PERSONAL ESSAY

Building Technology From a Teacher’s Perspective

By Marie White
Photo of Marie White
November 29, 2018 | Marie White, Education Technology, was a teacher before becoming a product manager at CZI on the Summit Platform for personalized learning.

My journey into education started under the stars in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. As a summer job in college, I worked at a camp where for one weekend each summer, a class of 6th graders attended from a school in East Palo Alto – a community that’s just across the highway from better known Palo Alto, but worlds away in terms of outcomes and where many families live paycheck-to-paycheck. It was that experience that put me on the path to becoming a teacher, and today a Product Manager on the Education team at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Students all come to class with their own interests, and different levels of skills and knowledge, and require an education tailored to their needs to realize their full potential.

As a counselor for the 6th graders, I quickly realized that everything about this adventure was new to them. The kids had questions about everything. My fellow counselors and I stayed up with the kids way later than we were supposed to the first night just because they wanted to see the stars. The moon was pretty full, so we did a short night hike around the edge of the lake. The only way we could get the kids in bed was to promise them that we’d wake them up to see the sunrise.

I was drawn to the kids’ curiosity. I loved all their questions, and I didn’t want to stop getting to know these amazing young people. The weekend ended, but my time supporting students was just beginning. I volunteered at their school for two years before starting a teaching job there after graduation.

I loved my job. But as many teachers know, every day in the classroom felt like being pulled into a million directions at once, with little time to spend one-on-one with each student. My students had so many different needs – from those who were above grade level but had never been challenged before, to one who was living in a car after her family lost their home, to another whose father had just been deported.

They all had big ambitions, but they were all starting from such different places and had so many different variations of academic, economic, and socio-emotional needs that there was no way to keep track and support them all. After nearly six years of teaching, I decided to go into the field of technology to help build tools for teachers to help them meet the needs of the students that I saw in my classroom.  

Marie White, Education Technology, at CZI's office.
November 29, 2018 | Marie White, Education Technology, at CZI’s office.

Today I’m proud to work at CZI on the Summit Learning Program where we are working hard to provide teachers with an online tool that helps them track the progress students are making in real time and attend to the individual needs of their students. It’s a program that recognizes that students all come to class with their own interests, and different levels of skills and knowledge, and require an education tailored to their needs to realize their full potential.  

One of my favorite parts about the Summit Learning Program – one I know I would have loved as a teacher – is the mentoring program, which is supported by the online tool that I work on. Teachers meet with each of their mentees one-on-one every week. They have the space and time to talk about ambitions, futures, the stars, and the pressing needs that students have right in front of them.

Yet, I know it’s not enough. We’re only scratching the surface. So many of the challenges I saw facing my young students and their families were huge systemic issues that no teacher or family should have to face alone. I’m proud to work at CZI where, in addition to Education, we’re focused on so many of the systemic issues that affect the families I worked with at my school.

I fell into the field of education under the stars and have stayed here ever since. I’m proud to be able to continue to work closely with communities and schools from within an organization that is working to build a stronger foundation from which all students can reach for the dreams of their future.