Teachers are some of the most hardworking, patient and reliable workers out there. I know this and other people who’ve taught know this, but if you’re a teacher looking to start over, how can you persuade employers outside education?
Hiring managers often screen out candidates with backgrounds that don’t match the job description exactly, and it’s safest to choose someone with direct experience rather than take a chance on a career changer.
Another hurdle is the “lazy teacher”/”teaching is easy” stereotype, and we’ve all heard the “must be nice to get summers off” line more times than we care to count.
So when people see “teacher” on your resume, they may think all you do is show movies while reading the newspaper in the back of the classroom; or stand at a lectern and drone like Ben Stein; or sing songs about bunnies to an adoring crowd of small children.
You must show them they’re wrong about you.
To do this, you need to take an inventory of your transferable skills from teaching. This will help you craft stronger resumes and cover letters and prepare for job interviews with better focus. The list below is a basic one; I hope it’ll help you create a complete list of all the valuable skills you have to offer.
1. strong written and oral communication skills
Seems obvious, right? But you still need to explain how the lessons you delivered each day are good examples of your ability to make complex material engaging, understandable and persuasive to a general audience.
You should also list examples of the many types of writing you’ve tailored to different audiences: e-mails to parents, administration and support staff; individualized feedback to students; lesson plans and class materials revised for different skill levels; and so on.
Include any presentations you’ve made at professional development conferences, faculty meetings and board of education meetings as well.
Side note: As ingrained as it may be, please resist the urge to use education jargon such as “differentiated instruction,” “backwards design” and “multiple intelligences” in your resume; these terms will mean nothing to the resume reader. Plus, you’re no longer looking for a teaching job!
2. strong interpersonal skills
Again, even though it’s a no-brainer for those of us who’ve taught, you’ll need to show how experienced you are at working with all kinds of people in a complex organization.
Great examples of this: co-teaching; team-teaching; working with in-class support teachers, paraprofessionals and guidance counselors; and collaborating with teachers in your department and in other departments. Any projects that came out of this work will help strengthen your case.
You should also demonstrate how you’ve handled difficult people and situations with professionalism, tact and integrity. Go into interviews prepared with at least two anecdotes to illustrate how you defused a potentially chaotic classroom environment or changed a relationship with a student or parent for the better. You could also emphasize your experience with working in varied environments, such as middle school and high school; suburban and urban districts; teaching special education and Advanced Placement classes; or all of the above.
3. demonstrated ability to work independently
Whether it’s designing a course, a unit or even a 40-minute class, effective classroom planning demands time and discipline. So does giving students feedback, especially when you have more than 100 students, as middle school and high school teachers often do. Some teachers are so industrious, they get all their planning and grading done at school. Other teachers devote nights and weekends to schoolwork after putting in at least eight hours during the day. In most cases, there’s no one who can do the work for you, or even share responsibility for it.
So how do you demonstrate this accountability to employers? My advice is to quantify what you’ve done wherever possible — from your student load, class size, course load and even how much grading you do. On my resume, I wrote that I graded about 1,000 essays a year. Take that, lazy teacher stereotype!
4. demonstrated problem solving skills/ability to learn new things quickly
Unfortunately, the lazy teacher stereotype is hard to shake. One persistent belief is that teachers use the same tired lessons every year, or just make students do worksheets from a textbook.
The many good teachers I know always try to do better. They change lessons that didn’t work, revise their curriculum or seek professional development opportunities in the summer, and even adjust their plans in real-time as they “read” what’s going on in the classroom.
In interviews, be prepared to explain how you solved problems, faced new challenges and handled unexpected circumstances. Use your best learning experiences from teaching to demonstrate how well you can handle all the responsibilities of the position you want, and adapt smoothly to a new career and work environment.
5. demonstrated ability to work under pressure/in a fast paced, deadline-driven environment
Again, it’s helpful to quantify here to demonstrate the many competing tasks you were able to deliver on deadline.
How many different lessons did you prepare each day?
How often did you submit lesson plans?
How often did you submit progress reports and grades?
What other forms of feedback did you provide and how often?
Once you’ve gathered this information, and gotten lots of practice with sharing it, you’ll start to understand — and project — how well teaching has prepared you for your next job.
A Kaleidoscope of Career Alternatives for Teachers (Cleveland State University)
Transferable Skills Checklist (University of Toledo)