Micro-innovation in Egypt (or why I will continue to drink coffee while teaching)

There is a policy at my school, (Nefertari American International School), that says teachers are not permitted to drink coffee while teaching a class or proctoring an exam. As someone who regularly indulges in morning coffee, I find this policy extremely silly. So silly in fact that I choose to ignore it.

Remember the TPS reports from Office Space and how the protagonist Peter Gibbons is “talked at” by several of his bosses on how to use the correct cover sheet? I had one of those moments. For the second time, I had the principal convey to my recently appointed pseudo department head that drinking coffee is against school policy and that I should stop. Being fed up with the administration’s idiocy, I decided to go talk to the principal about it.

I asked him why this school policy is in place and he mentioned something about teachers being a role model to students. How drinking coffee in front of the students ruins the role model image is incomprehensible to me. As a former military officer, I understand the importance of leading by example and if this were the military, I would not want to flaunt the privileges of being an officer in front of the enlisted guys. The fact is the teacher-student dynamic is not the same. If I could make students stand extra watch duty or remain in the pushup position for an extended period of time, than maybe I would consider not drinking my Maxwell House master-blend. But I digress.

The most bothersome part of the conversation came when I asked how I could get the policy changed. Apparently, any policy changes can only take place once every year (before the school year starts). Staff can submit suggestions and some group consisting of the higher level administrators vote on the suggestions. This is the school principal telling me he has no authority to change a simple policy about coffee drinking. No wonder the administration is incompetent.

I’m currently reading a book by economist Richard Florida called “The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity.” Florida suggests that the new American economy will heavily favor the creative class, a group of people that includes entrepreneurs, artists, designers, and computer programmer types. This class shuns arcane and silly bureaucratic rules and prefers to work in professions that are conducive to effecting change quickly. Florida makes the argument that this class of people will ultimately be the saviors of the new American economy. Their innovation will be the catalyst for future prosperity.

Egypt’s creative class, though existent, is being suppressed by an attitude of “follow the rules no matter how silly and you’ll be successful.” Now I’m less worried about the future of Egyptian Mark Zuckerbergs than I am for the average working class Egyptian who could make an impact at his place of work. For example, another teacher at my school had her business class students start a project that required them to write a business plan and execute it. The students loved it. They created a plan to sell home-made food at school during lunch and they actually pulled it off. It was an excellent project that actually benefited the students academically. The school administration declared that would be the last time any sort of business project would be permitted.

This type of micro-innovation has been thwarted many times at my school and it seems that it is not uncommon across many schools and businesses in Egypt. I believe that the overwhelming government bureaucracy has created a slothful work culture that has spilled over to many sectors in Egypt, education being one of them. Very few people are willing to stir the pot, and not necessarily for bad reasons. I imagine that if I had a family with children to take care of, I would be hesitant to anger my boss.

I told my principal that I would continue to drink coffee in class. He seemed surprised that I would openly defy the policy and meekly responded, “I hope you choose not to drink coffee.” The fact is I don’t really have anything to lose. I am only responsible for myself and I don’t particularly care to be a teacher. If saying no to a silly policy will pave the way for other teachers to actually make a positive impact, then it is completely worth it. Less altruistically, it is worth it to continue to enjoying my daily dose of caffeine.

Here’s to micro-innovation, the creative class, and Starbucks.



Milton from Office Space



3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kevin Nichols on January 25, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Isn’t that where espresso came from? So you can get your daily dose of caffeine in one quick shot? 😉


  2. Posted by lrrrt on March 27, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    Cheers, mate. People are stubborn about the rules in China, too, and it seems to have driven the creativity out of a large proportion of them also.


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