Teachers Wanting To Better Their Profession by Leaving the Classroom

Note: I attempted to write this almost like a conversation…

I have been hearing the question more and more lately: “Brandon, you left teaching and seem to be enjoying your new job. I’m thinking about the same. Can you tell me about it?”

This is a hard question to answer for a variety of reasons. My original reasons for leaving the classroom included a chance to move and have a guaranteed job that would pay the bills in a cool area and I was already in a bit of a transition teaching-career-wise having moved to a TOSA role. While I was in the Admin program, I wasn’t 100% sold on its relevance to what I wanted to do career-wise.

If you’re leaving teaching because you’re getting burnt out – I will say I would suggest something else. Many of the same frustrations you may feel in teaching will be present in any other industry. However, there are also many ways to leverage your strengths as a professional educator in other fields. The classroom isn’t for everyone for their entire lives, and you can’t feel guilty about trying something different even if for a few years! Personally, I’d rather have someone who was burnt out leave the classroom rather than be a less-then-excellent teacher in the classroom.

Things I Left Behind

I left behind students! There are a lot of days I miss that feeling when a student understands something for the first time, for the art of teaching – even the art of disciplining a kid and watching them grow throughout the years.

Things I’ve Learned

I was always frustrated with teachers who would say things like, “Well I need training for XYZ if they want me to use it with students,” because I felt that some things were just part of the job! (Examples: Being able to copy and paste on the computer, etc). Then in my current job when I was expected to know things like how to, “load standards into Postgres,” and not given a how-to… I realize payback can come in many forms! I still find myself almost objecting to some of the things I’m asked to do because I have no training in it, but have realized that I am expected to learn what is needed as it is needed. I was good at using technology in the classroom, but realize now I had little idea how things worked behind the scenes.

I did not take this job to get rich, I took it because I knew I was missing something about my knowledge from a technology perspective. I’m still not where I want to be yet, but getting there. I love reaching students and companies around the world I don’t see myself leaving Ed-tech anytime soon. Being part of ACT has been a great experience to see the bigger picture of the educational testing industry for the good and bad, but also to be part of something that reaches millions of students a year.

Things I Wish I’d Known

I wish I had taken more time to learn how to program/code in college and earlier… in fact I’m not really sure what interrupted me between learning basic html at 14 and NOT learning how to do basic coding after that. I also wish I’d known more about the world of business although that would have been impossible as a teacher. Words like “project manager” were just that and it’s assumed that I know exactly what an NDA means and implied; but I usually look it up just to be sure.

Pay-wise, I did not know what to ask for in a pay contract. The cost of premiums and deductibles are still a bit of a mystery (when does the individual and/or the family deductible begin or end?) , the fact that teachers are getting paid for 180+ days a year but yet full time also needs to be taken into account. Figure out your hourly rate then work out from there what you’re worth and you may be surprised. I saw a higher salary number without taking into account vacation days, the fact that before I wasn’t working  260 workdays etc, figured out the monthly net and said “wow!” until I realized that the cost of living in the Bay vs Fresno isn’t higher just in rent but also in groceries and any restaurant.  Admittedly, we have also gone from pretty much just the two of us to four humans over the past three years – when we moved Madelyn was only nine months!

I also wish I had realized just how much I was used to the cyclical nature of teaching! It’s not the days off I miss so much as it’s the being able to look forward to the next break, or school year, or sports season etc. Of course things are now defined by different projects and that sort of thing, but it’s more artificial and I think affects how well I’m able to get into the workflow of a certain project.

Things I Wish Business Knew More of About Teaching

Education time is measured in semesters and school years, not so much days/weeks/quarters. Teachers don’t have time or energy to try everything, and just because something is ‘better’ than another product in the same category doesn’t mean they’ll use it. They’ll use what is comfortable, what works with what they already have, and what their students like. And most teachers don’t have time to seek out new technology for their students – they either wait for it to be introduced at PD sessions (with minimal followup?) or for a friend to use it and show them how to integrate it into their classroom. Edtech wants to act like a business where people are constantly evaluating the best out there and going for it – again, even if it should, that’s not quite how schools work. It also bothers me a lot when salespeople say a product can do something but to actually use said feature is buried within the product or it doesn’t really do what they think it does at all.

Is Leaving Right for You?

As I mentioned, in the past month at least four people have mentioned they’re looking for something other than teaching. These are often brilliant teachers. My own checklist was:

  1. Can I use my experience as as teacher to help impact an industry that will help make things better for other teachers?
  2. Am I looking for a change of pace (And in my case, I felt once my kids were older it would be much harder to move to a different city and take a big financial risk.)
  3. Am I ok with working with adults not just teenagers after all these years?
  4. How well do I learn things on my own without prompting?

I would strongly recommend a ToSA role first – I absolutely loved that job even if it did get caught up quite a bit in politics etc. My own personality is pretty well suited for that because I’m calm but can push my agenda when needed without alienating everyone around me. But that too means a move to the District Office usually and your job/what you do everyday is not your own as it was as a classroom teacher.


I really do feel I’m making a difference in the world of education just from a different perspective. I am often the only former educator in the room and can connect well with others from the tech, pedagogy, administration and teacher side of things given my past experiences. My favorite part of the job is still talking to teachers about how the products and tools I’m helping develop will help students achieve more in the classroom. Due to a shift in time, I’m able to stay up on tech trends and devote time to organizations like CMC as well as continue my adjunct work at Fresno Pacific University.  My favorite part of working at OpenEd has been learning how to modify postgres queries for my own use, learning a lot more about the OER world, and being able to travel.






AIMS Zone of Proximal Construction – Tools for Productive Struggle

The AIMS Center on the campus of Fresno Pacific University is an organization that I’ve admired for at least 15 years. I actually was an AIMS scholarship recipient as an undergraduate mathematics major and as a teacher I used AIMS activities whenever I could.

AIMS has changed a bit in the past few years from producing print curriculum – they realized there was a bunch of OER stuff out there that it was getting hard to compete – and focusing on professional development and research.

My wife Meagan and I were invited to speak last week on behalf of their Colloquium Series – research-minded talks to math and science teachers going through an AIMS-related cohort.

We spoke about ways to help teachers let their students experience productive struggle. Emphasis on productive. Meagan, a special education teacher and adjunct professor, focused on environmental factors and things that teachers can do specifically for the learner. I focused on making the math connections when possible, as well as technology tools for formative assessment and PD to give the best information to both students and teachers. Formative assessment should really be called feedback in my opinion, and I made the comment either on the podcast or during the talk that if our formative assessment tools aren’t giving the STUDENTS feedback we’re missing the point.

Universal Design for Learning – designing learning not to accommodate learners with special needs, but thinking about those accommodations and then designing the lesson to reach ALL Learners with those methods – was the biggest takeaway so much so that Meagan and I are planning on attending the CAST conference in Boston this summer. It was a great night with feedback from the, ‘students’, conversations with Dr Brownell for the podcast, and overall feeling like being home and fun to be in front of people with great questions. My main points:

  1. Make formative assessment something the students themselves can learn about  – don’t keep the ‘dashboard’ confined to the teacher!
  2. Give students multiple ways to express their learning and struggles
  3. Design your classroom in a way that there are no questions for what is expected of students – the less outside stressors, the more they can focus on the academic tasks at hand.


Video Archive of the Presentation


Thanks Lori Hamada, Dr Chris Brownell and the entire AIMS staff for making our visit welcoming and great! We can’t wait to be back!

Rekindling the discussion of better, cohesive OER discovery for math

Back in June, there were a flurry of posts related to Github for education (‘Curric-hub’) and possible variations of how it could work and why it wouldn’t etc.
Mike Caulfield
Max Ray
Chris Lusto (link is to his followup post)
Dylan Kane
Dan Meyer
Matt Lane
Obligatory Self-Post

and more!

There was discussion about cohesiveness, about how the resources would or wouldn’t be used, and the ‘grain size’ people were talking about – whole years’ worth, units, lessons…

But we didn’t talk about where or how they would reside as learning objects, in an LMS, printed out, or stand-alone. We didn’t talk about what tags we could add to them to help increase cohesiveness and usability for teachers across the country/world.

One of the million and one things I’ve learned at my job at OpenEd is how far behind education technology is behind the, “regular,” tech industry.

Sample API
Sample API

Many ed-tech companies don’t play well with API’s for accessing their systems or have crappy LTI implementations.  And while Metadata is so important to sites look google, but educational resources often are missing important pieces that make sharing resources difficult.

Google Yahoo and Bing banded together a few years ago to create schema.org.  It’s a clearinghouse for metadata tags essentially, and many but not all of them are even used by LearningRegistry.org . (which by itself is terrible in terms of usefulness as well, but that’s a different post). It used to be called LRMI but that functionality was absorbed into existing objects for Creative Works mostly.

There needs to be more efficient ways for this metadata information to get out to the world. To get out and be used by content creators and consumer sites such as Geogebra, Desmos, edpuzzle, Youtube etc. My idea is that these tags could be used to more gracefully piece together in a more cohesive way than creating Frankenstein’s Monster with OER.  For example, if tags (https://schema.org/CreativeWork ) indicated that the unit I published was for second grade, english language learners, included a three act math task and was accessible to deaf students, as well as had a spanish translation – that would be much better than searching for “barbie drop second grade” which is what we’d see now. Ideally a search engine would be able to piece together that needed information automatically.

But I’d want more that probably wouldn’t be in schema.org . I’d want to see how to best teach this lesson or lessons or Unit or Course in context of Literacy integration and STEM units to connect with. Classroom strategies for effective learning (online tools too!) and multiple ways to do assessment for it – not always just fill in the blank and multiple choice, but authentic assessment choices too.

Schema.org needs better ways to add metadata to everyday learning objects. We should shift towards an open set of decomposed learning objectives to be more clear about where a particular lesson fits into teaching a specific set of standards (Practices included!).

CC BY License


Google Doc Notes


Two years ago when I was first thinking more about a passion for sharing educational resources, I remembered hearing about a conference called OpenEdJam in San Antonio, TX. It was different than others because it wasn’t just for educators, but also for free software enthusiasts, hardware ‘hackers,’ (makers), and policy makers to come together around developing education that truly sets students ‘free as in libre’. In 2016 the conference was renamed to LibreLearnLab to better reflect the three primary strands of the conference and moved to Boston/MIT.

Day 1: Richard Stallman and more!

As background, in the 1990’s I got into using Linux on my computer because I was interested in the idea of free software and the possibilities. Alas, I never focused enough on programming to learn any language in a meaningful way, and once college started with studies etc I just used graphical tools in linux because there just wasn’t enough imperative to use the command line etc. So, I was familiar with the history of GNU/Linux and the free software foundation, etc – including their enigmatic founder Richard Stallman. What I didn’t know when I submitted two presentations in July to LibreLearnLab was that Richard Stallman would actually be keynoting! I had been excited enough to see Andrew Marcinek the former director of Open Education for the US DOE. Yet there he was speaking on Saturday morning with a wide-ranging speech about his belief in free software. He made the point that using services or proprietary software such as Google Apps removes freedoms because now the software is telling me what I can do with it only, instead of me telling it what I want it to do. It’s a simple statement with a world of implications. He also touched on other issues such as how he never uses cell phones because the act of having it in your pocket means you can be tracked for potentially nefarious purposes. This line of reasoning was extended to using cash only instead of debit cards, never using Facebook or social media, etc. In addition, I’d forgotten but was quickly reminded that he hates the term Open Source although I have to admit I’d been using exclusively when talking about software that has code online available to be shared.

The next presentation for me was one by Dan French on his transformational leadership. There was a lot of good information about his change model executed in Vermont, but the most exciting for me was his adoption of the Open Organization model from the book The Open Organization and forking it to make it more relevant for Education. True Open Source/Open Educational Resource leadership and resourcefulness at its best!

My presentation on OpenEd and how we’re helping encourage efficacy research on Open Educational Resources was fairly well received and I had a great time meeting teachers and non-educators from across the country. We at OpenEd are working on including more Computer Science resources in a way that makes sense as well as ways to incorporate Spanish resources.

Sunday morning started with the highly engaging Stefania Druga and her efforts to create and maintain Maker Spaces across Africa, Europe and the US. She notes that she laughs when people in more developed countries talk about their budgets for Makers Spaces, noting that that could have created 5 maker spaces in other parts of the world because everything gets reused! I also loved anecdotes about turning a webcam into a microscope!

My next session was by Dr. Felix Alvarado and a colleague Desiree Pallais. They have taken Guatemala’s published online curriculum published in PDF and put it online at http://cnbguatemala.org/ . He made the point that it’s all well and good to put curriculum online but 1) Putting it in PDF makes it difficult to modify/adapt 2)The ‘last mile’ to getting it in teachers hands is also difficult. This is especially potent in a country with little infrastructure and thus he has started the OSI in Washington DC to help raise funding and awareness. The idea is that eventually the curriculum in the Wiki can be more seamlessly shared across spanish-speaking countries as well, but there a number of technical and marketing barriers to help that happen first.

My second presentation was on Open Learning Objectives, and a vision of what that can/will look like to have standards that are open to all for revision and input.

My final session was an amazing one all about Rasberry Pi – which to be honest I haven’t really had much of a chance to play with. Two kids/moves/jobs in two years will do that to ya 😉 . It was great to see how even at a Boys and Girls club kids were able to be learning about the advantages of playing/tinkering and LEARNING can happen on very little budget. I greatly enjoyed seeing this hands-on session but didn’t take any notes because my computer battery was running low. (Hence more pics in the Storify for it!)


This kind of conference was a great experience for me personally and needs to happen more. Most of the #GoOpen talk in my experience is not very technical – it’s usually more from educators who don’t know about the hardware/software platforms underlying the curriculum. Likewise, the free and open source software movement doesn’t know much about what teachers actually want and need. With Google classroom and Chromebooks beginning to take over education, there is an opportunity to have those devices themselves be open source software catalysts – imagine if kids started writing even little Chrome extensions that then grew more complicated into web-apps and the like… or teachers were able to automatically tag their shared Google Docs as Creative Commons.

It was definitely the most technical conference I’ve presented at and I was able to hold my own for the most part. It motivated me more to keep picking up how to modify/program but also to not become a full blown programmer and to stay more on the education side of things… there are not that many of us that know both the details of the tech and the pedagogy implications. Perhaps more in Math than other subjects as well but regardless, it’s something I’m committed too. I am very excited to see where the OpenLearningObjectives project will go and look forward to finding more hooks to the FOSS community as my work with OpenEd.com continues!

Feedback for LibreLearnLab next time/throughout the year?

  • have three strands of presentations – OER, FOSS, Admin/Leadership
  • Help promote presenters of these kinds of ideas at other ed-tech conferences such as at ISTE, NCTM, INACOL, CUE, etc
  • Suggest the hashtag #OERFOSS to better encapsulate the ideas?


Math Tasks and OER – More Than Rhetoric

The past couple of weeks have seen engaging blog posts from two math powerhouses – Dan Meyer and Matt Larson.

Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.14.51 AM

The basic premise of the discussion back and forth is that teachers using open educational resources can’t always be trusted due to the fact that many math tasks on the internet are standalone – that is, not connected to the previously covered standards, tasks and curricular sequence.

I do partly agree with this – back in 2013 I was tasked with assembling (among other teachers) so-called example curriculum unit exemplars for my school district. While I loved the work of Geoff Krall’s Problem-Based Curriculum Maps, it was true that using work from many different authors often required finessing and sometimes modification if the particular task covered topics that hadn’t been adequately covered.

Both Dan and Matt make the point that teachers – with proper curriculum training – should be able to take the disconnected tasks found on the web and adapt them to their classrooms for coherent instruction. I am concerned however about a few things and will address those concerns here:

  1. Reuse : While from what I can tell there is little in say, Classroom Chef and Hyperdocs that isn’t already online in some (perhaps less refined) form, there is still a question about better formats to deliver instructional materials. Books are great and tangible, but most online math tasks etc live on webpages and blogs. Definitely not the most dynamic of content, but useful and simple. However, one way I’ve often felt Dan Meyer’s tasks for example could be made better was ‘student versions’ of the pages for teachers to be able to send their students from an LMS/Google Classroom – currently there is nothing to stop someone from linking/setting up just that since he lists the open license in his sheet. 
  2. Redistribute: Many authors of tasks do not properly license their work. Even a mention of a CC0 license would do well to ensure fair use by others for derivative tasks, etc. In addition, as more publishers in the future want to incorporate tasks by online teacher-authors, protecting their work and having the freedom to specify usage is important.
  3. Remixing: While John Stevens 3 Act Search Engine is useful, it essentially is a cobbling together of what shouldn’t have to be such a hard thing. I also strongly feel that when teachers take someone’s task and improve upon it, it should be easier to find those derivative tasks and see what/why they made those modifications. The community is thriving already
  4. Revision: When the original authors revise their works, it may not be immediately clear (although most post revision statements; Dan Meyer has all of his tasks on a spreadsheet that simply updates the source tasks, etc). A format to get more eyeballs on tasks before they are published/disseminated before revisions may or may not need to be made would be helpful. While posting anything to #MTBOS is sure to get you at least some views and comments, I almost wish there was something like “#MTBOS_CHECK” for an author wanting to release something to the world but asking for revisions or commentary first. Sometimes I’ll look at a task and not quite like it, send feedback to the author etc… then forget about it.

You may notice that I specifically pick out the so-called four R’s of OER – Remix, Reuse, Revise, Redistribute. 95% of all online math curriculum I’ve seen at least posted through say the #MTBOS on twitter adhere to these principles. My main point here is that more needs to be done within the Math community for education about what makes their task/game/lesson OER or not and if so – how to leverage that for maximum, even crowd-sourced potential. I am keenly aware of my own lack of contribution to several projects I’d love to devote more time too – openmiddle.com chiefly among them – but it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t if I had great ideas to share. Sometimes I feel I’m so busy exploring what’s already there!

I’ll also come back again and call out the importance of dynamic curriculum maps importance to ensure that students DOK levels are being seen and adequately addressed – as well as coverage of both the standards and mathematical practices. Side note: Dan Meyer’s spreadsheet already lists the MP’s, CCSS, and License.


Defining Open, blog by David Wiley
Dan Meyer's Blog
Geoff Krall's Emergent Math
Matt Larson 

#GoOpen, #OpenPed, #OER, #

Back in the 90’s, 16 year old me became fascinated with Linux and the Open Source Movement. In the 2000’s in college I started a computer lab for senior citizens with the primary goal of taking older computers and when needed, installed Linux on them to make them usable again due to lighter system requirements. (Fedora wasn’t even out yet… it was still Red Hat 6/7, Mandrake, and Debian with XFCE). I ran Linux on my laptop usually dual booting with Windows almost full time until 2013 when I got my mac – but I long ago stopped messing with command line stuff and used only GUI tools because I reasoned if I was going to teach someone else about it, I wanted to know how the ‘everyday’ user would use it.

So around that same time I started hearing more about the push for open educational resources. Tons of stuff online is ‘free’, but that doesn’t always mean FREE. An old analogy is, “free as in beer, free as in speech.

I’d been using and making available materials for other teachers to use and am indebted to Elizabeth Gamino for, around 2012 I believe, inviting me to be part of Fresno Unified’s curriculum team to help create guidance documents for our transition to Common Core instruction. I worked with a district level team to find and curate instructional resources. I learned a lot more about licenses, OER and started thinking a lot more about how to get students involved in that process.

I mainly follow and contribute to the twitter hashtags in the title to see what’s going on in those worlds. There is a great deal of debate about what exactly “OER” is but it’s been exciting to see greater sharing of instructional resources both PD and otherwise lately. The GoOpen movement sponsored by the Federal Government has it’s faults, but is doing amazing things to expand and spread the good news of high quality resources for all students. I am proud to be a part of a company that not only open sources much of its code but has made great strides in adding more metadata to existing OER resources as well as make resources from the Learning Registry accessible to more people!

Finally, take time yourself to explore the hashtags and the great information within. There are great examples of leading districts and even states (California just joined in August 2016!) !

OpenEd happenings

A lot has been happening in the OpenEd World!

Since being acquired by ACT on May 1st, work has been busy. The main part of the job has not changed for me – still curating resources and associated work. But it’s been a welcome repurpose of sorts and much needed reimagining of how the work that OpenEd has been engaged in can spread to more students.

I’m getting to spend a lot of time examining standards and how those interactionswork , learning a lot of new technology (dabbling in SQL databases, learning about flat file csv’s and related things), and having the time to think deeply about how to best implement resource-related challenges. I’ve been thinking and doing a lot to help make OER accessible to all and have realized I really need to be able to program (learning Go, but might need to back up and learn how Java or C works first) to do that. I’m hoping to present on OpenEd and standards-based machine learning stuff at some conferences in Boston and looking forward to some California Math Council related work coming up soon as well!

I’m loving my job, learning a lot of new things, and finding balance between work and family in beautiful Los Gatos as well. Happy recent one-year anniversary of moving to myself!

I’m thinking about starting a new blog to talk about using OER and FOSS throughout education – currently at https://openstackedublog.wordpress.com/ but eventually openstackedu.net – the folks who run “openstack.com” asked me to send an email to their trademark office. Essentially I haven’t yet seen a good guide that shows schools how to embrace open source software as well as OER to provide an environment that all students would be able to use with minimal cost and maximum creativity. Students hacking their own school software? Yes, I think they should!

Check out our new Google Docs Add on tool !

My Place in Education

When I decided to leave the classroom around the beginning of 2014 for a TSA job in Fresno Unified, I was conflicted. I thought I’d do the job for a couple of years and go back to the classroom. The job provided a higher income, so my wife would be able to stay home with our baby. During that job of course I was offered the job at OpenEd and given life and professional circumstances, it seemed like the right time.

So for the past year or two as I’ve gone from classroom teacher and leader into roles more removed from the classroom, I’ve often struggled to define my place in the education landscape. To talk about “what I do” in the classroom doesn’t make sense because I’m not in a K-12 classroom anymore. I can talk about things I would do, but I feel self-conscious because obviously I’m not.

This past weekend at Lead 3.0 though my mind changed. I gave a presentation on formative assessment and of course included 13007359_10154142665687386_8311858812135345621_nOpenEd – I strongly feel that opening more education resources will continue to play a role in the education arena, and OpenEd is doing innovative things to make that happen. (Example 1, Example 2, Example 3 ). I also included some amazing tools and stories from my time in Fresno Unified – particularly last year as TSA in Professional Learning with the iPD Grant.

It felt great to share stories and dialogue with practicing administrators about ways to incorporate technology and innovative thinking for formative assessment and professional development decisions. I realized I may not be in the classroom or at a school site, but my ideas are still relevant, in many ways I have more technical knowledge and a broader view, and in all honesty more energy to help make things happen. I am excited to continue as Lead Content Curator at OpenEd, serving the CMC as volunteer for Social Media , helping more students have access to quality educational resources.

Huge thanks to the organizers of Lead 3.0 and all of the education conferences out there – sharing on Twitter is great but so much more can happen in dynamic, innovative places such as this past week! Adam Ebrahim, I have often looked to you as someone who isn’t in the classroom but still able to present with authenticity outside of it. Also thanks to my bosses/team at OpenEd for allowing me to attend!

Happy 2016

You read that right. If there’s anything life has taught me this year, it’s that optimism is the killer app of life and it serves one much better to look forward than backwards.

2015 has been probably the best and most confusing year I’ve ever had. I left the stability of the public school system for a startup. Most days I’m so excited to go to work in the morning it’s what I wake up thinking about and I work on ‘work’ when I get home. Basically just like teaching, except no students for motivation – motivated by helping teachers – now it’s something that I really have to work at.

My goals for 2016 are to learn to do more basic programming, particularly in Perl. I also want to learn more about building demonstrations in Mathematica, Desmos, and Geogebra together for use in OpenEd and my personal mathematical explorations for the day when I go back into public education.