The K-12 Tech Landscape: An Outsider’s Inside Perspective

After stepping away from a position in K-12 tech four months ago, I’ve had the chance to look back and reflect on my experiences. This time away has offered me a unique perspective on K-12 tech, including things I will miss, things I won’t miss, and some realizations I wish I would have had sooner.

Realizations from a Step Back

  • Understaffing is a major issue. It’s clear now that many K-12 tech teams operate with fewer people than needed, putting additional strain on existing staff. We often do this because it’s the norm in K-12 tech. If you look in the business world, there’s no way supporting the user base that K-12 does (students, teachers, parents, community) and taking on the responsibilities that K-12 tech does (security, 1:1 device initiatives, infrastructure, etc.) would fly with as few employees as many tech departments run on.
  • As a result of understaffing and underfunding, cybersecurity takes a backseat. Despite its importance, cybersecurity often seems to be an afterthought, leaving systems and data at risk. With students’ futures on the line, we need to be advocating extremely hard for support and funding to assist in securing school networks. 
  • Schools often lack proper change management. The adoption of new technologies and applications to support learning the unique challenges presented in K-12 has been exponential in the past three years. But implementing new applications and hardware at breakneck speed presents challenges to student data privacy, cybersecurity, and overall user experience. K-12 tech departments need to hold firm with their place at the table; advocating for a structured change management approach leads to efficiency, quality and security.
  • Salary schedules in K-12 tech frequently do not reflect the complexity and importance of the work, nor do they match what similar roles in the business world would pay. I’ve talked to staff at many schools that simply put K-12 techs on a classified employee schedule with additional months of pay. If schools want to attract and retain qualified tech professionals, this needs to change. 
  • School tech departments are both over- and under-involved. Since technology is so pervasive in education, the K-12 tech department needs to be involved in almost everything — which is a lot … and often too much. There are also places where K-12 tech departments do not have a say but should — for example, in the implementation of new applications or hardware. HVAC technology is often selected in a vacuum, without the consultation of the tech department, but this exclusion can lead to clunky implementations and unsecure configurations.

I’ve also been reflecting on what I miss and don’t miss about working in K-12 tech. 

What I Miss

  • The K-12 tech community. The camaraderie and support within the K-12 tech sector are unparalleled. The professionals dedicated to this field are truly remarkable.
  • Fellow school staff. Some of the finest people I have worked with and made friends with work in schools. Teachers and school staff are selfless and caring, and I deeply miss those connections.
  • The mission. The opportunity to make a positive impact on students’ lives is what I miss the most. I loved seeing the students in the halls, interacting with them and being a positive part of their lives.

What I Don’t Miss

  • Unending sales pitches. The constant barrage of sales pitches from vendors can be overwhelming and often distracts from the core mission.
  • Impossible expectations. The demands from various stakeholders can sometimes be unrealistic, given the limited resources and manpower.
  • The constant worry. The nagging concern that something might go wrong, despite all precautions, is a stress I do not miss.

Recommendations for K-12 Tech Professionals

  1. Prioritize your well-being. Remember to take breaks and ensure that your responsibilities are covered during your absence to fully disconnect and recharge.
  2. Document everything. Proper documentation can make your team more autonomous and your days off more relaxing, knowing that your colleagues have the information they need. This can also help you advocate for your department in terms of all the tasks and responsibilities you are in charge of.
  3. Advocate for what you know is right. Hold firm to proper change management, student data privacy, cybersecurity, fair wages and proper resources to do your job.  
  4. Cherish your community. The relationships built within the K-12 tech community are invaluable. They provide support, understanding and camaraderie in this challenging yet rewarding field.

If you’re still reading, I hope you feel emboldened to hold firm on what you know is right for you and your department. I hope you find help and consolation in the K-12 tech community here on K12TechPro, at r/k12sysadmin and in your local communities. 

6 thoughts on “The K-12 Tech Landscape: An Outsider’s Inside Perspective”

  1. As a fellow leaver (though much more recent), can I just say AMEN. And add that there is little understanding or interest in ongoing training for k12 tech. So now you’re undermanned, overcommitted, AND untrained on ever changing systems. What could possibly go right?

    Reply
    • Definitely agree, Matt. There’s so much to know and stay updated on, there’s almost no possibility of keeping up on training. Haha, “what could possibly go right!?” We’ve got to advocate for better for those working in k-12 tech and for our students and teachers who are impacted.

      Reply
  2. Thanks for saying this. I couldn’t help but keep agreeing with literally everything you said. Wish user and admins could listen more. I feel like our director tries so hard but strong armed into less than ideal situations. When we get a good tech it’s hard to keep them around because of pay, overworking, and many after hours projects.

    Reply
  3. Great article. Any advice for a career changer on sticking with K12 or pivoting to other industries for tech? I’m into my second year as a school tech after transitioning from school counseling, and I feel like I’ve taken a step back in my career. It’s hard to find decent-paying jobs as your article mentioned, which is so important in this economy, and I’m getting overwhelmed with all the ways to upskill to stay relevant and move up in tech so I can eventually be in the room where “it” happens. I love the challenge of IT, but I’m losing steam quickly….

    Reply

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