Beyond the Classroom: Career Options for Teachers

Getting an advanced degree or a teaching credential prepares you, obviously, to be a teacher. But sometimes — either after a short time in the classroom or after decades on the job — teachers decide they want a different career.

“When a teacher feels as though the whole profession has really lost its luster, or they feel as though they have contributed all they can contribute, what do they do about that?” said Jan Stewart, a career coach with Emerge — Coaching for Success. “It’s a pretty scary place to be.”

The good news is that teachers’ training and experience give them a lot of skills that transfer to other professions. Especially for those who want to stay in a field connected to education, there are plenty of options.

Stewart and other career experts offer tips on how teachers should approach a possible career change:

Assess your transferrable skills

Teacher training — not to mention working as a teacher — offers plenty of opportunities to gain skills that many professions need. For example:

  • Working with people. Teachers “not only work with their colleagues, they work with parents and with their students,” Stewart said. “That’s a lot of different personalities to interact with, and most teachers do that very well.”
  • Organizational skills. Teachers keep track of students’ work, apply lesson plans for different subjects or classes, and find time for long-term planning.
  • Goal setting and evaluating. Much of teaching revolves around setting goals and then measuring whether they were achieved.
  • Advising and counseling. This work may be informal, said Karen Samuelson, a career and life coach, but it could lead to non-teaching jobs in an academic environment.
  • Presentation and communication skills. Teaching is, at its heart, communicating all day long — to students, parents and colleagues.
  • Writing and research. Teachers in writing- and research-intensive fields can transfer those skills to other jobs.
  • Problem solving. Teachers have to think on their feet.

Start by considering jobs related to education

The smoothest career change will carry over a lot of your experience. Some of these jobs may be in school districts; others may be in organizations that support education, or in educational roles in other industries. Here are some career shifts that career counselors who work with teachers suggest considering:

  • Educational leadership. One way to leave the classroom is to climb the ladder — even within your own district. A first step may be becoming an assistant principal, for example.
  • Online teaching. For teachers who are tired of the classroom but still want to engage with students, online teaching represents a real opportunity, said Candace Alstad-Davies, founder and owner of A+ Resumes for Teachers and a career coach for teachers.
  • Many school districts have teachers who coach or mentor other teachers. They often specialize in a particular subject, such as math or English. Some districts also have teachers who work with other teachers to bring technology into the classroom.
  • Corporate training. Teachers have the presentation skills and the people skills to be trainers.
  • Instructional design. This may require more education or skills, but knowledge of education is a good start.
  • Educational publishing and curriculum development. Textbook publishers are branching out from just printed books, offering opportunities in interactive media and other areas. Knowledge of what students need to know and how they learn is still fundamental, though.
  • Textbook sales. Another way to work for an educational publisher is in sales — using people skills, organizational skills and deep knowledge of what teachers need.
  • Data analysis. As more detailed data on each student’s performance becomes available, more schools are slicing and dicing the information. Schools are “using data now because they can,” Samuelson said. For a teacher who enjoys numbers, this could be an interesting career shift.
  • Organizational development, child psychology or counseling. These fields may take more additional education and are not as directly connected to teaching. But they still draw on skills teachers have developed.

Explore careers unconnected to education

It’s more difficult to change to a completely new career — one where the years of teaching experience and skills learned may not be as useful.

“How do you find your way into a new career?” Samuelson said. “You either volunteer, or you start to take the courses you need to take, or you get further training or education.” If you want to be an accountant, for example, you will have to go back to school.

In some cases, the new career may have such different requirements that you simply have to start over at the bottom of the career ladder. In that case, you may take a cut in pay — or even have no pay for a while if you have to go back to school.

Another consideration: “Ageism is really out there,” Samuelson said. “At the same time, people should be willing to roll up their sleeves and try something new — not be thinking, ‘Oh, I’m too old for that.’ ”

Ideas for post-teaching careers

Some former teachers pursue a hobby as a career. Stewart worked with one teacher who took early retirement and parlayed her love of cooking into a catering business. Her organizational skills and people skills helped.

Others may look to the subject they taught for inspiration — which helps because they have more transferrable skills than if they are starting in a completely new area. For example, an English teacher may be able to find a new career in writing. A teacher who focused on technology may be able to find a new career with a tech firm. Or a teacher who loved chaperoning school trips might go to work in the travel industry.

Making a shift this large can be challenging. A new career will probably not provide the job security and stability that many, though not all, teachers enjoy.

In teaching, “you know what to expect at certain times of the year — there’s a beginning and an end,” Stewart said. “In other professions, that might not be as much the case.”

Shifting your mindset

Some of the challenges may be mundane: writing a resume that works for a corporate job search, for example. Getting into the right mindset for a career outside of education can require a change in thinking: “Employers want someone who can solve problems for them, make money for them or save money for them,” said Kitty Boitnott, a career transition and job search coach who specializes in working with teachers. Teachers who are not used to this type of job search may focus too much on their own accomplishments, she said.

If you do decide to make a big change, be prepared to ask for help — and be patient.

“You have to really be willing to reach out to people and maybe volunteer or do an internship,” Samuelson said. “Go for informational interviews. Find out what you need to get into that particular field.”

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