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Life After Teaching: 10 Things I Learned After Leaving the Classroom

The good news is there is life after teaching. There’s actually a lot of possibility and opportunity outside of the classroom. It may be scary to consider change, but leaving the classroom was the best thing that I could have done. 

It’s weird to leave something you thought would be your forever career, or something you hoped would bring you joy. Hey, maybe it did make you happy for some time. Things change. (And that’s okay.) 

Now, if you’ve stumbled upon this post and aren’t quite ready to resign, be sure to save this post for when you do! And if you have other unanswered questions (like what jobs hire former teachers, what to know about leaving a pension, or how to rewrite your resume) make sure to check out my Teachers Changing Careers FAQ page.

I was pleasantly surprised by life on the other side. After all, I had heard rumors about the corporate world and the grueling, unforgiving place it was. In reality, I learned a lot about myself, my desires, and life in general once I let go of my teaching career. It was hard and scary to take the leap of faith, but I’m so glad I did. 
Maybe you’re in that place right now, wondering what lies beyond the walls of the classroom. I know those can feel like lonely thoughts, worrying that your co-workers won’t understand or will shame you for considering an alternative. “What about the kids?” Well, what about you?

Ten wild things I learned when I left teaching - the stuff they don't tell you when you're knee deep in after school grading!!!

Life After Teaching… a little background

When I first started teaching fifth grade, I was excited by the opportunity to give back to the community. I enjoyed working with the students, but it wasn’t quite enough. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I had this feeling deep down that I was drowning. I had never felt this way with any other job– like I was missing something. Something just didn’t feel right. I convinced myself it was just the first-year jitters. It would go away. 

Spoiler alert: It didn’t.  The first-year jitters became the second-year jitters, and by year three, I was constantly questioning whether or not I had pursued the right career path. I thought that I was going to love teaching, yet I couldn’t shake this feeling. 

After suffering through the first few stressful years of being a new teacher, I accepted a position in another district. I hoped this new job would help things click for me. After all, it was my dream teaching position. I remember setting up my classroom, excited for the fresh start.

Instead of a fresh start, I experienced a toxic work environment. Any excitement I felt disappeared, replaced with overwhelming stress and burnout that affected my life both in and out of work. In my final year, I felt broken by the unrealistic expectations and lack of autonomy faced daily. Between partners and administration, I felt like I was never doing enough. Even when I was giving it my all to the point where I was giving up every bit of my personal time, it wasn’t good enough. 

I started seeing my doctor for stress-related illnesses more and more often. Despite a doctor expressing her concerns for mental well-being, I felt guilty for how I was feeling. I felt guilty for the thoughts I had about leaving the classroom. Heck, I doubted it was even a possibility. After all, what would I do if I wasn’t a teacher? 

After finally deciding to leave at the end of that year,  I remember panicking. I realized I had no idea where to even start with figuring out my next move. I could barely picture what life after teaching would look like. After all, I had dedicated years of my life preparing to become a teacher, assuming it would all work out. I assumed I would love it. They don’t prepare you for what to do if you don’t.

I did what anyone does when they have a crisis moment– I turned to the internet. I spent days on end piecing together advice and best practices. I developed an exit strategy, growing my network and applying to jobs that fit my skills and experiences. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of jobs that are a good fit for former teachers

Despite the ups and downs of the application process, this new focus helped pull me out of the fog of burnout. I finally started to understand what life could be like outside the classroom. The more job descriptions I read, the more I realized I could use my skills in other places. Who would have thought?!

After hundreds of applications (and many rejections), I finally got that yes I was waiting for, landing a job as an educational consultant. Since then, I’ve also had jobs in instructional design, freelancing, and even launched my own business (this very site) to help others navigate their teacher career transitions. 

If you’re worried about making that jump or are wondering what life could look like for you outside of the classroom, keep reading. Here are the ten things I learned since leaving the classroom that you need to know.

1. Life is short. Your job shouldn’t make you miserable.

This is the most important lesson I learned after I left teaching. Teaching was not the right career for me. My physical and mental well-being was at stake. My personal relationships were suffering. I spent my evenings and weekends working for little pay and zero recognition from a toxic administration. At that point, I didn’t have the energy to do anything on most weeknights. And I could barely make my rent in Los Angeles, despite having my Master’s degree. It felt like an uphill battle, and there was no way for me to win. 

By the end of my worst (and final) year as a teacher, it had become routine for me to break down in tears on my way to school. I’d reapply my makeup once I got there in hopes of covering up the truth. Ultimately, I realized that the truth was that I needed a break. The truth was I was miserable. 

I knew that I couldn’t stay in the classroom for 5 more years, let alone 10 or 20. Yet, the more I thought about leaving teaching, the more teacher guilt I felt. After years of working in a thankless job, my self-esteem was at an all-time low. While I had no idea what my next step would be, I knew I had to figure it out. No job was worth giving up my physical or mental health.   

Life is short, and if your work impacts every component of your life negatively, it’s time to re-evaluate. Your life, mental health, and physical health are more valuable than sticking it out through any career.

2. You’re not getting paid as much as you think.

When you’re on salary and expected to work long hours, it doesn’t add up. It’s easy to get caught up in accepting it as part of the job, but that doesn’t mean it’s fair. That’s your time. I did the math to figure out my hourly earnings and was utterly dumbfounded. I made more in my first year as an educational consultant than I ever did in the classroom. 

Think about how many hours you spend working in a week. Do you come in early, stay late for bus duty, grade papers or decorate the classroom on the weekends? Are you asked to stay late for Back-to-School nights, carnivals, parent-teacher conferences? Do you find yourself catching up on work or trying to get ahead during your summers and holidays off?

Let’s say you work 39 weeks out of the year, with an average of 60 hours per week. That’s 2,340 hours annually. If your salary is $55,000, that comes out to $23 per hour. Would you make more money per hour in a different position? Even if the salary was the same, working 8 hour shifts x 5 days a week, that’s 2,080 hours. That’s equivalent to $26 an hour, plus you get your time back. 

Here’s what really struck me about life after teaching: I could do so much with the 260 hours I regained. I could finally do those things I simply couldn’t find time for before, like read a book or meet with friends for a drink. I could build additional income or start a passion project I’d been putting off. That leads me to the next point:

Related: Will I Make More Than My Teacher Salary In A New Position?

Here’s what really struck me about life after teaching: I could do so much with the 260 hours I regained. I could build additional income or start a passion project I’d been putting off. That leads me to the next point:

3. It’s easier to supplement your income with other opportunities when you have work-life balance.

After I left the classroom for a job as an educational consultant, I got a little stir crazy. I was used to working long hours. This particular job gave me SO MUCH free time, that within a few months I already felt comfortable branching out and starting a few passion projects. I began my own TPT store.

Now I currently make a few thousand dollars per month of passive income off my store, even though I am not currently working on it or updating the resources. I also started working on the Teacher Career Coach course and website to support teachers looking to transition out of the classroom.  

I never would have had the time or energy to work on these projects if I was still in the classroom. And I’m not overwhelmed anymore. I have the ability to walk away whenever I want.

4. You can still support education in your life after teaching.

So many teachers get into the field because they want to help others. I remember feeling like it was my way to give back to the community. (Insert guilt here.) I quickly learned that just because you are no longer in the classroom, it doesn’t mean you can’t still positively impact education. There are various ways to support education, kids, and teachers in your life after teaching.

With my newfound free time, I started volunteering at a creative writing workshop for students based out of Los Angeles. When I worked as an educational consultant, I made connections with many of the local school districts in my area. I wanted to ensure their teachers and staff had access to amazing resources. Through my work, I searched for grants and technology giveaways to help match districts with great opportunities for them.

Know that if you are considering leaving the classroom, that does not mean you need to leave education entirely. Some of your options include volunteering, taking jobs in the education sector, creating lesson plans or other resources for teachers, working with children in another capacity, and more. Don’t be tricked into thinking teaching is your only option. (It’s not.) 

5. Other teachers will start asking you for support getting out.

This one surprised me. I remember feeling so alone when I was going through my career transition. I felt ashamed by the stigma teachers face when wanting out. Yet, within weeks of announcing my new position, I had a few text messages from teachers that I used to work with asking for advice. How did I do it? When I spoke at schools or conferences for work, teachers would come up afterward and ask me for career advice. 

To my surprise, I even had a principal reach out to see if my company was hiring! I realized that there were so many others in the same position that I had been in. They wanted additional support and resources. That’s what inspired me to create the Teacher Career Coach resources in the first place. 

If you’re feeling trapped in your job, know that you’re not alone. Many teachers feel guilty, isolated, and unsupported when deciding to leave the profession. But trust me. After you step into your new career, you will be surprised at how many people you know want to follow in your footsteps.

6. You can still work “teacher hours” in your life after teaching.

I was worried that after I left teaching, I would miss having the summers and holidays off. Honestly, I thought I’d be in a 9-5 position and wasn’t sure how to handle the new change. Despite working long after contractual hours ended, people always reminded me how lucky I was to finish work by 3 o’clock. (If only they knew.) Still, I was afraid to lose that “luxury,” as are many teachers, especially moms. 

To my surprise, the educational companies I’ve worked for mimic a teacher’s schedule. If schools are not in session, there really isn’t a lot of work to be done on your end, so you have a vacation as well. In addition to that, I get unlimited flexible paid time off. This means that if I submit dates and my manager agrees, I receive paid time off for vacations or personal reasons. Oh, and no sub plans required. 

It’s important to note that not all companies are like this. You’ll have to look into if these benefits are listed in the job description or on the careers page of the company’s website. And if the desire for teacher hours holds you back, remind yourself of the reality. (We both know you work way more.) Remember, there are other options with great hours out there. You just have to do your research.

7. There is more upward mobility in other careers.

As a teacher, I was able to see the pay scale laid out in front of me with its modest annual increases. While it made planning for the future easy, I felt like I was chasing a salary that I wouldn’t reach until 10 or 15 years down the road– no ifs, ands, or buts. It didn’t help that there were teachers making the same, if not more, yet did less work and put less effort into their job. 

It seemed like the only move I could try to make was in administration, but even that usually required additional degrees. ( I had no desire for that role regardless.) I felt stuck, which led me to feel uninspired. 

After leaving the classroom, I quickly learned an entire new world of upward mobility. As an Educational Consultant, I was able to identify positions above me that I was interested in and make a clear game plan to leverage myself into higher-paying roles. Even better? I could often learn the skills required while I was on the job. Within a few years, I received an offer for an Instructional Designer position. 

I no longer feel limited by teacher contracts or measly pay ladders. I’ve received a raise every year, much larger than any teacher salary step. I’ve watched another former teacher quadruple her salary within 3 years of leaving teaching, something that would have been impossible for her in the classroom. I’m not saying it’s all about money, but it does feel good to have more opportunities for financial stability. 

8. Networking is key to land your dream job.

There’s a reason why people say, “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.” While I found it easy to find teaching positions, it’s an entirely separate network from other industries. I was totally lost when looking for employment opportunities outside the classroom.

In hindsight, it would have been much easier had I made more connections in the industries I was interested in. After working as an Educational Consultant, I began meeting people at districts throughout the area. I also worked closely with other Professional Development trainers and many other educational companies.

Surprisingly, I was being offered other jobs on a consistent basis.  My LinkedIn grew with authentic connections that I could reach out to if needed. After two years, I was approached about taking a job as an Instructional Designer. Regardless of being underqualified for this position, they nearly handed it to me because my network could vouch for work ethic and value-add. 

If I’m ever looking for work in the future, I know it will be 500X easier than it was before I began networking! My advice? Start building that network! You never know when or how it will come in handy.

9. Salaries can be negotiated in almost all other industries.

This one blew my mind. I had no idea how any of this worked when I started to transition from teaching. When I looked at job postings, I didn’t have ANY idea what to expect for a starting wage. One thing I learned in my life after teaching is that many salaries can be negotiated upon hiring.

This isn’t common in teaching, and it’s still underutilized in other industries (especially amongst female job candidates). It’s best to start by researching and understanding the average salary for the position in your area. It’s hard to compare salary for a position in rural Oklahoma with the same job in a big city, like NYC or Chicago.  You always have to remember that different companies have different budgets, so even after doing your research, it’s not a one-size-fits-all answer.  After learning more about salary negotiation, I negotiated my starting salary to 16% higher than the company’s original offer.

10. You are not failing. You are growing.

This lesson is one people need to revisit again and again. I remember feeling like an absolute failure in my last year of teaching. I had always wanted to be a teacher, and it was easy to make myself feel wrong when the job didn’t feel right. For whatever reason, there’s a stigma around teachers who choose to leave the profession. We’re suddenly selfish, weak, or selling out. We become a statistic. We’re one of “those” who couldn’t handle it. 

The truth is my life after teaching has vastly improved. It was like a cloud lifted from over my head and a weight off of my shoulders. I know I made the right decision by leaving. I can also recognize the value in the time I did spend in the classroom. I was able to leverage my experience in a way that was valuable in other industries. I would never be in the position I am in today without my teaching experience. The companies I work for all value those skills and experiences I gained as a teacher. It wasn’t a failed attempt. It was a stepping stone. I grew both personally and professionally during that transition and I’m better for it.

Leaving teaching is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Remember, every experience shapes who we are and who we become. If I never taught, I wouldn’t be able to create resources for other teachers transitioning out of the classroom. If I didn’t have the same struggle, it wouldn’t have pushed me to support those going through it now. It wouldn’t have led me here, to you.

There is Life After Teaching!

Looking back, I don’t understand why I thought switching careers was a failure. It’s led to nothing but personal and professional growth. In other industries and positions, people change careers an average of 12 to 15 times in their lifetime. I left my position as an Educational Consultant for a position as an Instructional Designer and viewed it as growth, not failure. Yet, teachers carry the burden of shame and guilt the moment they think of leaving the classroom.

I invite you to help me rewrite the script. There is life after teaching. For some, it’s a far better life. You know yourself and your situation better than anyone else. Don’t let them dictate what you do or don’t do with your life. I invite you to be selfish and make the best decision for you. 

You should never make a career change without carefully researching all your options. If you’ve realized you do want to leave teaching, there are plenty of resources to help find that next job for you.

Where to start

If you’re just beginning to think about leaving teaching, brainstorming other options is a great place to start. But if you’re like many others, teaching was your only plan – there never was a Plan B. You might feel at a loss when it comes to figuring out what alternatives are out there.

Start with our free quiz, below, to get alternative job options for careers that really do hire teachers!

What career outside the classroom is right for YOU? Free Quiz

Taking the First Steps to a New Life After Teaching

If you’ve already taken our quiz, it may be time for the next steps. I want to help you get some clarity in the options available to you. To know EXACTLY what you need to do (and not do) in order to get your foot in the door.

One of the biggest mistakes that I see teachers make is that they try to navigate this process alone. Often, they put off “researching” until the very last minute. Which sets them up for a very stressful application season – trying to juggle teaching, figuring out a resume, researching jobs, and hoping to nail down some interviews before signing next year’s contract.

You don’t have to do this on your own.

If you are considering a career change from teaching, I have a resource that can help you today. With the help of an HR expert with over 10 years of experience, I’ve created a guide to support you in the early stages of your transition out of the classroom.

In the Career Transition Guide, I’ll walk you through the factors to consider and answer those first-step planning questions including:

Career Transition Guide
  • A compiled list of over 40 careers that teachers can transition into
  • An overview of how to read job descriptions
  • How to evaluate the risk of leaving a full-time teaching job for the unknown
  • Example translations from classroom-to-corporate resumes
  • A checklist of everything you’ll need to do for your career transition (so you know you aren’t missing anything!)
  • and more…

Take the first steps on your path to a new career now for only $19 $9!

GET THE EBOOK

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