By my second year of teaching through the pandemic, despite my best efforts to remain optimistic, I could not shake the feeling that the education system was taking a turn for the worse.
The hope that the pandemic would force leaders to reevaluate their priorities concerning education seemed to dwindle by the day. Every moment I inched closer towards the third school year following 2020, it felt as if I had to do something different. Like many teachers, I felt exhausted and pushed past my limit trying to hold together under-resourced schools.
My own school saw many unexpected retirements, a trend happening throughout the state and nationwide. Some colleagues announced that they did not intend on returning to the 2021-22 school year. It felt as if anyone who could easily leave was going to. Teachers, myself included, were seeking a change from demoralization, under-staffing, and a multitude of other issues.
As it became clear we would not be returning to a more equitable and transformed system, I wanted to seek a role outside of the classroom where I could make an impact in an environment that was sustainable. So, like many teachers across the nation, I left the classroom.
When I began seriously considering leaving the classroom, I hadn’t envisioned leaving schools entirely. If anything, I imagined working as a teacher-librarian for at least another 5 to 10 years. I found it difficult to imagine where else I could apply my talents and find the same level of joy I did working as a teacher. Yet, I was excited by the possibility of exploring my passion for educational equity, technology and learning design.
Within education, there are very few career paths open for teachers. For those who wish to remain working in schools the only path is up a narrow ladder to become a school or district administrator. These positions require more advanced degrees, testing and certification, which takes time and money. It also means continuing to work within the same system causing the stress, burnout and demoralization in the first place.
That leaves a great deal of classroom teachers thinking outside the box. Equipped with a set of tech skills gained from pandemic remote learning and the rise of technology in teaching generally, current teachers are making a huge career pivot into edtech or other education organizations.
Often, the hardest part of transitioning out of the classroom is reframing our career path away from the K-12 setting. Our world seems so siloed from other professional settings, with specific language, practices and culture. It often feels as if we have a skill set so unique it is not transferable. That could not be further from the truth. Teachers hold a breadth of professional competencies that make them well-suited for so many other positions. Teachers can lead, design, manage, mediaite, facilitate, guide, research, write and so much more.
We’re also more equipped than most to understand the needs of edtech companies and other organizations that impact schools, students and current teachers. Great teachers are not only well-versed in a number of technical and academic skills, but they are also natural leaders. They are used to guiding groups, leading from behind, instilling confidence and fostering trust.
Finally, it is so critical to find an organization that respects the knowledge teachers hold and values them as professionals. There are unfortunately some places that continue to feed into the same cycle of overworking and undervaluing employees. Other companies are more focused on the tech than the educational opportunities they can provide. This may mean a misalignment in values for former educators.
A New Perspective
Working outside of the classroom has also brought several new insights into the world of edtech and education organizations at large. There are so many edtech companies that have been started without an educator in sight. It becomes very difficult to understand the real pain points students and teachers face if you haven’t recently experienced it. As a teacher, I could tell easily what companies had been developed without teacher, student or community stakeholder input. While some companies seem to recognize this fact, it is important for them to continue seeking out teachers to lead.
In my current position, I am designing interactive online learning experiences with a focus on DEI and multimodality. I am fortunate enough to work alongside a team made up almost entirely of former teachers. What that means is a team of actual educators and practitioners who understand not only the theory behind what we’re creating, but also the practical application and how to make a profound impact on people.
The edtech and education world in general is rapidly growing as a result of the pandemic. It has brought forth novel ideas and fantastic solutions. Yet, what it has generally been missing is the voice of the actual people this space impacts on a day-to-day basis. Teachers looking to transition should prepare to be at the forefront of what is next in all areas of education, not just inside the classroom.
As I connect with more people in the space, I continue to hear the need for more classroom teachers—and how companies often fall short because they lack that much needed perspective. If we want to continue to have an impact on education outside of the classroom, we must make it clear that our voice, experience and talent is paramount for success. After all, great teachers never stop sharing what they know.
Selena A. Carrión is a teacher, learning experience designer, writer, and public school parent advocate who works in edtech.