The Propello Press | Education Insights, Resources, and Tools

On People, Profit, and Capturing the Unicorn

I was a classroom teacher for seven years before moving into educational publishing. I didn’t leave the classroom because I wanted to – I left because we couldn’t make our bills. Rather than pick up a “side hustle” that would take even more time away from my new fiancé, I started looking for other things I could do with my degrees.

I’d never thought about the people who made the textbooks until I spoke with one. He got me an interview with his company, and I started a new adventure as an Academic Designer. In my new career, I spent time developing classroom materials for English Language Learners and I loved the change. I attended conferences and traveled and met with other people that had the same interest in building something new and inspiring for kids and teachers.

As years passed and the shiny wore off, I began to feel like a cog in a machine that wasn’t really trying to meet teachers’ needs. It felt like we were repackaging the same content, year after year. The creativity and ingenuity were being siphoned off in the name of profit. It made me sad and angry. I’d left a position doing something I loved in the classroom years earlier in order to pay my bills, but also to make a difference in the lives of overworked and underpaid educators. And here I was, contributing to the problems in curriculum and content development.

I tried to bring new ideas and make relevant points at meetings. They were always met with the same “great idea, but too expensive” response. After almost three years on the same project with little to no headway, I started looking for opportunities that would allow me to build something new from the ground up.

My new search was for a company that put people before profit. I wanted an employer that valued my time, my expertise, my knowledge. I wanted a team that thrived in a culture of mutual respect, camaraderie, and open communication. I wanted a boss that recognized the importance of work/life balance and encouraged people to take time off to recharge, doing things they love. And I wanted a place where I could build something great. Where everyone in the room could feel the positive energy and worked together to make teachers’ lives better because we’d all been there. It felt like a REALLY tall order. Impossibly tall. But I started my search anyway.

Within a few weeks I had scored an interview with a new VP of Curriculum with a Swedish company that I had never heard of. I was pumped. In our meeting, I learned not only about the company’s products, but about the mission, culture, and goals. It sounded perfect and I was elated when I got a call about a second interview to be held with the woman who would lead the development for the science curriculum and eventually come to be my counterpart.

In our interview, we talked like old friends. We’d had similar classroom joys and woes, missed our students, and wanted so much more for teachers out of educational technology. It felt like the perfect fit. I sweated it out for a few weeks, waiting to hear if I’d captured the unicorn. I had.

In the months since starting at Propello, I’ve had more time to reflect on teachers’ practices, needs, and goals. I’ve met in classrooms and talked about what works in ed tech and what doesn’t. I’ve gotten to look at wish lists, create mock ups of what could be, and talk about the REAL needs of educators today. I’ve been encouraged to take time with my family. I’ve been asked how I’m feeling, what I’m enjoying, what is great and what could be better.

It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve seen action revolve around what matters, and I can’t think of a company with better culture, mission, or understanding of the real world of education.