more for chemistry teacher well-being and status, than almost anything else they currently do, or ever will do. Recognition in that meaningful way would be a tremendous boon for the teachers that present and write, and would help to lift us up. Change that, and I’m back on board. Unfortunately, it’s too often teachers themselves that undermine the work that we do, with their overwhelming, do-good martyrdom.


  1. Bob Jefferies

    So I’m guessing this means no more presentations at conferences either?

    • Adrian

      A bit different, since I can get a 3-4 day trip out of that, see another city, get expenses paid and generally get a lot out of the trip for my effort, even if I haven’t been paid. There IS a return on that investment that I don’t get either writing for nothing, or doing a webinar.


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