How to Transition from a Career in the Classroom to a New Profession

There has been a lot of press over the past year or so about teachers leaving or thinking of leaving the profession due to stagnant wages and job stress. How can a teacher who is starting a job search outside of education do so in a way that highlights how his or her experience will transition to a completely new career?

The good news for teachers seeking a new career path is that myriad opportunities exist thanks to the skills they’ve acquired while leading a classroom, according to several career experts, and one who has even walked that walk.

“Teachers have great ability to collaborate, motivate, plan, organize, simplify complex information and communicate orally,” reports Shannon Baker, a former public school teacher who went into the insurance field, then left the corporate world to found Evokate, a company that offers legal, professional and creative communications services.

“Beyond that, the education that teachers acquire for their ‘teachable’ subjects may help them to transition into companies in that field; for example, history teachers and museums, science teachers and pharmaceutical companies, music teachers and orchestras,” she explains.

Ron Auerbach, career coach, job search expert, and the author of “Think Like an Interviewer: Your Job Hunting Guide to Success,” cites corporate training jobs and sales as two areas teachers looking to transition could tap.

In the world of corporate training, a teaching background is relevant because former teachers understand various teaching methods and know how to create and use learning aides and supplements, Auerbach says.

“Even though you may have dealt with children instead of adults, there are still a lot of things that will transfer over; for example, classroom management techniques and learning styles,” he says. “And because teachers do professional development activities, that helps keep their teaching skills updated, which is useful for corporate training.”

There are also several avenues for teachers intrigued by a career in sales. “You can work for companies that provide educational materials to schools and/or teachers; for example, a textbook publisher or distributor,” Auerbach suggests. “Having been a teacher, you’d understand how these materials would actually be used in the classroom and know how this company’s materials would be an improvement over what others may currently be using. Your knowledge of being in the classroom instructing students gives you a perspective that’s different from a salesperson who has no teaching experience whatsoever.”

Insurance sales is another option. “Your teaching experience can be helpful here … you can use it to help better explain and illustrate how your company’s insurance products will suit their needs,” says Auerbach. “And you can use your teaching abilities to help train others, becoming an insurance agent trainer, which is a corporate teaching position.”

Once you’ve identified a possible new profession, the real work begins. You have to identify your transferable skills; explore what the businesses you’re interested in working for need; then articulate how teaching has armed you with those qualifications, according to Maureen Crawford Hentz, a 20-plus-year career strategist and current vice president of human resources at A.W. Chesterton Company in Groveland, Mass.

Those things aren’t easy to do, Baker admits.

“It’s difficult for teachers to make a transition because employers often pigeon-hole them. That means that teachers have to work very hard to explicitly state their transferrable skills,” she explains. “This involves reading potential job descriptions very closely and analyzing the company to read between the lines to determine what they really need.”

So, what skills and experience should teachers highlight? Things that might stand out when an employer is reviewing resumes?

“Teachers often work with a diverse racial socioeconomic and neuro-diverse set of students. That’s important [because] many candidates don’t have that experience and don’t know how to get it,” Crawford Hentz says. “If you have this, articulate it in your cover letter and in your resume under professional summary.” Her suggestion: “Say something like ‘Demonstrated experience in working effectively across and within differing racial/socioeconomic populations.’ ”

The programs teachers have created are also points of differentiation, Crawford Hentz notes. It might have been planning an event or launching an organization that included program design, set up, marketing, and execution — a Read-a-Thon, PTA spaghetti dinner, or a new student club, perhaps.

“Talk about this, not only in terms of curriculum development, but also in terms of management,” she suggests “Companies want employees who can create new programs and innovations — often on a shoestring. Teachers can and do,” Crawford Hentz says.

The point, according to Auerbach, is that teaching is valuable in the business world.

“Mentoring equals teaching — and mentoring is something former teachers tend to excel at because they understand how to instruct,” Auerbach says. “It’s really just a matter of which avenue outside of teaching one chooses to get into. But make no mistake: Having been an educator at any level does make you valuable and marketable to employers. You just have to make the connections.”

(Article written by Kathleen Furore)