Nearly half of Pearson’s employees are educators.
LearnED spoke with five of them—Erika Webb-Hughes, Walter Peters, Aly Stark, Luis Oros, and Lee Noto—to hear about their passion for learning.
“Students Need Every One of These Voices”
Erika Webb-Hughes was 26 when she stood at the door of Room 611 for her first day as a teacher in a California high school.
Her English class students were tenth graders in a special education program. Most read on a third- to fourth-grade level.
Several of those students commuted for hours just to get to school. Some had difficult foster care situations, Erika says. Others barely spoke English at all.
“I told them how nervous I was,” Erika recalls, “then I said: ‘You all are starting my class with an A—and, if that A is important to you to keep, here are the little things you’ll need to do each day.'”
“Their academic success was their goal to have and mine to support,” Erika says. “And giving them that kind of ownership opened up a whole new world of learning to come.”
Erika says she’s still in touch with many of those early students.
“They’re successful, they’re working, they’re living on their own, they have families,” she says. “It’s amazing.”
From the Classroom to Helping Make Classroom Policy
Erika quickly realized she had a knack for the intricacies of education policy in special education.
In the classroom, she saw first-hand how school systems were hampered by confusing policies and poor communication about those policies.
So Erika went to work for the California Department of Education, first in assessments then in special education then as a liason with the U.S. Department of Education.
All the while, she remembered her classroom experience.
“I knew the impact of policies in the classroom,” Erika says. “I was able to make sure that policymakers heard the voice of people actually doing the education work.”
‘All of us working together.’
Today, Erika works with Pearson and its government relationships in 13 western states.
“I’ve had a seat at the table from many perspectives,” she says. “As a student, as a teacher, as a parent, as a policymaker, and now with a company that does work to support learners.”
“Students need every one of these voices,” Erika says. “It takes all of us to work together to craft an education system that works for all learners.”
‘Your Dreams are My Dreams’
Walter Peters didn’t know where he was headed after graduating the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in public policy.
A job in healthcare? A job in education?
Walter ultimately decided to enter the classroom as a teacher—and was placed in a school in Washington, D.C.
He taught bilingual classes in Kindergarten, first, and second grades.
“I had no idea how profoundly it would affect the rest of my career trajectory,” he says.
An Introduction to Teaching
“My first year was difficult,” Walter says. “I was struggling with my classroom and how to teach. I was dealing with different cultural and social dynamics.”
“I was always thinking about my problems with students—and how I might use the experience to get the next great job. I couldn’t see how the goal of teaching every child could ever be reachable.”
The Call to Teaching
One year later, Walter participated in a family engagement program through D.C. public schools. He met all his student’s families. Many of them were from El Salvador, Ethiopia, and Vietnam.
“The one thread through all their stories,” Walter says, “was their profound desire for their children to succeed.”
And Walter had an epiphany:
“I thought if teaching every child was not possible as I’d been thinking, then it was the same as saying to these parents ‘Your dreams aren’t worth having.'”
“I was wrong—and I realized that I wanted to be involved with education for the rest of my life,” Walter says.
Walter went on to teach for a time in a charter school in New York. Today, he works for Pearson in New York.
“I want to work for a company that can attract the best and the brightest,” Walter says. “We’re doing right by students by working for Pearson.”
‘Everyone Believes in the Power of Learning’
Aly Stark’s fifth grade teacher was a “game changer.”
“I was unsure of myself at the time,” she says. “I kept my opinions to myself and didn’t really ever speak up.”
“But Ms. Amaya nurtured her students,” Aly says. “She built relationships in the classroom, she built a community of learners. In the end, I found a whole new confidence and a love of learning.”
Building Communities to Innovate Learning
Aly taught for three years in inner city New Orleans.
“I started teaching middle school history,” Aly says. “And my last year was with second and fifth graders.”
Today, Aly’s students are her Pearson colleagues. She’s helping the company with leadership development, from new hires all the way up to Pearson executives.
“We’re building community here, too,” Aly says. “Through various training programs—like Ms. Amaya in fifth grade—I’m trying to help my colleagues with their confidence, to become mini experts in their role with Pearson.”
“Pearson is not perfect and it doesn’t always get everything right,” Aly says. “But we all want students to be successful, we all want students to have access to high-quality education.”
“We striving for the same goal as parents and teachers,” Aly says. “Everyone believes in the power of learning.”
‘I Watched Them Start to Love Learning’
Luis Oros studied neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins University. He thought he was headed to medical school—or a career in “neuromarketing,” an industry that applies brain science to marketing and advertising campaigns.
Eventually, Luis’ expertise in brain science led him to a career in learning with Pearson.
He’s now researching artificial intelligence technology and progressive educational models.
Students Who Suddenly Started to Love Learning
Five years ago, Luis was teaching math and science to middle school students.
Many of the students had behavioral problems. They were struggling in school, Luis says.
“They hated everything about school,” Luis says. “And they didn’t see themselves as being capable of learning.”
“Plus, the curriculum didn’t seem well-matched with what I knew about brain science and learning,” Luis says. “So, with a research grant, I put together a new student-centered classroom model for my students. Suddenly, the kids were doing a lot of the teaching, taking ownership of much of their own curriculum.”
“And our classes became some of the top performing classes in the state,” Luis says.
“Most importantly,” he says, “I watched my students start to love learning.”
Luis says we are seeing “the death of education and the birth of learning.” He’s written about what he means in this blog post:
It’s crazy when you think about it. We take kids and force them to adapt to this really complex bureaucracy instead of adopting the system to them. This is especially crazy in a world full of surprises. Surprises of the economy, of society, of invention and technology. Everyday is going to be a surprise. Education prepares you to cope with certainty. There is no certainty. Learning, however, prepares you to cope with the surprises of the world.
I want to see environments where kids are restless until their need for learning is satisfied. Where kids are allowed to pursue their curiosities and taught to solve interesting problems, not to memorize answers.
“I’m a tinkerer, a scientist trying to build better relationships between teachers and students,” says Luis.
“At Pearson, we have the resources to explore the newest, best, most effective educational models to help students everywhere.”
‘We Are Helping to Close the Gaps in Education”
When Lee Noto was teaching fourth graders in Hawaii, she saw first-hand “all the gaps in the education system.”
“I’d had a pretty solid learning experience growing up,” Lee says. “”It was the first time I came face to face with poverty and inequity in education. I was seeing education from a broader perspective.”
Business Acumen in Learning Innovation
Prior to her time in the classroom, Lee graduated the University of Central Florida with a degree in business.
Today, she helps her Pearson colleagues evaluate whether the company’s products are helping learners.
“I’m so excited to be part of a company that empowers people around the world,” Lee says. “We are helping to close the gaps in education.”