When we last caught up with Atlanta-based TARA Education Technologies in April 2021, the team was helping teachers create better lesson plans and navigate the changing education landscape during COVID.
Since then the teacher shortage has reached epidemic proportions itself. A recent survey suggests half of all teachers are thinking about quitting, and many of those were considering leaving the profession altogether.
“This crisis is not going away and is going to get worse,” TARA founder Ian Cohen told Hypepotamus. “Many folks don’t realize that a lot of schools going virtual now are doing it because of teacher shortages in all 50 states. It is not difficult to imagine how hard being a teacher has been these last two years and the profession itself was already experiencing a shortage of teachers prior to COVID. Now that problem is going to extend into administrators as well.”
Urban school districts, like Atlanta, pay upwards of $20,000 to replace one teacher, according to Cohen. “When you add that replacement cost to the amount of teacher-related investments that are made during a teacher’s career, we start talking about billions of dollars each year…If we don’t provide more support to educators via policy and technology, we are going to start seeing many more disruptions to the educational experience for kids and then a domino effect on our labor markets in the years to come.”
The TARA team has refocused its efforts over the last year to be a SaaS teacher assistant designed to “bring lesson planning, task management, and resource gathering all into a single workflow for teachers.”
The goal of the platform is to reduce the time teachers spend outside the classroom prepping (which can be upwards of 600 hours a year). “TARA aims to drastically reduce that workload by providing a user experience that is specialized for educators and their schools, saving them from hacking together google docs, spreadsheets, and other generalized products that were never designed for them,” added Cohen.
The refocus as a SaaS teacher assistant includes a new Teacher Support Languages Quiz, which Cohen described as a “‘love languages’ for teachers assessment that helps school leaders better understand how to support their teachers.”
The team raised a $750,000 convertible note this fall and has attracted angel investors from across the tech and education space. Some of the investors include Merrick Olives (Partner at McKinsey), Carl Tremblay (Former Head of Platform & Growth at Plaid), Judy Starkey (Founder/CEO of Chamberlin Edmonds; Special Investment Partner, Galen Partners), Brian Sadler (Former EVP/CFO of Chamberlin Edmonds, adj. prof at Univ. of GA Terry School of Business), and Bobbo Jetmundsen (Chairman, Worthscape LLC and experienced ATL tech angel).
The team has also shifted, as Laura Jackson has been elevated to co-founder / COO. “Laura being elevated to Co-founder/COO is really important for us,” added Cohen. “She lived these problems as a classroom teacher holding a master’s degree in teaching, but still burning out from the insurmountable workflow. Her tenacity and drive are a testament to what former teachers are capable of.”
Jackson added that while the “transition into tech has certainly come with its challenges, [Ian] and I both know that if no one steps up to put teachers first, then the profession as we know it is in trouble and we refuse to let that happen. With TARA, we can provide an assistant to every teacher not just here in the US, but around the world – and that could be a gamechanger.”
The team has also expanded with the addition of a new Marketing Manager —a role that will certainly be busy in the coming months. The platform is on track to have 20,000 active users by the end of 2022 and currently has a waitlist of over 600 people looking to try the new features.
To keep up with growth, TARA will look to hire an engineering lead and a larger customer success team in the coming months. The team also has plans to roll out new features specifically for special educators, who Cohen said can have twice as much work on their plate.