“I don’t want to go back to school and I can’t afford to take a pay cut or lose my summers off. I just have no idea where to even start looking for jobs that hire teachers.”
How many times have you seen or heard a teacher say something similar? How many times have you thought something similar yourself?
These are normal questions and concerns.
Some positions have a career trajectory that’s easy to identify, but teachers’ positions are set up to be your forever career.
Your day-to-day expectations, the curriculum you use, or the knowledge of pedagogy will adapt and grow within your career. But teaching is really set to be a one-stop position. There aren’t a lot of conversations about what you can do instead if you end up wanting or needing a change.
In this episode, I’m going to talk to you about career changes for teachers. We’ll cover how to know you should start pursuing a new career, career paths that you can pursue by leveraging your teaching experience without going back to school, and what you should know right now if you’re starting to think of a transition.
Listen to the episode on the podcast player or read the transcript below.
Once again, this specific podcast episode might not be for everyone. But even if you’re in love with your current situation, it’s never a bad idea to tune in and have a “plan B” if you ever need to move on or find yourself in between jobs.
How to know if leaving teaching is the right decision for you?
I’m going to start first with the biggest, most daunting question, how are you going to know that you need to start pursuing a new career?
Well, honestly, you’re going to have to be the one to decide this. If your mental or physical health is severely impacted, that’s one major red flag.
First, I want you to consider if changing grades, schools or districts would help. If you haven’t tried any of those options, yet, I highly recommend trying them.
Through my work as the Teacher Career Coach, I’ve talked to hundreds of teachers who have shared stories of how small changes, like switching from ninth or 10th grade, moving to a neighboring district and getting away from toxic administration, or switching to a charter from public or vice versa, rekindled their love of teaching and made a night and day difference for them.
While I want you to consider making these types of changes, they aren’t always going to be the answer. In my own personal journey changing districts didn’t change anything in a positive direction for me. Unfortunately, my second district was far more toxic. And to be honest, I still struggled in my first district in a way that I didn’t in the other positions I’ve taken on after leaving.
In an upcoming episode, I interview another former teacher who had a similar experience to mine, where changing districts reinforced her decision to leave. She’s now found personal happiness and a new career as a software engineer.
Here’s something that I’ve learned during my research on career changes for those struggling with decision making… Our brains are conditioned to focus on negative factors, which is why usually the first things you focus on are the reasons you can’t do something scary. People are quick to rule out big changes or decisions because of that negative factor, even if there are more positive factors associated with the change.
For example, one of the most common responses people have about a career change from teaching is I can’t lose my summers off.
I want you to think about that statement right now and consider if that’s true for you in your own personal unique situation.
Are you miserable? And have you been for years? Are you unhappy or anxious in the classroom more days than you’re happy? What about on weekends and after the school day ends? Does your work impact your social and family life? Would the pros of having a new career outweigh the cons of losing a summer break and having to figure out your childcare options?
These are all factors you’ll have to honestly assess for yourself. If you feel great in the classroom and you spend your weekends and summers well, losing summers off with your family might not be worth a career change.
But if you’re miserable, the negative factor holding you back might just be your brain tricking you into focusing on that one small component that’s truly figureoutable. Side-note, I know figureoutable is a made-up word but you’re going to hear me say it often.
Anyhow, your quality of life will likely vastly improve if you finally decide to make a change. If you’re at that rock-bottom miserable level, I’ll have future episodes dedicated to diving into my strategies that you can use.
If you ever feel like fear is getting in the way of making tough decisions, my first piece of advice is weighing the pros and cons because it always helps you take the emotions out of your decision-making.
Here are some other questions that I want you to ask yourself.
How long have you personally felt that teaching might not be a good fit for you? Are you bored with your curriculum?
And do you think that using maybe more exciting or different resources would help you enjoy your work again? Has it almost felt like your entire career?
Or did you start getting more unhappy when virtual teaching struck? Or when a new administration came in and changed something?
Really focus on what’s making you not like your position. And have you tried to find and implement solutions for those issues to see if things felt better?
And once again, if you changed schools, districts or grade levels, do you think that that would help your situation?
This is a huge decision. The answers are going to be different for everyone.
One activity I want you to do right now is I want you to imagine how you would feel if nothing changed for one more year.
Now, imagine how you would feel if you were still teaching five years from now. What about 25 more years? If teaching is your forever career, let’s focus on adjusting and tweaking to your current situation to find happiness and fulfillment.
But if the idea of teaching for one more year or five more years’ gives you anxiety, makes you sick to your stomach just imagining it, you need to start making a strategy to get you to where you need to be.
Stress over a prolonged period, or chronic stress, negatively impacts the body in such a huge way. Life is way too short to not figure out what you should do to take care of yourself.
I want you to evaluate if the only factors that are making you unhappy in your teaching career are COVID-related and they might, knock on wood, be resolved soon.
Not that the concerns that are COVID-related and the burnout that teachers are facing this year are not real and not valid.
Remember, this is a judgment-free zone. I personally believe that you can pivot into a new career even if you’re the happiest, best teacher in the world.
Doctors can change careers; CEOs can change careers. Teachers are human beings, and they’re allowed to want change, you have every right to live your life in the way that fulfills you.
But if you think that holding on for another six months or a year might truly alleviate the factors that are making you unhappy, it should always be weighed into account of your decision making.
The Top”Career Buckets” For Teachers
Now let’s talk career options so you have a good idea of what direction you may want to pursue if you decide that a change is needed in your life.
There are a few different natural directions that you can take which I’ve categorized into three what I call career buckets for teachers. The careers that fall into these buckets are a great starting point. But don’t assume that they’re the exhaustive list of opportunities out there for you.
I’ve created these categories strategically by working with HR professionals, former teachers, and even some company CEOs to identify the positions that are the easiest pivot for teachers without requiring them to go back to school.
That means that these buckets hold the most natural career changes that educators find themselves thriving in, you can utilize your educational history as a stepping-stone, or use transferable skills as years of valuable experience.
The three buckets that I’ve identified are working within education, working at education companies, or working outside of education altogether.
Career Bucket #1: I’ll start with working with an education which is the easiest most guessable direction.
If you’re completely burned out, you may be tuning me out right now and I get it. Some people want nothing to do with education anymore. And like I said, judgment-free zone here.
It’s important that we start here with a bucket because it’s one of the easier more natural fits. When I say working within education, I mean careers maybe within your district or careers like teaching but with a slightly different environment.
These are usually the best fits for teachers who are looking for a new challenge but aren’t totally jaded by education in general. Maybe being a technology TOSA or new teacher support, adult education or even prison education, creating or running museum education programs, working in educational departments for hospitals or positions, managing childcare facilities. These are all good directions to start exploring.
You can also think about nonprofit organizations that you’re excited about working with. Many places that work with children, think field trips, weekly camps, etc. like to work with former teachers to help them develop curriculum, or classroom management strategies.
And that new environment may just be the breath of fresh air that you need.
Career Bucket #2: My next bucket is working within an education company. Educational companies love to work with former teachers and they really value a teacher’s experience and what they’re able to bring into an organization.
Teachers are naturally able to understand how the product would impact education, the struggles a teacher may face or objections they might have about a particular product, and future products and how they might impact teachers jobs and help make them easier, you can start exploring positions like curriculum writer, but don’t forget to look for a product manager sales implementation professional development specialist, instructional designer, customer success manager, any type of jobs within the education companies might be looking for someone with K 12 experience.
Former teachers can find positions and many departments and larger educational companies, from product to marketing to sales enablement.
My last bucket is working outside of education all together. If you want nothing to do with education, this is the direction that you can take. I’ve seen a lot of teachers go into corporate training, human resources, and learning and development positions. Teachers can naturally chunk complex learning into bite sized and digestible pieces, which is why they’re such a great fit for onboarding new members of companies or presenting the company’s newest initiatives.
A lot of former teachers have also found themselves loving office manager positions due to their natural ability to manage projects and track data. You can look at the companies that are in your local area for opportunities like these.
In addition to local area companies, many larger companies are more open to remote possibilities, especially now more than ever before. Don’t rule out companies outside of your local area as you’re starting to explore.
I’ll dive more into specific careers and future episodes, but I hope that this overview gave you a few different paths that you might want to consider exploring.
What To Expect When Making A Career Transition From Teaching
Now, if you’re considering a career change, here’s what you should know right now.
First, it’s not going to be easy, but it’ll be easier than you think. Your career change journey might take three months and it might take three years. No matter what, it’s probably going to feel impossible when you’re in the middle of it. Because it just does for everyone.
Know when you’re getting ready to start that you’re going hear some no’s and you’re going to feel discouraged, but that it only takes one YES to change your life.
Every former teacher that I’ve talked to said that they felt like it wasn’t going to happen for them. You are not alone if you feel this way. You’re going to hear so many no’s, you might get ghosted all together, and you’re going start to feel low.
I’m not saying this to discourage you, I just want you to know what to expect so that you can see these symptoms and push past them. I remember one day, probably one of my darkest days during my own career hunt, when I was looking and applying to all these jobs. And in the first few hours of one day, I received four rejection emails from jobs that I had interviewed for. I was balling on the couch by the time that last of the four came in and I ended up getting back in bed by noon.
I was so low, I was so insecure, and I did not feel valuable. I did not feel like anyone was going to want to hire me. I just kept convincing myself that because I only had teaching experience, I wasn’t good enough for any of the jobs that I wanted.
And it wasn’t true. I ended up getting a position within a month, which ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to me.
This journey is going to be hard but it’s doable. And like I said, it’s figureoutable. Three months or three years might feel like an eternity. It’s only a small fraction of your overall life timeline. You’re going to find your way, but you can’t give up. Remember, it only is going to take one yes.
If you feel like you’re on the wrong path right now, it’s important that you identify it and start moving to where you want to be. I also want to recommend some tips to make sure that you have stability with this decision.
One of the things that I advise people in the Teacher Career Coach Course is not to leave their job without having another career lined up. That’s why I have created my career transition timeline. It includes aggressively applying two to three months before your teaching contract is up.
I’m aware that staying within your teaching position until you have something lined up isn’t always possible. As we’ve seen with the pandemic, sometimes teachers must leave mid-year with nothing lined up just due to other concerns and factors. You might want to make the tough call and just not renew out of fear that if you sign the contract one more year, you may not ever make the change that you know you need. We all know that teaching contracts are difficult to get out of. Depending on what state you’re in, they may take your teaching license. They may end up fining you OR there might not be any repercussions. That’s something that you’ll need to investigate for your specific school or district.
I want you to have realistic expectations to know what’s going to happen if you do this so that if there ends up being a worst-case scenario, you are prepared for it.
If you plan to leave without another career lined up, try, and I know that this is easier said than done, to have six months of savings saved up. Six months is what experts recommend. And I know that that is not an easy feat.
Listen, all these extra precautions are not always going to be necessary. I have had former teachers in The Teacher Career Coach Course get a job within two weeks of signing up. I want to be transparent and honest with you about what you may face.
I’ve also had teachers renew their teaching contracts because they couldn’t secure a position within their application window.
If you plan on just not renewing, just try to start saving now, just in case if possible, you need that additional wiggle room. There are too many factors at play to guarantee a timeline of how long it’s going to take before you land a position, even if you’re doing everything right.
My best recommendation is to have safety precautions in place just in case you need to keep yourself covered. If you happen to be planning a career change that is years’ away from now, you can start focusing on diversifying your income stream. Think of starting a small business, even something like selling on Teachers Pay Teachers. Having a bank cushion and steady passive income can help allow you the freedom to walk away with confidence.
Listen, I don’t want you to be hearing this and think all right, a career transition is going to be way too hard, never mind, I can’t do it.
If a career transition from teaching is what you need, you can absolutely do it. The reason I built this community was to help us learn from each other’s journeys to help make us stronger to push past these barriers and obstacles. If you’re struggling already, I want you to go back and focus on your why. Why is this decision so important to you?
Who or what will improve if you’re successful? And is it worth figuring it out and pushing past these obstacles to get to where you want to be for that Why?
We covered a lot in this episode. Don’t worry, I plan to dive into each of these subjects in more detail in future episodes. Once again, don’t forget to hit subscribe to catch new episodes as they’re released every Thursday. And you’ll officially be my best friend forever if you take a few seconds and leave this podcast and review to help other people find it.
Thank you so much for listening, and we’ll catch you on the next episode.