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

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Six Teachers-Turned-Politicians You Need to Know

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: those who teach can do just about anything. That is, if you can engage a roomful of kids — and help them learn in the process — who’s to say you can’t take over the world?

Still, we could all use a reminder of the great things teachers can accomplish beyond the classroom.

Behold: six former teachers who made their name in politics. They include a prime minister, a president and a first lady who happens to be my personal hero.

1. Justin Trudeau

It’s true: the recently elected prime minister of Canada has “just” a bachelor’s in education and literature. (Hooray for English/education majors!) Trudeau taught elementary math as well as high school French, humanities and drama for three years at a private school, and also substitute taught at a public school. He’s said he became a teacher to have “a positive influence on the world,” and based on the new gig, that goal still stands. Among his first accomplishments as prime minister: selecting Canada’s first cabinet with an equal number of men and women and welcoming Syrian refugees to the country.

2. Elizabeth Warren

You might know that U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren used to be a Harvard law professor, but did you know her first job after college was teaching special needs students at a public elementary school? Warren has called teaching her “first love,” and said her time in the classroom makes her “appalled at the frequent attacks on public schoolteachers in this country.” As a senator, Warren has championed the middle class, earning the nickname “Sheriff of Wall Street” for her efforts to protect consumers from corrupt financial practices.

Warren teaching at Harvard

3. Mark Takano

Representative Mark Takano (D-California) is a former public high school teacher who taught British literature for more than 20 years (Another huzzah for English teachers!). He became Congress’s first openly gay person of color when he was elected to office in 2012. Takano serves on the House’s Education Workforce committee as well as its Veterans Affairs committee and Science, Space and Technology committee — but he’s probably most famous for his teacher humor: In 2013, Takano’s red-penned remarks on draft legislation went viral. Check out his Tumblr page for more witty political commentary.

4. Mary McLeod Bethune

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mary McLeod Bethune was an influential educator and civil rights activist. As a key figure in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet” and founding president of the National Council of Negro Women, Bethune helped advance education and employment for African Americans. But Bethune began her career as a teacher. The daughter of former slaves — and the only one of 17 children her parents could afford to send to school — knew the barriers facing African Americans acutely. Her many accomplishments include founding a school for girls from poor black families, which started with just five students but quickly expanded through Bethune’s leadership. That school eventually became what is now Bethune-Cookman University. In her last will and testament, Bethune wrote, “Knowledge is the prime need of the hour.”

Bethune with Bethune-Cookman students

5. Lyndon B. Johnson

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights ActMedicare and Medicaid were all signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson. His vision for a “Great Society” also included landmark legislation promoting education for all — most notably, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Higher Education Act, which continue to provide federal financial support for the nation’s poorest students. Johnson’s teaching experience helped inspire his devotion to progressive ideals. As he explained in a 1965 speech:

“My first job after college was as a teacher in Cotulla, Texas, in a small Mexican-American school…. My students were poor and they often came to class without breakfast, hungry…. It never even occurred to me in my fondest dreams [then] that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of those students and to help people like them all over this country…. But now I do have that chance… [and] I mean to use it.”

Lyndon Johnson, the teacher, and his students in 1928

6. Eleanor Roosevelt

eleanor-roosevelt1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Had to save my favorite for last!

I’ve collected books about “ER,” visited the national historic site devoted to her and FDR, and devoured the recent Ken Burns seven-part documentary, “The Roosevelts” (catch it on Netflix!).

I admire Eleanor for her lifelong activism on behalf of underrepresented groups, including African Americans (she considered Mary McLeod Bethune a good friend). And I love that, before serving as First Lady, ER was a teacher! For six years, ER taught history, literature and public affairs at the Todhunter School for Girls in New York City.

Eleanor Roosevelt (fourth from left) with Todhunter students

Eleanor Roosevelt (fourth from left) with Todhunter students

Eleanor was so devoted to teaching, in fact, that she kept at it throughout FDR’s two terms as governor of New York. This meant grading papers and lesson planning on the long commutes between Albany and NYC. Read more of my gushing about ER’s work as an educator here.

Know of any other inspiring teachers-turned-politicians? Please share their stories below!

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

Last time, I wrote about how teaching is still woven into who I am, two years after quitting. Like it or not, my teacher side shows in my thinking, the clothes I wear, and, it turns out, my accessories.

Since the last post, I remembered that I’d also been carrying one of my teacher bags to work. It’s a black canvas number roomy enough for several sets of papers.

Though I’ve switched to a smaller bag that better fits my essay-free life, I’m still thinking about what I’ve learned after leaving the classroom. Here are a few more items I’m adding to the list:

1. Not teaching has helped me make healthier choices, but there’s a catch.

I start most days with fruit and yogurt, instead of the sad cereal bars or bagel, egg and cheese bombs I used to eat when I had time for breakfast at school.

a much healthier way to fuel the day

a much healthier way to fuel the day

My lunch break also gives me ample time to eat a complete meal and take a long walk around the block.

The downside? On an average day, I consume a lot more calories than I used to. What’s more, my cushy office job is actually too cushy: I spend more than six hours a day sitting! (Cue the tiniest of violins.)

But seriously: I went from never worrying about sitting too much at work, to knowing every day at the office is boosting my risk for diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

I like to think that my lowered levels of everyday stress still put me ahead, but sometimes I’m not so sure.

2. Teaching has had a lasting negative impact on my confidence.

Even though I’ve written about being proud of what you’ve gained from teaching, it’s been a challenge to follow my own advice. Years of answering to hundreds of people  — be they students, parents, or administrators — often made me question my judgment. In fact, the longer I taught, the less confident I felt in what I was doing. As my old colleague used to say, “Teaching makes me feel bad about myself every day.”

I wish I could tell you I’ve left all that negativity behind, but it still gets to me. I continue to doubt myself in small moments and major ones. And despite knowing better, I sometimes think about how I wasn’t “good enough” to last as a teacher. In two more years, I hope to be more comfortable in my choices, including my choice to quit teaching.

3. At the same time, teaching made me feel powerful.

When I think back to those seven years in the classroom, I wonder, how did I do that? How did I stand in front of those students each day? How did I grade hundreds of papers each year? How did I get up for work all those times when I dreaded it? Part of my self-doubt now is feeling that I’m no longer strong enough to teach.

4. Making up for lost time isn’t easy.

The calls avoided because I was too drained to talk to anyone; the visits cut short because I was anxious to catch up on grading; the times I was impatient, cranky and generally not fun to be with — I see how they added up over the years. Knowing that I let my personal relationships suffer because of teaching makes me sad. I’m trying to be a better wife, daughter and friend by calling, initiating plans and showing up more — but it’s going to take a lot more work to close that seven-year gap.

5. The most surprising thing I’ve learned? I’m not content with “just” an office job.

When I first quit teaching, I thought a quiet cubicle job was all I’d ever need. I was wrong, of course. I’ve attempted to fill the intellectual, physical and emotional space that teaching used to occupy with cooking classes, an improv class, several seasons of league volleyball, mentoring and signing up for Skillshare.

I’ve also been thinking about my old teacher bag:

a second life for the old teacher bag

The bag was a gift from a fellow English teacher. She had designed a senior project that asked students to take positive social action in the world, and invited me to use the assignment with my own seniors. I remember enjoying the experience of helping my students develop their action projects and present them to the school.

Toting the bag as a non-teacher, I felt its white-hot letters prodding me with questions like: What are you doing now to be socially responsible? and How can you make an impact beyond the classroom? 

Two years in, I’m still figuring out Life After Teaching. Though I’m not planning to return to teaching, I know it’s the most significant public service I’ve done. This year I learned that I don’t want it to be the last.

Related

Leaving Teaching: The Money Question, Part One

Teaching pays less than many other professions — even ones that don’t require a college degree. Even so, if you’re thinking of leaving teaching, it’s natural to wonder whether you can afford to change careers.

Let’s say you’re offered a job that matches your current teaching salary, but only includes two weeks’ vacation. Should you take it?

Or what if you get an offer for even less than what you make now? Could you maintain your standard of living?

When thinking about leaving teaching, salary and benefits are not the only important factors in your decision. But you should still ensure it makes sense from a hard-nosed financial perspective. To calculate if leaving teaching might make sense for you, consider (1) your hourly rate, (2) the value of your free time, and (3) other job benefits.

In this post, I’ll go over why your hourly rate is important and how you can use it to evaluate a potential career change. To start, I’d like to give credit to reader (and science-teacher-turned-app-developer) TK for recommending hourly pay as a unit of comparison. He writes:

Figure out what your hourly 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 workday as a teacher, haha). That is your hourly rate, and don’t accept anything less than it.

I’d also like to offer an alternative to TK’s formula. In addition to basing your hourly rate on an eight-hour teaching workday, you can also calculate your hourly rate with the actual number of hours you work. We all know what that teachers put in much more than 40 hours a week, so why not find out the true value of your time?


Here’s an example of how you might figure out your hourly pay with all of your work hours:

teaching salary: $50,000

hours worked:

10 hours of work per weekday (8 hours at school and 2 hours at home) x 5 = 50

+ 5 hours of work/weekend = 55 hours per week

55 hours per week x 38 weeks

(I’m assuming 37 weeks of school a year + 1 week of planning/grading during vacations, including summer)

= 2,090 hours per year

$50,000 salary / 2,090 hours per year = $24 per hour (rounded) 


Now let’s compare that $24 per hour to what you might make at a “normal” 9-to-5 job with the same salary:

9-to-5 job salary: $50,000

hours worked:

7 hours of work per weekday (assuming a one-hour lunch break) x 5 = 35 hours per week

35 hours per week x 48 weeks (2 weeks’ vacation plus 10 holidays) = 1,680 hours per year

$50,000 salary / 1,680 hours per year = $30 per hour (rounded)


While it may not surprise you to discover that your hourly rate at a normal job with the same pay as teaching would be higher, doesn’t it feel good to see the cold, hard numbers? That increased hourly rate means you earn lots of extra leisure time while maintaining the same annual salary. Crunching the numbers can also help you see that, in some cases, even a lower-paid job could be worthwhile.

For instance, if you made $24 an hour in a $50,000 teaching job, that means a non-teaching job with a $45,000 salary would still pay more ($27) per hour, given a 35-hour workweek. In fact, it’s not till the pay dips to about $40,000 that your hourly rate is about the same for teaching and the office job!

Are you unsure what a job might pay — or whether you can really expect a 7-hour workday in your next career? Do some digging! Here are three sites I’ve found helpful:

Glassdoor.com includes employee-submitted (but anonymous) salaries and reviews for specific job titles at specific companies. You’ll need to register to use the site, and provide your current salary information to improve the site, but it’s free and you can always unsubscribe from their email updates, which include job postings.

Indeed.com pulls together job listings from different websites (kind of like Kayak) and it’s how I found my current job. It lets you filter your job search by estimated salary range (such as “$50,000+”). The Salaries section also estimates how much jobs pay based on real postings from employers.

Payscale.com is another resource for estimating how your salary stacks up to those for similar jobs in your area. It even tells you what you might expect to make as you advance in a career. The one slightly annoying part is that it makes you answer questions about your current pay before it gives you your “salary report,” but I was able to do so anonymously and without signing up for spam emails.

In the next post in this series, I’ll discuss why you should include the value of added free time in your “leaving teaching” calculation. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on hourly pay? Would you ever take a non-teaching job with a lower salary if you found out you’d be making more per hour?

“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)

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

If hiring managers spend an average of 6 seconds looking at your resume, how do you get their attention? And how do you keep them reading when they see most, or all, of your experience is in teaching?

One way is to use action verbs in your resume. Powerful and persuasive verbs help your accomplishments shine in the right light and get readers excited to learn more about you.

Here are ten action verbs that will show off your leadership, creativity, versatility and overall badassery:

1. mentored

mentored two graduate student teachers in lesson planning, grading and classroom management

2. trained

trained more than 100 staff across various departments to use new grading system

3. coached

coached girls’ volleyball team to first place in 2012 and 2013 county championships 

4. advised

advised students in writing, editing, design, production and marketing of school yearbook 

5. presented

presented physics teaching methods at National Science Teachers Association National Conference, 2014

6. organized

organized and chaperoned weeklong trip to Washington, DC, for more than 50 orchestra students

7. designed 

designed senior service learning project chosen as elective by hundreds of students

8. founded

founded school-wide mindfulness meditation group attended by students, faculty and staff

9. adapted

adapted elementary math curriculum to students with varied skill levels

10. led

led students to strong performance on AP Spanish exam: 90% scored 4/5 or higher

I hope using these action verbs helps you feel proud of your accomplishments and more confident about finding Life After Teaching.

In fact, recent studies have shown that writing and editing stories about yourself can inspire you to stay positive and take transformative action. So think of your new resume and cover letters as opportunities to rewrite your story — and think about your next chapter.

Related

Five Skills Teachers Have That Employers Want

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

Writing Your Way to Happiness (New York Times)

185 Powerful Verbs That Will Make Your Resume Awesome (The Muse)

Categorized List of Action Verbs (Purdue University)

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?