3 Lessons I Learned Moving from Classroom to Cubicle—The Importance of...

Adaptive Learning

3 Lessons I Learned Moving from Classroom to Cubicle—The Importance of Creativity, Reach, and Kid Fix

from DreamBox Learning Inc.

By Kelly Urlacher     May 31, 2016

3 Lessons I Learned Moving from Classroom to Cubicle—The Importance of Creativity, Reach, and Kid Fix

My 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Benaltable, turned the ordinary into the extraordinary and made the mundane exciting. I remember once she spread shaving cream on our desks when we practiced multiplication facts. She was the kind of teacher whose instructional style allowed students to self-direct their own learning, making them forget they were even in a classroom.

Moments like that—the shaving cream ones—were and still are exciting to me. Mrs. Benaltable expected me to own my learning. Her creativity and passion were unmatched; she transformed the way I would perceive school and value learning. And she planted the seed for what I am today—a teacher.

Follow Your Passion

My passions have always centered around mathematics. I spent a decade teaching sixth grade math before switching gears to become a Curriculum Designer for Dream Box Learning. When the opportunity arose to thoughtfully and carefully design comprehensive math lessons for students throughout North America, I felt the same flutter of delight and excitement that I had as a student in Mrs. Benaltable’s class.

Today I build math software that thousands of students use every day. What’s more, I am fulfilled in ways I never thought possible—especially when I read the student feedback and know my work is making a difference in their lives. In truth, I never really left teaching. I simply traded in the “traditional” role for a new way in which to help students learn.

Lessons Learned

Here are three most important things I’ve learned after making the switch from classroom to cubicle:

1. I have more time to be creative.

As a classroom teacher, there were times when I’d leave school emotionally and physically exhausted—knowing that an evening of grading and prep still awaited me at home. Edtech challenges me in different ways and yet affords me the time to be thoughtful and creative.

Certainly, my workdays are full. My team engages daily in deep discussion about pedagogy and mathematical learning pathways. We review research and consult our advisors, such as Cathy Fosnot, author of Contexts for Learning. We challenge each other to think through all possible student misconceptions, interactions with manipulatives, and learning implications—so we can respond appropriately. We consider nine sets of standards when designing curriculum, then vet lessons with teachers, students, and coworkers. As part of a team, I now have the luxury of time to be purposeful, creative and precise.

2. I reach a much larger audience.

I have been an integral part of creating academic requirements, conceiving of lessons, teaming with others to write viable code, and releasing polished DreamBox Learning lessons to K-8 students throughout the US and Canada. My lessons are being used by students who rely on our product for their personalized math education. I find it mind boggling that millions of kids have my math lessons in their hands. It is exhilarating and empowering to know that my reach as a teacher in edtech is far more widespread than it had ever been in a classroom setting.

3. I miss seeing kids every day.

I am thrilled that my edtech company engages with students. We travel to classrooms to show kids our new content and have them “test” for us.

But I miss seeing the wheels turn and witnessing their “ah-ha” moments on a daily basis. I miss their energy, humor, and the reckless abandon with which they try anything. And my family misses hearing the hilarious questions (anonymous) students ask. I had a relationship with each student, who knew I had his or her best interest at heart. I now tutor on the side to get my kid fix, but it’s definitely not the same.

Ask the Right Questions

At Dreambox, we celebrate the work teachers do in the classroom every day. But if you too have been thinking about joining the edtech world, I recommend you start by evaluating what you want. Then ask yourself these initial questions:

  • Why did I become a teacher?
  • Do I still feel that way?
  • What are my goals?
  • Does edtech opportunity X fit those goals?
  • What are my passions? My values?
  • Does company X share my values?

Since moving to edtech, I’ve never been happier. I appreciate the ability to reach kids and transform the way they learn, not just in my classroom—but across the continent. It’s been four years since I stepped out of the classroom and into my dream job at Dreambox. I think Mrs. Benaltable would be proud.

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