The best edtech doesn’t replace teachers — it makes them better.

He held up an expo marker. “This is a tool. When I was a teacher, we used those overhead projectors with the clear sheets, that was a tool. That was a tech tool.”
Illustration by Michelle Ching

Craig Peters is a designer now but he used to be a classroom teacher. This was the conversation we had while discussing the importance or tech tools aligned to quality teaching. Pedagogy is the priority — edtech can be the nice to have in that or it can improve the practice. But it doesn’t always.

The anecdote about the tools we use in the classroom stuck with me. There’s a reason I advocate so much for teacher voice in edtech innovation. The tools are just a means to an end; a part of a bigger educational experience centered around teachers and their students. Edtech is not going to replace teachers — not anytime soon, and not if we know what’s good for us.

Edtech is a tool, and good tools help to get jobs done. The job of a teacher? To teach, to build relationships, to create classroom culture that engages and supports students. The job of edtech? Make that easier, make learning possible, bring in magic and joy.

At least that’s how I’ve approached it. In my classroom I only used tools that made me or my students ~happy~ afterwards. That was the real value add.

If you look at the most successful edtech companies, the ones teachers can’t stop talking about, you’ll notice that what they all have in common is the positive impact they have on the teacher and student experience in a really intimate way. They make them ~feel~ good. It’s not enough to be cool, sleek, or to save time. You gotta make them smile.

Teachers are the stars of the show, but they have balancing acts that make their day-to-day performance a tiring marathon. Edtech tools that enhance that experience and engage students are the ones that teachers actually want to use.

So, why do we have so many tools being pushed out that eliminate the teachers and push those pedagogical practices out? Because there are a lot of solutions out there that aren’t teacher-centered. Because teachers aren’t being pulled into the product design conversations.

Primarily student-facing edtech tools aren’t just cutting teachers out, they’re leaving other students behind. Student-centered tools rely heavily on access to expensive hardware and technology. If a school isn’t 1–1 with chromebooks or ipads then students don’t get to benefit. My school paid for expensive subscriptions for programs my students very rarely had a chance to explore. We had about a 4–1 ratio of student to Chromebook and they were almost always in use by the upper grades. My kids got an average of an hour a week. Should they have been left out of the magic of game changing edtech? No. We paid for them but the solutions were impractical.

As a founder I’ve been as intentional as can be with how we designed Literator to be implemented in classrooms. We rely on tech — it definitely makes our product magical — because we’ve been able to create something free and accessible anywhere from any smartphone. It also means that it can do things that analog tools can’t — like keep teachers organized or automate time-consuming tasks. We’re no Kahoot, which is to say we aren’t turning teachers into gameshow hosts… but we’re offering every student an expert literacy coach, every teacher a personal assistant, and every principal a guide to professional development planning and student intervention support. Are we making teachers and students joyful? That’s the question we’re constantly asking as we iterate on our product.

Solving problems in education using technology isn’t a new or novel idea. Smartboards, projectors, and wireless printers already make things better for teachers. Edtech — broadly defined as the new wave of tools attempting to solve big problems in education — should aspire to do the same. Edtech leaders: make teachers happy, make students love learning, make it practical to implement, and easy to use. That joy is everything.