Twelve Skills That Will Help You Find Life After Teaching

Please help me welcome Ken Ronkowitz, an unretired educator, poet, and prolific blogger who taught middle and high school English in New Jersey* for 25 years before starting a second career in higher education.

In today’s guest post, Ken shares why he left k-12 education, how he found a “parachute” to life after teaching — and the 12 skills that will help you make your own jump.

Strap in and enjoy! 🙂

*Fun (or perhaps not-so-fun) fact: Chris Christie was one of his students.


Jeff Selingo was an editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education, but left to become a book author and columnist, still focusing on colleges. His new book is titled There Is Life After College. The title is not a question — Is there life after college? — but a clear statement that there is an afterlife. That’s the way I view my lifetime of teaching. There is an afterlife.

I don’t hate teaching. But I left teaching. I had been teaching middle and high school for 25 years. I still enjoyed it — most days. I wasn’t “burned out.” I told my wife, also a teacher, that I felt like some days I was going to school in the morning, but some days it felt more like going to work.

Twenty-five is a magic number for teachers in New Jersey because it means you are entitled to your full pension. (A benefit that is no longer there for new teachers, thanks to one of my former students, Governor Chris Christie.) I decided that I was going to leave as sitcom show stars I admired like Mary Tyler Moore and Jerry Seinfeld had — while the ratings and reviews were still good.

Red, yellow and blue parachute against cloudy sky (5278205683)

I had no real plan for what would come next. One of my colleagues was incredulous. “No one leaves without knowing what comes next,” he said.

“It’s kind of like jumping out of an airplane,” I replied. “Pretty exhilarating at first. I just have to hope I have a good parachute.”

My parachute was that a) I could collect my pension if need be (early and with a penalty, but in an emergency, an option) b) my wife was going to continue to teach and was okay with me taking some time to find something else. And, most importantly, c) I knew I had marketable skills.

Though I wasn’t a math or science teacher with STEM skills that could work for me, I was a very good English teacher. I am a good writer and communicator who had also gotten a master’s degree in film and video, and had picked up a good amount of computer and technology skills along the way.

One key moment in believing in my skill set had occurred a few years earlier when I first considered leaving teaching. A close friend worked for AT&T and said that if I was interested in applying there, I should look at their skills list that was used to sort résumés. The list contained a good number of skills I’d never seen before, including something called “platform skills.”

Platform skills, I discovered, is the name for presentation behaviors that a trainer uses to transmit content effectively. They are a blend of skills you need to do training and make effective presentations.

“You have no problem getting up in front of a group on a platform and talking. Most of us are not comfortable with that,” my friend told me.

He is correct. Many surveys show that speaking in front of a group is the number-one fear of most people. As Jerry Seinfeld liked to point out, fear of death is number two.

Platform skills are more than just being able to get up in front of a group to speak.

How many of these dozen skill questions can you answer with “yes”?

1. Can you be in front of a group of 5, 50, or 500 and be calm and professional?

2. Can you clearly communicate the session’s topic, goal, and relevance to the participants at the beginning of the session?

3. Can you use humor, analogies, examples, metaphors, stories, and delivery methods other than lecture or PowerPoint to engage an audience?

4. Can you facilitate large- and small-group discussions?

5. Can you give constructive oral and written feedback?

6. Can you plan and deliver presentations that convey complex information in a clear, accessible way?

7. Can you use an appropriate variety of audiovisual technologies to present information?

8. Can you establish and implement grading evaluation criteria?

9. Can you respond to audience and supervisor feedback in a timely fashion?

10. Can you work independently without supervision?

11. Can you write documents tailored for specific audiences?

12. Can you set and meet weekly, monthly, and yearly goals?

Every good teacher I know has those skills. Sure, some of us have more of some skills and less of others, but we’re not missing any of them. Those twelve platform skills are a very good starting place for building a résumé and preparing for an interview.

Moving from teaching to training is no great leap. It is a fairly natural one. I know several teachers who went that direction or became involved in jobs related to education, like academic publishing. But those skills also work for human resources and other business applications.

When I left teaching, I decided to take the summer off and not really look seriously for a job until the fall. I spent the summer working on a new résumé and sifting through the boxes of plans and lessons that I had taken from my classroom “just in case I needed them one day.”

That August, I saw an ad for a position as a director of instructional technology at a nearby university. After I did some searching on what that actually meant, I realized that I had some experience with all the requirements, though no experience in higher education. I applied, interviewed, and was in my new job before the summer was even over.

I have worked for that university, NJIT, in different capacities ever since. Twenty-five years teaching in a public school system had prepared me well for ever-changing priorities, new programs and having to learn new skills while I was using them in my job.

Besides supervising staff and student workers, I helped design courses, ran faculty training in both tech tools and pedagogy, chaired committees, and even started teaching a few classes a year.

I also picked up new skills in web design, coding, audio and video production, social media, and grant writing. I was offered a job managing a large grant at another college and took it for five years. I started my own consulting LLC in order to do training for other colleges, and took on web and social media clients.

This year, I think of myself as semi-retired (or, as my wife describes it, “someone with poor retirement skills”). I’m no longer looking for any full-time gig. I have my pension and benefits and a new 401(k) from my higher ed years, and new projects keep finding me. They keep me busy and add some income, but I turn down as many offers as I accept.

I still teach a course or two each year. Often, those courses are graduate courses that are online, but I still get energized getting in front of a class or group face-to-face. That’s why it saddens me to read reports that a strong majority of teachers surveyed about the profession say they are “unlikely” or “very unlikely” to encourage graduates to become teachers. That means they are in a job that they wouldn’t even recommend to others.

If it’s the case that you aren’t as passionate, idealistic or excited about teaching as you once were, I think you should change professions. Of course, I would say the same thing if you worked as an accountant, landscaper or pharmacist.

I had a former student who had worked for three years on Wall Street visit me. He said he had loved my class, loved literature and writing, and was not happy in his work. “Is a love of literature and writing a good enough reason to become an English teacher?” he asked me.

Well, I love those things too, but I had to tell him no, that’s not enough to be a teacher.  Teaching is, for better and worse, a lot more than just a love and knowledge of subject matter. Though knowledge and passion for a subject matters more and more as you move up the grades and into high school and beyond, all levels of teaching require so many other skills, and much of your time will be spent doing things other than actually teaching your subject.

Maybe to a ninth-grade teacher, college seems like an easier gig. Only a few classes per day. Self-motivated learners. High-powered content. But that’s as much of a misconception as the idea that a high school teacher is done with work at 2:30 pm, has lots of vacations and summers off, and can teach the same lessons a few times a day for only 45 minutes. Teaching isn’t easy at any level or in any subject.

Whether you want to stay in education or try something completely different, if teaching is making you miserable, give notice as soon as possible. You can leave. You should leave. And there are other jobs that you are qualified to do. Prepare your parachute and jump.

Related

Five Skills Teachers Have That Employers Want

Instagram It: How To Tailor Your Career Change Resume in Three Steps

Ten Action Verbs That Will Make Your Post-Teaching Resume Pop 

What It Takes to Find Life After Teaching: Advice from a Former Science Teacher

Life After Teaching Interview: Meg Olsen, Social Justice Advocate

Life After Teaching Interview: Marie Ardito, Retiree Advocate

Life After Teaching, Part Six: Five Things I Learned in Year Two

As I got dressed for work one recent morning, my husband glanced at me. “That’s a teacher outfit,” he said. I was skeptical at first: The black cardigan and blue silk dress was an ensemble I’d worn many times to school, but what was so special about it? When I looked in the mirror, though, my clothes did read “English teacher” somehow.

the outfit that gave me away...

The outfit that gave me away

Two years out of the classroom, my closet is still full of “teacher outfits”: sensible sweaters, knee-length skirts and flats. As another school year has ended, I’ve wondered: how much does the teacher in me still show — and how much of the “old me” has been boxed up for good?

Here’s what I’ve discovered in my second year after teaching:

1. I miss being around kids.

There were many days when my students’ teenage attitudes and behavior — and my responsibility for their actions — wore me down. When I started my office job, I rejoiced in my newly calm, predictable work environment. In the past few months, though, I’ve been missing interacting with young people. At their best, teenagers are sweet, silly and spontaneous in a way that puts water cooler conversation to shame.

2. I miss being a mentor.

I also miss the exciting exchange of ideas that could happen in a stellar class, and the satisfaction of helping a student. It’s why I applied to be a mentor for my local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters last fall. Since March, I’ve been meeting with my Little Sister twice a month. Anna is 12 years old and loves to climb, run and play basketball. I enjoy talking with her about what’s going on at school, helping her with her homework and encouraging her to be assertive and considerate of others.

3. My memories of teaching are fading, for better and for worse.

I remember being up all night thinking about some disaster at school — like a failed lesson or uncomfortable conversation — and how I should have handled it differently. Now I’ve forgotten most of the names of the students involved and many of the details of what made me so upset.

Not surprisingly, I’ve also been getting much fewer school anxiety dreams. I still got them regularly last year, but now they pop up once every few months.

On the other hand, I’ve also forgotten a lot of what and how I taught. When a co-teacher I’d worked with told me she still uses the modified essay assignment we’d created for our ninth graders, I didn’t remember it at all. Worse still, I’m forgetting key lines, names and other important parts of stories I used to teach three times a day. I can still recite the Prologue from Romeo and Juliet, but even that may be gone soon, too.

4. I still think of lesson ideas and how I could’ve been a better teacher overall…

This New York Times story about an English teacher who used rapper Kendrick Lamar’s music to help his students appreciate The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison made me feel all tingly inside — and wish for another chance to do Morrison’s Song of Solomon or Kindred by Octavia Butler justice.

I also continue to think about what I could’ve done to reach more students and make teaching more enjoyable. This post I wrote about work-life balance, for instance, helped me understand how cultivating positive relationships with more students — and bringing more of my personal interests to the classroom — would’ve helped relieve the stress I felt.

5. …But I’m glad that grading is gone from my life.

Despite what I’ve lost by quitting teaching, I continue to be grateful that take-home work is no longer part of my job. Last summer, I wrote about the joy of having no more papers to grade, ever. This summer, I still love the lightness of my work bag: just my phone, keys, wallet, food, and a book to read during my lunch break. This, to me, is one of the main reasons why leaving teaching is still worth it.

Next time, I’ll talk more about how my life after teaching has developed — and how I’m still figuring it out.

Related

Life After Teaching, Part Seven: Five (More) Things I Learned in Year Two

Life After Teaching, Part Five: Why I Don’t Need Summers Off Anymore

Life After Teaching, Part Four: Five Little Things I Look Forward to at My Desk Job

Life After Teaching, Part Three: Yup, I Joined the Club.

Life After Teaching, Part Two: Four Reasons Why I Miss Teaching

Life After Teaching, Part One: Four Reasons Why I’m Better Off

Why I’m Returning to the Classroom After Leaving for One Year: A Reader Reflects

Though many of my posts have been about the rewards of leaving teaching, I’m interested in multiple perspectives on this career shift. It’s why I asked Rose, the former teacher behind my most popular post, to share how she’s better off after leaving education and what she misses about it. And it’s why I’m sharing this follow-up post from another former teacher, Melanie.

The first part of Melanie’s story goes likes this: after teaching fifth grade at a high-needs school in Florida for seven years, and considering a store manager position at CVS, she was thrilled to finally land an office job.

One year later, however, she’s decided to head back to the classroom. Here’s the latest on Melanie’s story, in her own words.


I left the classroom last year after years of feeling like I wasn’t good enough, years of never being able to please the parents and countless hours of grading papers that my students didn’t even care about. I was so fed up with the way things were going in education that I couldn’t take it anymore — or so I thought.

After one year of sitting in a cubicle, I realize how much I miss being a teacher. The things I miss the most are:

The students

When I had a rough morning as a teacher, it lasted only until my students entered the classroom. Then it wasn’t about me or my rough morning anymore — it was about them. They made me forget my worries by demanding 100% of my energy. I would laugh, cry and yell, all in one day — but that day flew by because my students wouldn’t let it drag. Here in my cube, though, I’m left with my own thoughts. As I work on my tasks, my day doesn’t change much. I never thought I would miss the emotional roller coaster of teaching, but I do.

Sharing

Even though I enjoy the work I’m doing, I don’t work on a team. So there’s no one for me to teach what I’ve learned. It makes me miss my professional learning community. I even tried to start one up at my new job, but it didn’t stick. I miss working with my colleagues on special projects, including the process of reflecting and then revising. I miss finding a great lesson plan and running over to my coworkers’ classrooms to show them. I miss being part of a unit with a common purpose.

The time off

This past Christmas, I didn’t have time to cook and decorate beforehand, and I didn’t have time to take the decorations down afterward. I barely had time to finish my Christmas shopping because I had to work on Christmas Eve. Then I was back at work the day after Christmas. Sure, I have vacation time now — four full weeks of it. But it isn’t what I had as a teacher. I have no Spring Break, and no reason to look forward to summer. Right now, all my close friends are making summer plans and getting excited. I wish I could join them.

What have I learned overall? The grass is NOT greener.

In fact, I think it’s made of plastic. I may not have parent conferences or administrators berating me, but I don’t have a purpose, either. In the classroom, at least I knew I was giving my all to contribute to society. At least I knew that even if the kids didn’t show it, deep down, they did care and were impacted by me.

The industry I work in now is changing people’s job descriptions and telling them they no longer fit the description so they have to leave the job. I’m learning that is a common thing outside of the public school system. I will take new standards and evaluations over that any day. At least then I can feel a real sense of accomplishment and improvement.

I realize now that I didn’t need a career change. What I really needed was to change schools. My administration was bringing me down and I let them get the best of me. Before making this major shift, I should have tried a smaller one first. At least I had one year of making decent money — but I’ve learned that my well-being and sense of purpose in life is much more important to me.

Next fall, I’ll be back in the classroom greeting a new set of students. I can’t wait to meet them.


If you’ve gone back to teaching after trying another career, what was behind your decision? Can you relate to Melanie’s story?

Related

Life After Teaching, Part Two: Four Reasons Why I Miss Teaching

Teacher Who Left: Why I Am Returning to School (The Answer Sheet)

“So Why Are You Leaving Teaching?”: How to Answer the Question You’ll Get Asked at Every Post-Teaching Interview

After all your hard work to tailor your resume, proofread it carefully and apply to jobs, you finally land your first post-teaching interview. But how should you prepare?

While you can dust off the suit you wore to teaching interviews, you’ll need to draft fresh responses to popular interview questions like “Tell me about yourself” and “Walk me through your resume.”

You should also be ready for a new question: “So why are you leaving teaching?”

I always hoped I wouldn’t get asked this question, but soon accepted it as inevitable. Of course employers want to know why you want to change careers.  It’s their way of asking:

– Are you genuinely interested in the job, or applying on a whim?

– If hired, will you commit to the job, or might you quit to go back to teaching?

– Do you have any personal issues that make you difficult to work with?

– Will you be a reliable, no-hassle employee?

Stay focused on addressing these issues and you’ll be on the right track.

Here are some more tips on how to navigate the “Why Quit?” question (WQQ):

Don’t

Complain about your current job or badmouth anyone you work with.

It doesn’t matter if your principal and department chair are making your life miserable — criticizing them will only make you sound unprofessional. You should also avoid complaining about colleagues and students. Don’t give the interviewer a chance to wonder if you’re the real problem.

Talk about how much you hate teaching in general, even if you do.

An interview is also not the time to rant about standardized testing, how many papers you have to grade, or talk about how a boring office job is just what you need. Doing so could play into the dreaded “lazy teacher” stereotype — and make you sound self-absorbed. Instead, focus on what you can offer the employer.

Treat the interviewer as a friend or confidant.

There’s no need to confess your doubts about leaving teaching or worries about liking the new job, even if your interviewer is friendly and nice. Most importantly,  don’t undermine yourself with statements like, “I know I don’t have the right experience, but…” or, “I know I probably won’t get this job, but…” Keeping your insecurities from slipping might seem like a challenge, but remember: your role is to help the interviewer see you in the job — not eliminate you from the competition!

Do

Use the question as an opportunity to highlight your strengths.

While you shouldn’t criticize teaching outright, it is possible to be honest and strategic in explaining your wish to move on. For instance, I said I was ready for a new challenge after 7 years of teaching (my first and only job out of college), and that I wanted better opportunities for career advancement. I felt these responses showed my desire to learn new things and set ambitious goals — qualities every employer wants.

Talk about how teaching has prepared you for the job.

You can also use the WQQ as an opportunity to show off your skills from teaching and explain how useful they’d be to the new position. An anecdote about how you managed a difficult parent, student or class, for example, can show how well you can collaborate with and influence others. Check out my post on transferable skills from teaching — and related posts about action verbs and business skills — for more ways to impress your interviewer with your education experience.

Tailor your answer to the job.

Just as you tailored your resume to different jobs, so should you tweak your answer to the WQQ for each interview. When I interviewed for writing and editorial jobs, for example, I talked about how much I’d enjoyed working on my college newspaper, and how that experience made me miss working on team projects for publication. And when I interviewed for jobs in educational publishing, I also made sure to talk about my desire to help students and teachers.

In short:

– Don’t be afraid of the “Why Quit?” question — be prepared for it!

– Show you are enthusiastic about the job and willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.


Former teachers, how did you tackle the WQQ in interviews? Please share your tips in the comments.

Related

How to Explain a Career Change in an Interview (Houston Chronicle)

How to Explain Your Winding Career Path to a Hiring Manager (The Muse)

Tell Your Whole Story in an Interview (Harvard Business Review)

Stupid Mistakes I’ve Made on My Resume and the Best Way You Can Avoid Them

Being a former English teacher and current full-time writer doesn’t make me immune from silly mistakes in my writing — it just makes them more embarrassing. I learned this lesson after finding several errors in my post-teaching resume, ones that you should look out for as you work on your own:

Inconsistent Formatting

After emailing my resume to someone I had met for an informational interview, she pointed out that the bullets in one section began with lowercase letters, while those in other sections started with uppercase letters.

This might not seem like a big deal, but when I looked at the document again, I saw how unprofessional it looked. I knew the mistake happened because I had focused my efforts on one section and in doing so, missed the big picture: How does my resume look as a whole

Your resume should reflect your thoroughness, attention to detail, and ability to communicate in a professional way — even if you’re not applying to a writing-related job. So make sure it avoids these common formatting issues:

Capitalization

  • Are bullet points consistently upper case or lower case?

Commas

Periods

  • Are you using periods at the ends of bullet points or not?

Font

  • Is your use of font size and style consistent? For instance, are all of your job titles bolded if you want them to be?

Spacing

  • Is everything spaced evenly? Are the items you want centered actually centered? Are the margins too wide or too narrow?

Dropped Words

Dropped words are also easy to miss in your resume. Even when we reread what we’ve written multiple times, we often gloss over missing words, especially small ones like “to,” “from,”  and “that.” 

This happens because we’re reading our own writing, and because we tend to scan and skim when reading on screens. Thankfully, my husband caught several dropped words in my resume when he looked at it.

Deleting Lines or Even Entire Sections by Mistake

My most embarrassing resume mistake has been dropping the entire Education section not once, but twice. This serious yet totally avoidable omission was brought to my attention by two readers of two different versions of my resume.

Both times I had been working on adding more detail to the Experience section — and failed to notice that expanding this cell had lopped off the Education cell under it (Word formatting drives me crazy!).

Luckily, the people who noticed this mistake were helping me improve my resume, not evaluating me for a job. Now I make sure that I’ve got all sections — especially the Education section — in place before submitting my resume for an application or sharing it with a professional contact.

So, did you notice my “trick” for avoiding these blunders in your own resume?

(I’ve already mentioned it three times in this post.)

Here it is, in terms that should be familiar to most teachers:

PEER EDITING.

Yes, peer editing — exactly what students learn to do as part of the writing process.

You might be thinking — as I did sometimes — I can do this on my own, or I don’t want to bother anyone, or Do I have to? [in whiny student voice]

The answer is YES. Peer editing is essential to making sure your resume looks its best and doesn’t get thrown onto the “reject” pile for silly mistakes. You’ll be astounded by how many formatting inconsistencies, dropped words or lines (hopefully not sections, like mine), and other errors you can find when someone takes a fresh look at your resume. 

As I’ve said before, finding life after teaching requires putting what we teach into practice.

So we’ve got to be willing to get help with our writing, just as we ask students to do.

Trust me. You won’t regret.


BONUS TIPS — straight from my English teacher toolbox

  • Print out your resume and break out the red pen. Even better, give the hard copy of your resume and red pen to your peer reader.
  • Read your resume out loud. Besides helping you catch errors, this exercise will help you and your peer reader improve the flow, word choice, and clarity of your writing. 

Related

Ten Action Verbs That Will Make Your Post-Teaching Resume Pop

Instagram It: Tailor Your Career Change Resume in Three Steps

Five Skills Teachers Have That Employers Want

Six Things That Will Get Your Resume Thrown in the Garbage by Hiring Managers (Forbes)

Resumes Suck. Here’s the Data. (Aline Lerner)

Lessons from a Year’s Worth of Hiring Data (Aline Lerner)

Instagram It: How to Tailor Your Career Change Resume in Three Steps

Have you heard students talking about the latest updates to their Instagram accounts?

Do you enjoy posting photos to your own Instagram, or follow friends who do?

Whether you love it, hate it, or have never heard of it, you can take a cue from the photography app as you craft your post-teaching resume.

Let me explain:

On Instagram, you crop, add a filter and shift focus before sharing your picture with the world. You can take the same three steps to edit your post-teaching resume.

1. Crop: Cut the parts of your old resume that don’t serve the big picture.

Get rid of details that are no longer relevant to the jobs you want. This involves shortening bullet points, scrapping whole lines and even entire sections of your teaching resume that don’t translate to your target career.

"Crop" your teaching resume to focus on your new goals.

“Crop” your teaching resume to focus on your new goals.

What will hiring managers care about? What won’t matter to them?

Let these questions guide your “delete” button.

For instance, I cut the education and literature courses I had listed as “Relevant Coursework” under the “Education” section of my teaching resume. Except for the time I applied to an academic textbook publisher,  I knew the fact that I’d taken “Methods of Teaching Secondary English” and “Shakespeare: Tragedies and Romances” would no longer interest employers.

I also pared down the descriptions of my two teaching jobs from 8-10 lines each, to 5-7 lines each. This doesn’t mean your descriptions have to be 5-7 lines long, especially if you’ve only had one teaching job. But you should think about how to make your explanation concise and clear to someone who’s never worked in education.

2. Add a filter: help employers see your experience in the right light.

As I’ve said before, teaching has prepared you well for success outside the classroom. But employers need guidance to understand and appreciate the value that you bring.

This step is like choosing the Instagram filter that best suits the image you want to project.

bearoriginalandfilter

Let your teaching experience shine in the right light.

So, instead of using education-speak like “backwards design,” or “Common Core Content Standards,” explain how you focused on objectives and delivered results.

And rather than saying you differentiated instruction, show how you adapted your work for different audiences, or met the needs of various stakeholders.

3. Shift focus: sharpen the details that matter and bring them to the front.

One of the coolest features on Instagram is the tilt/shift button. Basically, it makes parts of your picture blurry while bringing others into focus. I like how it can make an unremarkable photo I’ve taken look compelling and even mysterious.

bearwithts

Not a very artistic example of tilt shift, but those sprinkles do look pretty crunchy.

Applying tilt/shift to your post-teaching resume means a) changing the order of your resume so what’s most relevant stands out, and b) adding specific details to illustrate your qualifications.

So if you’re involved in any projects or volunteer work (including school activities) that demonstrate your interest in your target career, make sure to highlight them. For me, that meant listing my experience as a freelance writer first — before either of my teaching jobs.

And if a job description asks for experience with “juggling multiple projects on tight deadlines,” prove how you’ve done it:

Delivered daily lesson plans, weekly homework grades, monthly progress reports and quarterly grades

Here, specific timeframes (daily, weekly, monthly) help create a vivid picture of the projects you handled simultaneously. As I said in my post on transferable skills from teaching, quantifying your accomplishments is an effective way to apply “show, don’t tell” to your resume.

When it’s done, your edited resume should convince employers that you look exactly like who they want. It should also make you think, “Hey! I look pretty good in that!” — even if you could only see yourself as a teacher before.


If you’ve landed a job after teaching, how did you you crop, filter or shift your teaching resume?

Related

Five Skills Teachers Have That Employers Want

Ten Action Verbs That Will Make Your Post-Teaching Resume Pop

How to Add Experience to Your Resume (Without Adding a Page) (The Muse)

Spring Clean Your Resume (The Muse)

Twenty Things You Should Leave Off Your Resume and LinkedIn Profile (Inc.)

Strategic Portrayal of Transferable Job Skills Is a Vital Technique (Quint Careers)

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?

Related

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

Five Skills Teachers Have That Employers Want (this blog)

What It Takes to Find Life After Teaching: Advice from a Former Science Teacher

As teachers, we’ve encouraged students to follow their passions, aim high and believe in themselves — but do we believe this advice applies to us, too?

Former science teacher TK did.  His interest in educational technology developed into a passion for programming — which led to his current work as an app developer.

Here’s his story (originally a comment on my post, How I Got My Post-Teaching Job: By the Numbers):

I taught 6 years of 8th grade science and 2 years of high school chemistry. Now I’m an iPhone app developer (iOS software engineer) for an amazing retail brand.

Here’s what I did:

As a teacher I was fascinated with finding ways to leverage technology in the classroom – IR clickers, web based software, smart boards, iPads, netbooks – I used a lot of tech over eight years. But I found the district level enterprise software for grading and attendance to be extremely lacking.

So to tackle those problems I decided to make my own grading and attendance app on my favorite device, my iPhone. It’s still on the Apple app store today.

I did a lot of things to learn how to make iPhone apps, from computer science 101 online courses to reading programming books to going to MeetUps about programming.

But by far the most valuable experiences came from just making apps on my own with little to no cookbook recipes to follow. Identify a problem then start hacking a solution. I enjoyed the experience so much I decided to change careers.

Throughout my last school year I participated in hackathons, met professionals in the industry, told them my story, showed them what I’d made, and asked them how to become a professional software developer. I was told to just start applying.

So during standardized testing season, with about a month of school left, I updated my LinkedIn profile and started looking for jobs.

Getting a software developer job made me feel like I was auditioning as a musician or artist. What really matters is your ability to produce good code, not what degrees you have or even what kind of experience you might list. You need to have a publicly available portfolio of work to point to. Any company worth working for is going to tell you to write a piece of audition software for them to evaluate. This audition piece is the most important part of the interview.

I did 4-5 technical “phase one” interviews on the phone.

As soon as school let out, I did 2 audition apps for two very different companies, both of which resulted in on site interviews. I was offered both positions. All of this happened in the space of about 2.5 weeks. I resigned my teaching position and started my new job before the new school year began.

The most agonizing part was having to choose between the two offers because I like both companies, the people, and the cities they are in.

Now all of this may sound straightforward and “easy” – it was not. Learning to program is hard – but if you love coding, like I do, those long hours solving problems won’t feel long at all.

To sum up:

If you’re a teacher and you want to change careers, simply not liking teaching anymore is not enough. I know how you feel, I’ve been there. Find something you’re passionate about and go after it with all your heart the same way you did with teaching (you were that kind of teacher, weren’t you?). What will get you through is passion for what you want to do. Sounds like the kind of thing you should be telling your students. [The] [b]est lead by example.

I think TK’s advice is spot on. To find Life After Teaching, we need to follow our own lessons from the classroom. This includes developing and practicing curiosity, imagination, patience, persistence, initiative, openness to new ideas and belief in our own potential.

That’s what makes TK’s career change story so compelling — he excelled at all the skills we want our students to have.  As he says, that might seem easy in theory, but it is hard work to practice what we teach.

I hear from many readers who say, “I don’t know what I would do besides teaching,” or “I’m afraid the only thing I can do is teach.” I was guilty of that negative thinking myself when I was considering leaving teaching.

It makes me wonder: Is there something about teaching that makes so many doubt their own potential to succeed beyond the classroom? Or is it a more general fear of starting over? What would it take for more people to go after the Life After Teaching they want?

Life After Teaching Interview: Meg Olson, Social Justice Advocate

Leaving teaching doesn’t mean you have to give up on helping others. In fact, most former teachers in a recent survey said they were able to make as much or more of a difference in their new careers as they did in the classroom.

Need more convincing?megolson

Meet Meg Olson.

After eight years as an English teacher in Chicago, she continues to make a positive impact as a social justice advocate in St. Louis.

Meg generously agreed to share her story with me, including how her volunteer work on urban farms — and love for singing — led her to her current job. Here’s an edited version of our conversation.

When did you leave teaching?

The 2009-2010 school year was my last year of teaching. By then, I’d been in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for five years, and then at the University of Chicago Laboratory School for three years.

What was ironic was that I’d been at a struggling school for four years, and then I moved four blocks north onto the campus of the University of Chicago, where you could still see my old school from the third floor of the Lab School.

Was the Lab School one of those dream schools?

Yeah — the high school always gets ranked in the top 10 schools that send kids to Harvard, and the year that I started teaching there, Barack Obama’s kids were in the Lower School. And I had parents who were campaign directors and campaign finance directors, so it was a really interesting year to start there.

What made you leave teaching?

Even though I had gone from a struggling school to an English department that had a secretary who made copies*, I realized I wasn’t happy teaching.

Most of the kids I really loved teaching, but the grading load was out of control. I’ll always remember when the husband of a friend asked me, “How many hours a month do you think you’re grading papers?” for his research at Penn State.

After taking note over two months, I realized I was grading 40 to 50 hours a month. I remember thinking, “I’m spending my whole life doing this and I have lots of other interests.”

Parents were another issue, and I think we all know this in elite schools. It was particularly daunting at the Lab School, where about 60 percent of the parents were professors at the University of Chicago.

I had a freshman parent who was in the University of Chicago’s English department asking me why I wasn’t teaching “trope” to ninth graders at the first open house. I just thought, “I can’t believe you’re asking me this.”

And there was such pressure for our kids to be awesome at everything. For her first paper, I had a freshman crying about a B+, about ‘How am I going to get into Yale?’

I didn’t want be a part of this system anymore that’s stressing out our children so much. It made me really sad. I also started my teacher certification the year No Child Left Behind became a policy, so I felt like the whole climate was getting worse for teachers.

*Ed. note: I’m still wrapping my brain around this.

What did you do when you left?

Honestly, it’s crazy that at 31 I decided to do this.

After I finished my master’s in English, I worked on an urban farm in Pittsburgh that offered room and board and did my job search from there.

And because my resume was all education-based, combined with the national dialogue of, “Are teachers capable of doing anything?,” I then took a position with Americorps at an urban farm in St. Louis. I knew I’d be living at the poverty level, but I had some savings.

You’re a brave person!

Well, even though this was mostly a volunteer position, I knew I’d be gaining real skills on my resume that showed I was doing policy work and event planning. I did that for a year and really enjoyed it.

And then, I realized the wage was unlivable and it made me really think about the kids at CPS that I had taught. For the first time, I understood what it meant when they said that 90 percent of the students were living below the poverty level.

But the job in St. Louis led me to the one I have now. I’d grown to really like the city. It only has about 325,000 people and the social service and advocacy community is really close-knit, so there’s a lot of opportunity. It’s also a city that’s fallen on some tough times, but there’ve been major efforts to rebuild it. It’s an exciting place to be.

What do you do now?

I work at Catholic Charities in St. Louis as a Parish and Community Outreach Manager in the Advocacy Department.

My job is to build relationships with Catholics in the pews, and educate them on how policies made at the state and federal level impact the poor and vulnerable, and the working poor. I’ll do workshops on expanding Medicaid, or on the importance of raising the minimum wage. I also train parishioners to have in-district meetings with their legislators or to even go to the capital (Jefferson City) and participate in advocacy days.

While I’m not a lobbyist, during Missouri’s legislative session I’m at the capitol building about two days a week. I try and build relationships with legislators on both sides of the aisle so that they are aware of Catholic Charities and the people we serve.

On the national level, I work a lot on immigration issues and the Farm Bill. I also organize Catholics to work on those issues as well.

In addition to my position in the Advocacy Department, I’m also the director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

In this role, I work in partnership with the office at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in D.C. to fund low-income community organizing groups and economic development projects in the poorest areas of the St. Louis region. In recent months, CCHD has been at the table up in Ferguson, supporting efforts to end racial disparities.

How did you get the job at Catholic Charities?

Well, I was a member of the church down the street from my house and I sang in the choir. Everyone there knew I was looking for a job, and everyone wanted me to stay in St. Louis. One day a woman from my church connected me to the Senior Director of Policy at Catholic Charities. He had just received a grant to hire a new staff person, and he hired me.

But I had to persuade him first. A few weeks before I applied to the job, I sat down and talked to him. I remember him saying, “How am I supposed to convince my president to hire you for this job?” Here’s pretty much what I said:

I’m a great writer and researcher; I’m not scared of speaking to large groups of people; I’ve worked with diverse populations; in fact, I’ve spent a lot of time being the only white person in the room! I’m extremely patient; I’ve learned not to expect quick answers. Students take a long time to grow and meet the goals set for them by teachers and administrators — I think this means that I can stick with an issue and advocate for it as long as it takes to pass the bill.

(This is good, because we finally overturned Missouri’s lifetime ban on food stamps for people with drug felonies after an eight-year battle — I was only there for two and a half years of it — and we’re heading into year three in the fight to expand Medicaid in Missouri!).

Congrats! That’s awesome.

Any other ways that your teaching background has helped in your job?

One thing was that I was the co-facilitator of our Model UN team at the Lab School. Working with the kids and prepping with them for conferences involved reading policy side-by-side with them, which helped me get really good at reading policy.

Another thing you need to do as a teacher is adjust your writing and speaking to different audiences. You have your colleagues, your students with different abilities, and you have the parents.

That’s something I’m very good at when I think about all the different people I have to talk to, all the way from a low-wage fast food worker, to the lead state senator in Missouri, or the people in the governor’s office.

Even though you’re no longer teaching, it sounds like you’re still really busy and working on tough problems. Has leaving teaching been worth it for you?

Absolutely. Even though my current work is draining, I don’t take a lot of it home with me and that’s the biggest difference.

My current workplace also promotes taking care of yourself and your family, and making sure you don’t get burned out. A year and a half ago, when my mom was in the hospital, there was no question about taking as much time as I needed, which doesn’t have happen in many work environments.

I also realize that I’m finally working on the root causes of poverty. Especially after working in the inner city, I realize that government needs to be a much bigger part of the success of schools and the success of school children, and not just by training teachers better, though teacher preparation does need to be addressed seriously.

As a young teacher, I didn’t know anything about poverty. I was just thinking, “Why won’t this parent return my phone calls?” Now I’m working directly with their experiences.

So if some of the root problems I’m working on are addressed at the national level or the state level, I feel like that’ll naturally make schools better, because families will be stronger, children will be stronger, and parents will hopefully have better protection on the job, so they can be more involved in their children’s education.

Related

Life After Teaching Interview: Marie Ardito, Retiree Advocate

From the Classroom to Parliament: A Former Teacher on Her New “London Life”

I’m excited to share today’s guest blog from fellow former teacher theentiretyoflife. She responded to my recent call for submissions from those who’ve found life after teaching, and I’m so glad she did.

After five years teaching primary school in southeast England, she landed a job (on her last day of teaching!) in the Education Service of the Houses of Parliament in London, where she presents workshops and develops educational materials for visiting school groups from throughout the UK.

In this post, she takes stock of her new life — its challenges, rewards and whether leaving teaching was the right move.

For her full story, please visit theentiretyoflife.


It’s been just over 3 months since I began working in London.

Before I started the job, my mind was filled with questions:

Will I like the job? Can I handle the travel? Will I miss school holidays?

Now, I love my “London life.”

That said, it does have some drawbacks compared to teaching — mainly that I have a much longer commute than I did as a teacher.

Where I once had a 10-minute drive to work, my commute is now an hour and 45 minutes each way. This means that I have to get up almost an hour earlier than I used to. So by 6:45, my usual teaching waking time, I’m out of the house and walking to the train station.

Three months in, the 5:55 am alarm — followed by a no-really-get-up-now 6:00 am one — is still painful. But I have honed the art of getting ready in half an hour once I extract myself from the covers at 6:15. Whether I am actually presentable within that half hour is another question, but I haven’t missed the train yet.

The longer commute also means I’m home much later than I used to be. This is only a problem when my friends with children need events to start at 5:00 pm, and sometimes I can’t make it until almost 7:00.

Thank goodness for Time Off In Lieu — my work’s policy of allowing employees to accrue anything over allowed hours as time off. The closest thing to TOIL in teaching is the holidays. You can, headteacher permitting, get time off, but it is a kind gesture rather than an expected norm. Plus, there’s no such thing as working hours in teaching so it’s been quite a shift in my thinking.

Although the longer hours have taken some getting used to, the new job has also offered plenty of rewards. For instance:

My commute has made me a good deal fitter than I was as a teacher. Even though I’m on my feet less compared to teaching, the brisk walks to and from the train have helped me exercise more. I can now walk for miles at a fast pace, making it from Big Ben to sitting on the train in 10 minutes if need be.

In general, my workday is much more relaxed and easier to manage.

At the beginning of the day, I get to decide what I do first. If I’ve observed a workshop, I’ll write it up so I remember what happened. If I need to ring the IT department, I ring it. I have workshops to teach, but when I’m finished with them, there’s no need to mark anything — I just return everything to its proper place and off I go.

And even though I have to be in the office until I’m allowed to go home (usually no later than 5:00), my working day stops! It doesn’t carry on into the night until it’s done like it used to. I leave unfinished work on my desk, switch off my computer and go home.

Because I don’t need to bring work home, I’ve come to enjoy my commute: the seats on the train are cosy, and I love having the time to write, read, watch TV and sleep.

Another perk of the new job is that I now have a thriving social life. Where my evenings once held a large amount of marking, and Sunday afternoons were spent planning, my evenings are now spent with friends. Although I get home substantially later, once I’m home my time is my own. Friday evenings actually begin at 4:00 pm in the pub (and usually a second outing once I get home) and previously panic-planning Sunday afternoons are now spent doing whatever I like.

I even enjoy going to work now. I love teaching workshops on topics like parliamentary procedure, voting and how to engage with politics. And I love being able to write new material that will be used with visiting schools. It’s a pleasure to still be involved with educating future generations about how politics works and affects our lives even though I’m no longer in the classroom.

I also love the eclectic mishmash of the buildings where I work and the privilege of walking through them. Since September, just during lunch, I’ve been to Westminster Abbey, St. James’s Park and explored all round Whitehall. I’ve found statues I never knew existed and pockets of garden solitude in a bustling city.

Outside of work, but because of my position, I’ve been to Buckingham Palace, the Cabinet War Rooms and Hampton Court. Every day that I explore some new corridor in the Palace feels like a gift that I can’t quite believe is mine.

The Verdict

I decided to work between Christmas and New Year’s Day, to save my holiday for this summer. I had been wondering how I would find this major departure from the long holiday breaks I was used to.

Actually, surprisingly, I haven’t minded.

Would I like to have been off work? Sure, who wouldn’t?

Do I resent my lack of holidays?

As I stood on the station platform on December 29 at 6:57 am, wearing knee-length socks, two scarves and two pairs of gloves to combat the minus-five conditions, I considered this.

I recalled the lesson planning I would have been doing. The waking up to that impending sense of planning-doom — the way it would take over a few days, and still leave me feeling unprepared.

A little part of me still wanted to be asleep in bed, but mostly I felt glad. Glad to be going back into London. Glad to be away from planning-panic and the stresses of school. I was even glad to be exercising again!

Over the last few months, I’ve met yet another group of lovely colleagues. I’ve embarked on a job I would not have entertained this time last year, and my day-to-day life is a whirlwind away from December 2013. There are challenges, don’t get me wrong…

But when, even though I’m working in what I still think of as the Christmas holidays, I turn around to see this at the end of the day —

— I have to admit, life after teaching is turning out to be pretty good.