When I stepped into my first role 10 years ago, I was naive, excited, and very scared. It seemed unreal to say it out loud. I am a teacher!
My mum was a teacher, my dad a professor and I hardly ever got to see them. Therefore, growing up I promised myself that I would never be a teacher. Be careful what you wish for, and never say never.
I quickly realized why my parents were not present when we were growing up. Teaching was exhilarating. I loved conversations with the students and I loved learning. This profession suited me – you had to know a little to teach a little. As I loved economics and business, I seemed to always be learning on the go; that part of teaching never felt like work to me. Through listening to the news, or looking into a new business that had just been set up, I always had ideas I could use in lessons.
Reality Sets In
All around me though, teachers that I admired seemed to always be exhausted. In three years, almost half of the teachers in a really good grammar school had left. I was constantly marking, checking books, planning, and always filling in some sort of paperwork. So much admin! I had not signed up for this, and neither had my colleagues. The staff room conversation always seemed to revolve around this topic.
The students who joined business and economics classes always seemed to be so enthusiastic at the start but were barely smiling by the mid-point of the course. In the end, they did not want to continue with either subject at the A level, and even more so the GCSE business students. Clearly, something was not working.
One day I looked at my class and felt like a fraud. Here I was teaching them about starting and running a business, identifying a problem, and finding a solution, yet I was waiting for someone else to come along and solve a problem I had identified in the classroom. It was time to make a plan.
So, in 2017, I resolved that by the time my son completed his GCSEs I would make an effort to solve this real-world problem. I would try my hand at running a real business.
In preparation for this, I stepped away from the comfort of a permanent job to the uncertainty of supply teaching. By doing this, without really knowing it I started carrying out market research. In each post I took, from private schools to comprehensive schools, colleges to grammar schools, I was asking the same questions to both students and teachers – what do you enjoy and what do you find challenging in the classroom? The answer always seemed to be the same. Assessments were resoundingly spoken of as the biggest challenge.
Accelerators, More Learning, and Mentors
Looking at what was going on around assessments led me to discover many thought leaders. Ken Robinson became my mentor, albeit from afar – I started to understand the purpose of education from a different perspective. I also discovered Caroline Dwerk, and the power of teachers as coaches to help children develop resilience, not just to impart knowledge.
However, how can teachers coach when they are constantly exhausted? It was a question that became an obsession of mine, and I was determined to solve it. Soon I found myself joining an education accelerator. This helped me discover the challenges around current technical products that were being used in the classroom. Unfortunately, well-meaning technology had actually ended up adding more onto an already full plate.
Teachers have to contend with more admin but on top of this, each inset day and many after schools are being spent training on new technology. There is one to take the register, another to record behavior, and another to record grades. They then have to use their intuition to try and gauge how to progress a lesson, and then put homework on Google classroom so each child knows what is going on. Then they start chasing; who hasn’t handed in their work? They might use an app that reminds students and includes parents so they can check on what work was due.
Just writing that I am exhausted. Now imagine a teacher who has 5 classes with 30 students in different year groups doing all of that before they have even checked books, added green pens onto each student’s book in a lesson, and then having to set assessments every 2 weeks. Lockdowns only made the problem worse, with students needing to catch up. No wonder teachers feel drained.
So, enter even more well-meaning apps. We shall use AI to send extra work to students to personalize this and then connect to teachers, so they know how the individual students are performing and then sit down with each student to guide them which of course means teachers are now also tuition tutors as well. This is ending up with more experienced teachers leaving and the really ambitious schools taking on younger and younger teachers who can work around 60 hours per week for little pay. It seems we have just become used to the way things are – exhaustion has become normal.
How is it possible a search button on a computer can tell you after a few clicks what your favorite restaurants are, which clothes are most suitable and which sites you should go to? Once you put your details in you do not even need to remember a single password, but we cannot use the same reasoning and technology in one of the most needed industries.
The education accelerator helped me identify something very important – I needed to go to the root cause of the problem and make no assumptions.
Everyone is exhausted, but technology should help ease this. This is how a friend in the classroom was born e-spaces. How about automating the whole assessment process (right from the start of teaching, and planning) meaning no need to chase anything while reducing most of the admin tasks? Learning can be fun and engaging. Instant feedback can be given, which means learning can be adapted for each student. There would be no need to follow up, as the students would know what level they were working towards, at each stage of their learning. Meanwhile, intuition is still important, as we will have a digital record of each lesson to help us know exactly how much progress students are making, daily.
Well, this was just the start! The hard work began once I embarked on making it a business.
The Big Lesson – Patience and want to Change the World (really?)
Once I had identified a possible solution, I had to convince myself that I could do it. I built a prototype and, with the help of a friend of mine who was the head teacher at a school, we carried out a pilot with a year 8 class in real-time.
Even a basic app had students excited. There were no fancy colors, no music, and no games. However, the students were excited to communicate directly with their teacher, and by the end of the lesson, we had recorded an increase in their attainment. We then tried it with one of my own toughest classes, and a few of my colleagues’ classes, and the results were the same. It seemed we were on to something here.
It took me almost another two years to fully leave the classroom and start working full-time on my business; the penny had finally dropped and I needed to stop waiting for someone else to do it. In my head, I am a teacher, but for some reason, it was put on my heart to commit to making the life of a teacher and students easier instead, and I am determined to succeed.
We have now built the BETA version of our application and are trialing it with schools in the UK. I am really excited by the results we are getting. We are encouraging any schools that use tablets, Ipads, or any other devices in their lessons to get in touch and help us get some feedback on how it works within different institutions.
Next year we will have the full version released and we will begin using it in schools.