8 Questions with an Experience Studio Founder
8 QUESTIONS is a series of interviews with teachers who have effectively transitioned their classroom skills into new and exciting careers in the field of education. We at Teach.com believe that teaching is a rigorous and diverse classroom in and of itself; the skills learned “in the trenches” can translate into an exciting portfolio of professional options. From education tech to consulting, the only “X factor” is where you want to go — our interviews hope to shine a light on the steps it takes to get there.
1. What’s your name, location and current profession?
Amanda Slavin, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, CEO and Founder of a start up called CatalystCreativ.
2. Where did you earn your teaching certification and where did you go to school?
3. How long were you a teacher for?
I was a student teacher my senior year in a first-grade classroom and taught during my Master’s Year in a middle-school classroom.
4. What was the most rewarding part of being a classroom teacher? What about classroom teaching did you find most challenging?
When I student taught, I created a morning routine with my first-graders, where I would have them all sit on the carpet and each share anything they wanted for up to 1 minute each. I told them they could share anything (even not school-related). During these rare moments on the carpet, I learned so much about my students. I was able to create connections based on their personal experiences, and build community from shared experiences. It was one of the most enriching years of my life.
I am a very creative person, and I feel that there was (at least 7 years ago), a lot of pressure placed on teachers by the board of education, parents, administration, and so on. The classroom itself felt limiting to me as an educational forum, and this inspired me to write my thesis on taking students outside of the classroom and the impact nature-based learning had on engagement and achievement.
5. Why did you decide to transition from classroom teaching to your current profession?
When I was 20 years old, I applied to the very competitive Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s program at Neag School of Education at UConn, but also went abroad to London. The UConn Study Abroad program in London was all about integrating education into the city.
Our English class was at the GLOBE, our art history class was in the museums, and I fell in love with the idea that learning could be integrated into any environment — in fact, learning could be heightened by your environment.
When I graduated in 2009, during a deep recession, there were not many jobs available, and a job opened up to work at a hospitality company in NYC, building the marketing and event department for numerous properties in NYC and the Hamptons. I had a dual life in college, earning my master’s in education, while I planned events on the side to make some extra money, so this wasn't completely out of left field.
I also believe that my learnings at the Neag School regarding engagement, and how to essentially "sell" math to 6-year-olds prepared me to be able to sell anything to anyone, and psychologically understand all different types of "learners."
6. What is the best part of your job?
After 5 years at the hospitality job I mentioned above, I met my current business partner Tony Hsieh, who at the time was working on a revitalization initiative in downtown Vegas. His vision was to move his company Zappos to downtown Vegas and build a campus similar to NYU, where you do not know where the corporation's campus begins and the city ends.
He wanted to invest the $350 million he made from the Amazon acquisition and invest it into downtown Vegas, where he planned to invest in small businesses (e.g., restaurants, retail spaces); arts, culture, and education initiatives (e.g., a school, a 100,000-person festival); and technology companies.
I was so inspired by this vision, and I saw the opportunity to once again use the city as the canvas for learning. I started CatalystCreativ 4 years ago with the intention to use my understanding of education (curriculum development, engagement, lesson planning), and apply this deep knowledge of communicating and creating community to the advertising world (events/marketing/branding/communications).
We started by creating educational, inspirational experiences in downtown Vegas where we would bring influential speakers every month and they would learn from the city, as well as share their stories — and that turned into designing physical and digital experiences for clients like Coke, NPR, W Hotels, and Dell.
The last thing I wanted to do was stay in a job that someone else may be better at or love more than me.
7. What skills did you gain from classroom teaching that have allowed you to excel in your current profession?
As I mentioned earlier, I wrote my thesis on engagement, and in this thesis we used a pre-existing measurement system of engagement as a tool. These 7 levels of engagement have helped me tremendously in analyzing where people fit into this system and how to meet them where they are.
Curriculum development has helped me transition to project management of large-scale experiences, always ensuring we have an objective, and an assessment, as well as unique ways of walking people through whatever our client is trying to communicate.
The Neag School empowered their students to create lessons that were multicultural and across different subject areas. This has helped me identify different influential voices that share different opinions as representations of brand campaigns. Lastly, I believe that being a good teacher is to be a good listener, and this has allowed me to create an environment for clients and team members where I am also learning and listening as much as I am guiding (sometimes even more).
8. What advice would you offer a current teacher who is looking to make a career change to outside of the classroom?
I think that being a teacher is one of the most profound jobs available to anyone. I think everyone should try to be a teacher. I think that teaching should be one of the highest-paid professions, and should be an opportunity for the world's brightest to share their knowledge with future generations. But, I also know that traditional teaching isn't for everyone. The last thing I wanted to do was stay in a job that someone else may be better at or love more than me.
If you feel like you are in a position to transition out of teaching, I would say that the best thing to do is to try interning or volunteering for the summer at a different job. The benefit of teaching is that you can use your skills anywhere, and also you have a little bit of time each year for self-exploration.
In no way do I think everyone has time for a full, 4-month separate job, but I think taking little bets on yourself and exploring what you are interested in other than teaching, and how you can put those teaching skills to use elsewhere is a good start.
During job interviews if anyone tells you that you don't have experience doing the job you are interviewing for, my advice is to tell them that if you can get a room of screaming kids to listen to you for 5 hours, you can do anything.
Amanda Slavin is a Millennial and Generation Z expert and the CEO/Founder of CataylstCreativ, an experience studio focused on helping cities, brands, and institutions flourish through educational and inspirational programming. Listed on last year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 for Marketing and Advertising, Amanda has used her Master’s in Curriculum through UConn’s Neag School of Education to approach her grassroots marketing and business development efforts. Past experience includes overseeing partnerships with Axe/Unilver and Madison Square Garden, spearheading a 16-week activation for LVMH, and more.
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