What’s It Like to Leave the Classroom for a Job in Edtech?
After three years of facing heightened stress since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic — not just the safety worries, but also the political frays that have followed — it’s no wonder that some teachers are leaving the stormy seas of classroom instruction in search of calmer waters.
For the technically inclined, pivoting to a job in the education technology industry seems like a natural fit. When teachers pack up their classrooms for the last time to start their edtech careers, where exactly are they going?
Our recent analysis of teacher representation in edtech leadership revealed that former educators held a variety of top roles in the companies we sampled, heading teams that handled pedagogy, curriculum, product, marketing and sales.
Former educators told us they had moved on to become UX designers, part of sales teams and founders of their own edtech companies.
Teachers’ interest in making the leap from the classroom to edtech grew after COVID-19 hit, says Eva Brown, herself a former teacher who switched to edtech in 2011 after more than a decade in schools. Brown found herself sharing advice with so many educators looking to emulate her path that in 2021, she published a book on the subject.
In it, Brown not only gives advice on how teachers can begin their search but asks them to reflect deeply on whether an edtech transition is truly the right move for them. The teachers she coaches want a career change for myriad reasons — pandemic-induced stress, unreasonable workloads, lack of support of administrators, safety worries — but Brown says it all comes down to saving their mental health.
“Edtech is not going to be the solution for every teacher,” she says. “What I want to help them see is, ‘What are they looking for?’ I think so many of them are so desperate to get out of the classroom, and edtech is the buzzword that they hear. It looks easy when you start looking on Linkedin or Facebook or Instagram, but you don’t necessarily see the struggle and months of searching.”
Which Path to Take?
If they are ready to take the plunge, Brown says the next challenge teachers will face is figuring out which edtech roles best align with their skill set. She does edtech career coaching for educators and says many of those just starting out in their job search gravitate toward instructional design or customer success manager roles, types of workers they may have interacted with when they were teaching. (The work of customer success managers can differ depending on the company, but the title generally refers to people who help schools effectively use an edtech product they have purchased.)
“Many think about being a trainer, and then sales,” Brown says. “For a lot of people, their first gut instinct is, ‘I don’t want to do sales.’ I think that’s fair for teachers — they buy granola bars for students out of their own money, so they want to give stuff away — but others are good at it.”
Hillary Robbins, who spent 10 years as an elementary and middle school teacher in Texas, says she scoured the internet for information on making the jump to edtech before making any moves. She was familiar with roles held by former teachers who visited her school, like Brown mentioned — training consultants or people in edtech sales.
When Robbins left education in March 2021, it was for a client success specialist job at an edtech company. She has since been promoted to client success manager.
“It really closely aligns to the role of a teacher because that’s what we were doing with students,” Robbins says. “Meeting them where they are and creating a targeted plan to bring up their growth, that’s essentially the same skills that transfer to a client success manager.”
Transitioning to edtech would have been much harder about five years ago, she believes, because there weren’t as many resources available to help teachers get started. Now job seekers can turn to podcasts or TikTok’s #transitioningteachers community for advice on approaching the edtech job search.
Of the five CSMs on Robbins’ team, all of them are former teachers. It’s part of what drew her to the company, she says, having colleagues who share her experience on the other side of the edtech product.
“I wanted to find people that walked my path,” Robbins says.
Brown stresses that when teachers start dipping their toes into the edtech job pool, they are going to be in for a few surprises. They will need to shape up — or create from scratch — their LinkedIn presence. They’re going to need to ask about training offered by their target companies. While teaching offers reliably renewed contracts, edtech workers can be laid off with little notice.
In fact, being laid off from her edtech consulting job in 2021 became the catalyst for the book. When she got her current position as a strategic customer success manager four months later, she was inundated with messages from teachers asking for advice about how they could do the same.
“I found that I had a book’s worth of information to share,” Brown says.
Teachers look to edtech for comparable or higher pay, Brown says, but some could be facing a pay cut depending on the role and cost of living. Some companies will base their pay on the region, while others offer a flat salary no matter where employees are based.
“The curve for them is learning the business side,” she says. “Teachers want a mid- or senior-level role because they’ve been teaching for 20 years, but they’re on a learning curve.”
Negotiating her salary was an adjustment for Nicole Jatzke, a former New Jersey teacher who left that industry in 2021, who was accustomed to salary rungs based on experience. It took her nearly a year to land her role as an account manager with an educational staffing company when she left education, and she started her search by looking for roles in edtech.
“I didn’t have anything lined up, but I knew it was time to go and make that leap of faith,” Jatzke says. “I’ll be very honest — I did not expect it to take me that long to land another position, but I would definitely advise any transitioning teacher: Don’t give up.”
Jatzke says teachers are accustomed to applying for jobs directly with school districts, which is far different from the process of researching positions with edtech and other educational companies.
With career coaching from Brown, Jatzke says she was able to see how her skills as an educator were transferable to roles on the corporate side of education. She also found a great source of support in other former teachers on LinkedIn who were willing to give advice — something Jatzke is now doing for educators looking to emulate her move out of the classroom.
Brown says that teachers shouldn’t wait until they’re ready to quit to think about what they want in the next five, 10 and 15 years. It’s a flaw of the education system going back to her days in the classroom that goal-setting isn’t a part of teachers’ professional development.
Unless they raise their hand and say that they want to move beyond the classroom, Brown says, it’s assumed that they want to be teachers forever. That can hurt them if they want to jump to edtech, where employers are looking for teachers who are leaders among their peers.
“The biggest struggle if you’ve always worked with students — when you apply in the corporate world, you need to be able to show what you’ve done with adults,” Brown says. “What can you do now, working with your peers, that will make you a much better candidate for the culture no matter what you want to do? It’s not that the students are not important, but for professional growth there’s another focus, as well.”