A few years ago, Shannon and Anthony were teaching in the Bronx. After seeing first-hand the importance of technology in education, they joined the team at eSpark. In the following interview, find out what led them to careers in edtech and why they're so passionate about student-centered learning.
What is the biggest challenge that you faced as a teacher?
Anthony - My greatest challenge in the classroom was managing my students’ wide range of needs. When I taught fifth grade in Detroit, I had 41 students in my class. We had no resources (not even a copy machine) available to us, and the students were all performing below grade level.
When I taught in the South Bronx, most of my students were performing below grade level, and my greatest challenge was providing students with content that was engaging while still being at their level. I knew that if I wasn’t able to engage my students in the classroom, they’d be more likely to be distracted by negative influences outside of school.
Shannon - I had taught in classrooms in which there was a wide range of student skill levels and educational backgrounds. For example, in my 9th grade integrated algebra class, I had students with 1st grade math and reading levels and students with 8th grade math and reading levels. In New York, students are required to pass the Integrated Algebra Regents exam in order to graduate from high school. The exam is written at a ninth grade reading level, so it was important that I integrate literacy into my math instruction in order to prepare students for their graduation. This wasn’t easy!
"I felt most successful when I was able to create systems and outlets for students to feel success in and outside of school."
When did you feel most successful as a teacher?
Anthony - I felt most successful when I was able to create systems and outlets for students to feel success in and outside of school. This allowed them to have a motivating force for coming to school and was an excellent incentive.
Shannon - I started teaching at my school in its 6th year. Throughout those first 5 years, the “pass rate” for students in a special education setting who sat for the New York State Regents was less than 15%. By the end of my 2nd year as a teacher, 70% of my school’s SPED students (all of whom I taught) had passed the exam. This was a huge milestone for the school and had a major impact on the lives of those students. For many of those students, the Regents exam was the only thing holding them back from an on-time graduation.
What led you to eSpark?
Anthony - As a teacher, I believed in the importance of technology in education and that all students needed their own personalized learning path. We would discuss this in the schools that I worked in, but it was so hard for us to actually differentiate for students. eSpark takes a lot of the guesswork out of diagnosing student skill levels and meeting many skill levels within one classroom.
Shannon - I spent a few years managing a team at Teach For America and fell in love with the people side of our work. I attended a tech conference on behalf of Teach For America in fall 2014 and quickly connected the dots and realized the importance of technology in education. I’m deeply motivated to ensure that all students have access to a fantastic, caring, and empowering education. I believe I can live out that mission at eSpark.
"One of the most important and impactful things a teacher can do is instill self confidence and advocacy in their students. I believe technology can be a means to that end."
How has your time in the classroom influenced how you think about edtech and the importance of technology in education?
Anthony - I didn’t always believe that classroom technology could change lives, but during my last few years of teaching, I saw the impact quality edtech programs had on student engagement. I also saw the effect edtech can have on a teacher's ability to differentiate, compile data, and transform a classroom.
Seeing how edtech transformed learning for both my students and colleagues has motivated me to help districts find classroom tools that fit their needs. At eSpark, I get to help districts empower teachers to fully differentiate for students of all abilities, and it’s exciting to help districts improve their students’ academic outcomes and classroom experience.
Shannon - I think about my students every single day, and I’m still in close contact with the administration from my former school. I left teaching to move cities, but had I not needed to move, I would absolutely still be teaching in New York City today. I firmly believe that the opportunity gap in our nation’s schools is due in part to that many students still have limited access resources like technology.
Technology can be a great equalizer. As a teacher who had students spanning 8 grade levels in my classroom, it would have been incredible to have a tool that allowed students to work on building their content knowledge back up to grade level, or at least focusing on the domains or concepts that were specifically holding them back from progressing forward. What I love about eSpark is that it allows students to access educational material that is on their grade level and personalized to what they need, without them having to fear embarrassment from their peers who may be working above or below that level. They can put on their headphones, pick up their iPad and be totally absorbed in their educational story.
One of the most important and impactful things a teacher can do is instill self confidence and advocacy in their students. I believe technology can be a means to that end.
Classroom technology can change lives.
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