How Teaching Compares to Working in an Ed-Tech Startup

It shows up as Image licensed under CC by 2.0.The ed-tech startup boom is being driven by former teachers. This is great because they are the ones who know what is needed in the classroom and what works with students. They also have the perspective of people who have used good and bad teaching tools in their classrooms. Teachers are both starting companies and leaving the classroom to join startups.

Melissa Corto is one of them. She started Education Modified after spending nine years as a special education teacher in New York City public schools. She found that being a former teacher translates into running an ed-tech company, because it drives what she does.

“I am extremely passionate about delivering a tool that makes teachers’ lives easier and their jobs more efficient,” Corto said.

I didn’t come out of the classroom to start my company, Listen Current. I came out of the newsroom as a senior reporter for WBUR in Boston. But I have a great appreciation for teachers and want to hire them to work at Listen Current. Why? Because they’ve been on the front lines.

“I know how it feels to have someone come into my classroom and tell me that they understand how hard my job is and that they are going to ‘fix’ it,” says Corto.

So she always makes sure to listen to teachers. I do too, and having teachers on your staff makes that interaction easier because they’ve been there and understand the challenges. Teachers are who we want to work with–they have the knowledge and experience to make ed-tech products better.

But there can be drawbacks. The pace of working in a classroom versus an ed-tech startup is entirely different. I have experience teaching as an adjunct at the university level. It felt like a performance and I was constantly on stage. The skills of being able to engage students and control a classroom are very different from selecting public radio stories or writing curriculum and assessments. The dynamic is different.

We have teachers on our staff, but it has to be a fit with their skills and expertise. The same person who teaches great lessons and is intuitive and explicit in differentiating instruction for students in not necessarily great at writing up that lesson for others to use. Different skills are necessary. Also, some people have a preference for one type of work over the other. It’s about a fit of personality, temperament, and skills.

As one former teacher said, “When teaching, I need to put in 100 percent effort all day long–there is no letting up. It’s exhausting. When working for a company, I have more control over the pace of my work. I can work at 150 percent for two hours, then 75 percent for an hour, and plan my work flow according to when I’m feeling creative or ready to do the more tedious work which is necessary. I work many more hours, but feel more energized because I can control the pacing.”

Melissa Corto loves running Education Modified, but remains wishful about her classroom.

“I really miss the kids,” she said. “It is much less fun working with adults all day.”

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One thought on “How Teaching Compares to Working in an Ed-Tech Startup

  1. This is great insight for anyone aiming to transition from the classroom into edtech! I agree that the skills in the classroom don’t always translate easily into the kind of work one will be asked to translate to a digital platform. While I think it’s important to find a fit with skills and expertise, one thing I am inspired by most when working with the teachers we contract with is the willingness to learn a range of new skills that complement those they bring from the classroom. Teachers by nature, especially those teaching multiple subjects in the lower grades, are a jack of all trades. Picking up things like basic graphic design skills to take the curriculum development they are engaging in to the next level has been something they do with incredible enthusiasm. We are also willing to train those that are interested in translating their brilliant classroom practice into online lessons on exactly how to do it. This willingness to train them to adapt their expertise to their new environment helps us to truly honor their experience by giving them ever more control over the product they are helping us produce.

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