In my second year teaching through the pandemic, despite my best efforts to remain optimistic, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the education system was deteriorating.
Hopes that the pandemic would force leaders to reevaluate their education priorities seemed to be dwindling by the day. Every moment I got closer to the third school year after 2020, I felt like I had to start doing something else. Like many teachers, I felt exhausted and pushed over my limit in an effort to keep resource-scarce schools together.
My own school saw a lot of unexpected retirements, a trend that has spread across the state and across the country. Some colleagues announced that they do not intend to return to the 2021-2022 school year. It felt like someone who could leave easily was going to leave. Teachers, myself included, were looking for a change from demoralization, understaffing, and a host of other issues.
When it became clear that we would not return to a more just and transformed system, I wanted to find a role outside the classroom where I could make an impact in a sustainable environment. So, like many teachers across the country, I left the classroom.
When I started seriously considering leaving the classroom, I hadn’t envisioned leaving school altogether. In any case, I imagined working as a teacher-librarian for at least another 5 to 10 years. I found it hard to imagine where else I could apply my talents and find the same level of joy as when I was working as a teacher. Still, I was excited about the opportunity to explore my passion for education equity, technology and learning design.
Within education, few career paths are open to teachers. For those who want to continue 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, costing time and money. It also means continuing to work within the same system that causes the stress, burnout, and demoralization in the first place.
That leaves many teachers in the classroom thinking outside the box. Equipped with a range of technical skills gained through pandemic distance learning and the rise of technology in education in general, current teachers are making a huge career switch to edtech or other educational organizations.
Often the hardest part of transitioning out of the classroom is reframing our career path away from the K-12 environment. Our world seems so isolated from other professional environments, with specific language, practices and culture. It often feels like we have a set of skills that are so unique that they are not transferable. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Teachers possess a wide range of professional competencies that make them well suited to so many other positions. Educators can lead, design, manage, mediate, facilitate, supervise, research, write and much more.
We are also better equipped than most to understand the needs of edtech companies and other organizations impacting 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 trust and building trust.
Finally, it is so important to find an organization that respects the knowledge teachers have and values them as professionals. There are unfortunately some places that continue to feed into the same cycle of overwork and underestimation of employees. Other companies are more focused on the technology than the educational opportunities they can provide. This can mean misalignment of values for former educators.
A new perspective
Working outside the classroom has also provided several new insights into the world of edtech and education organizations in general. There are so many edtech companies that have started with no educator in sight. It becomes very difficult to understand the real pain points that students and teachers face if you have not experienced it recently. As a teacher, I could easily see which companies had been developed without input from teachers, students, or community stakeholders. While some companies seem to recognize this fact, it is important that they continue to seek teachers to lead.
In my current position I design interactive online learning experiences with a focus on DEI and multimodality. I am lucky enough to work with a team made up almost entirely of former teachers. What that means is a team of real educators and practitioners who understand not only the theory behind what we create, but also its practical application and how they can have a profound impact on people.
The edtech and education world in general is growing rapidly as a result of the pandemic. It has spawned new ideas and fantastic solutions. But what it has generally missed is the voice of the real people that influences this space on a daily basis. Teachers seeking a transition need to prepare to be at the forefront of what will happen in all areas of education, not just the classroom.
As I connect with more people in the space, I keep hearing the need for more teachers in the classroom — and how companies often fall short because they lack that much-needed perspective. If we want to continue to make an impact in education beyond the classroom, we must make it clear that our voice, experience and talent are paramount to success. After all, great teachers never stop sharing what they know.