How Teaching Prepares You to Succeed in Business

If you’re a teacher, you might be thinking, Business person? Who, me?

All I’ve ever known is teaching, and I’m not sure if I can do anything else.

In my last post, I wrote about how common this self-doubt is among those who’ve taught.

It shouldn’t be this way. If you’re like most teachers, you’ve got plenty of credentials: hours of professional development credits, a master’s degree (or one that’s in progress), plus a certification or two. And you’ve got a host of specialized skills, like knowing how to keep 25 kids from jumping out the window on an early dismissal day.

Say it with me:

Those who teach can do.

That’s right: if you can teach, you can succeed outside teaching.

In fact, teaching requires many of the same skills every business needs.

Just ask Chris Cooper. He started his own copywriting service after eight years of teaching high school English. As he built his business, Chris realized he wasn’t starting from scratch. Years in the classroom had already taught him how to market himself, land clients, and deliver high-quality work.

Chris Cooper, entrepreneur and former English teacher

Here are just a few of the business skills teachers have, according to Chris:

Strong focus on objectives

Every good teaching lesson has an objective, a focus that drives every activity and discussion. It’s like a road map for the day. As a teacher, I had a love/hate relationship with objectives. Sometimes I wanted to embrace the tangents that come with learning. In a business setting though, there’s little room for tangents when time is money, so personal and client objectives drive everything I do.

The first question I ask every time I sit down with a client is about their objective. How can you do a good job for them if you don’t know what they want? What are they trying to do and whom are they trying to reach?

Whether you’re starting your own business or working for someone else, you can use objectives in the same way you used them in a classroom — to drive activities and discussions.

Objectives are nothing more than goals. What needs to be accomplished? How will you get there and how will you know you succeeded? You might be setting a financial objective, a project objective, or a new career objective. No matter what your next path is, you’ll need to know where you’re going today, next year, and five years from now.

Make your objectives clear and measurable with deadlines and you’re on the right track.

Ability to make every minute count

High school kids don’t like to have their time wasted. They’ll tolerate it because that’s about all they can do, but they want something they can use, something valuable to them. Once I noticed them watching the clock, I knew the value of my lesson was gone.

Customers and clients are no different. But unlike those kids in those seats, they do have a choice. And they’ll walk if you don’t immediately show them the value you can provide.

The worst thing we can do as business owners or employees is let money walk out the door. Value comes from solving other people’s problems. It’s a combination of identifying needs, providing solutions, and giving a little more than is expected. You can sell shoes in department store or sell copywriting services like me, but the bottom line is that you should always give people more than they expect.

Sales, marketing, blogging, copywriting, high school English. Doesn’t matter. Your audience is asking for the same thing. Value.

Ability to scaffold and simplify complicated ideas

I’m often called upon as a copywriter because people can’t get out of their bubble. They throw around acronyms. They speak industry jargon and lingo. It sounds like a foreign language to everyone else. And it turns people off. You can’t engage people if they feel like outsiders.

Teachers call it scaffolding — breaking complex ideas into easily digestible steps that build upon one another (you know, like a scaffold).

If you’re selling something, it’s called a sales funnel. You start with a group of people who may be interested in your product or service and you take a series of actions to move them down the funnel toward buying. In marketing, you might start people off with a welcoming email, then set an autoresponder to update them about new products or sales every few days or weeks.

Simple or easy isn’t to be mistaken for dumb. I’m not talking about dumbing anything down. I’m talking about making whatever you’re selling relatable to everyone.

In business, just like scaffolding a complex lesson, you want to constantly move people forward by making the big picture digestible. One. Bite. At. A. Time.

Looking for more skills to add to your post-teaching resume, or inspiration to jumpstart a business of your own? Check out Chris’s original post: Nine Business Lessons I Learned from Being a Teacher.

If you’re a teacher-turned-entrepreneur like Chris — or a teacher/entrepreneur — how has having classroom experience helped you?


Why You Should Quit Teaching and Work for Yourself (Real Good Writing)

Five Skills Teachers Have That Employers Want (this blog)


13 thoughts on “How Teaching Prepares You to Succeed in Business

  1. Thanks for this great posting. It’s actually extremely coincidental that you wrote this because I’m going to be resigning at the end of this academic year after teaching a little over five years. When I mentioned this to my department chair, the very first response I received was, “Well, what are you going to do???” That question to me represents an all too common self-doubt that teachers create for themselves upon considering other fields. It’s almost as if they don’t believe in themselves to do anything else. I’m more convinced than ever that my calling is elsewhere. Thanks again, and keep up the great advice.

    • Hi George,
      I’m glad this post resonated with you, and glad you did not let your department chair’s attitude affect you negatively.

      Your conviction to change careers and confidence in your abilities are great assets that will only bring you closer to Life After Teaching.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, and best of luck to you!

  2. Good post.

    If you read Chris’s blog there’s a very poignant paragraph about trying to hide or downplay his teaching work history. I too tried to downplay my teaching gigs by putting them in the smallest corners of my resume and writing Staff or Instructor instead of Chemistry Teacher. When networking, I tried to avoid talking about it. We know why we do this – if you’ve watched Breaking Bad there’s a scene where Walter is at a party full of wealthy friends and he hesitates to tell them that he’s a high school chemistry teacher and not an industry research chemist.

    Just tell people you are or were a teacher. You will be surprised how many people warm up to you (and make sure you have a funny teacher story to tell if they ask). This is also a great method for immediately gauging whether or not someone, or group of someones, is worth your time. Don’t hesitate to break contact with someone who puts you in the “can’t” category, – chances are you would have had a terrible time working with that person.

    One final tip regarding pay. Use to get an idea for your particular job field, but if you’re still unsure, figure out what your hourly rate of pay is/was as a teacher and negotiate off of that. Look at the teacher contract calendar your district puts out and find the number of days you’re contracted to work. Divide your base salary by the number of contracted days, then divide again by 8 (assume an 8 hour work day as a teacher, haha). That is your hourly rate, and don’t accept anything less than it.

    • Hi TK,
      Thanks once again for your excellent advice. I also related to Chris’s initial doubts about the value of having teaching experience, and agree that we should own it rather than avoid it.

      And yes, employers who belittle teaching experience are very likely ones to be avoided. At the same time, there are many who recognize that teaching is a noble profession, but know very little about the specific pressures and responsibilities of the job. That’s why teachers still need to know how to present what we do in a clear and relatable way.

      Salary is another area where we teachers can undervalue ourselves. We’re used to getting paid less than people in other professions, and we’ve never had to negotiate our individual pay. Glassdoor is a great resource to help overcome this hurdle, as is your formula for hourly pay.

      Thanks again for sharing what you’ve learned. By the way, my last post was about your previous comment, in case you haven’t seen it!

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