Stress, lack of support, meager salaries, under- or unemployment – these are a few of the reasons as many as one in two B.Ed. grads will leave the teaching profession within five years of entering it.
Granted, career U-turns are more common than they used to be. But elementary and high school teachers on average face a major career transition more often and sooner in their careers than many other professionals.
As one former teacher puts it: unlike other career paths, it’s common practice to discuss someone’s teaching career as something they’re only doing ‘for now.’
How do you find a career outside the classroom when all of your education and work experience have taken place inside those four cozy walls? Also, how do you repurpose a B.Ed. on paper to convince an employer that you’re qualified to pursue a different calling? And, most of all, can you find a job that will rival the joy and passion you have for educating and inspiring young minds?
In short, the answers are: it’s up to you; do what you love to do; make the most of your skills (because you have oodles of them); and, emphatically, yes.
Discover your core values
Leaving a field you’ve spent years training for is unnerving. It can lead to questioning long-cherished goals in both your personal and professional life.
This may sound a little horrible, and ridden with a whole new set of crises, but it’s actually the best way forward.
Michelle Dunn, a Vancouver-based career coach and former teacher, says that any major career shift needs to be preceded by a genuine reflection about one’s core strengths and values. “The next thing that happens to pop up may not be the best thing,” she cautions.
“When career coaching, we start with who the person is – what’s important to them and their strengths. Getting really clear about those things will help you leverage your skills to turn to something else.”
Identify your transferrable skills
Identifying those skills can be difficult coming from a field defined so much by just one duty: teach stuff. But teachers employ a mass of skills getting a class of 35 14-year-olds ready to sit down and write an essay on Romeo and Juliet, urbanization, or Canada’s parliamentary structure.
Teachers research, transfer knowledge, manage diverse groups of individuals, learn new software, evaluate performance, participate in professional development activities, facilitate, work independently and exercise authority.
Oh, and they also engage in public speaking, presenting complex topics to rowdy audiences.
When writing a cover letter or resume, the trick, as always, is to disassociate the tasks from the setting. The setting will change, but the tasks essentially remain the same. As Michelle points out, “If you can maintain discipline and leadership in a classroom of 30 kids, you can definitely do that in an organization.”
Consider the “helping professions”
Of course, the easiest transition occurs when your skills transfer so naturally it doesn’t seem like a daunting change at all. For teachers, a natural segue is in what Michelle calls “helping professions”: training, coaching or advising roles, either within the education sector, but outside the classroom, or in a department with a strong people-focused mandate, like human resources.
Michelle has led plenty of workshops for teachers moving into these fields. It’s a natural transition since “they want to help people and see them reach their potential,” she says, and that’s what they’re already adept at.
In her own case, Michelle moved into career coaching after teaching abroad for four years and raising two children. It offered a way to build naturally on her interests in counseling and psychology – part of her B.A. work – and “still do what I loved and knew how to do.”
Finally, there’s a strong case to be made for the unknown – following that other passion and seeing where it leads. This may involve attaining new credentials along the way, but it can also be done by drawing on the extraordinary work ethic and nerve honed in the classroom.
Contrary to popular belief that says teachers can’t cut it in the cruel world of business, Michelle argues that teachers are native entrepreneurs. They have intuition, drive, excellent people skills and loads of self-direction. These are the skills needed to start something new and develop it into a sustainable livelihood.
Fifteen years ago, Cam McRae left an established teaching career in Vancouver to start an e-magazine for mountain biking in the North Shore area. It was a bold move for someone who didn’t know much about creating websites or managing a business. But he had just returned from a year of teaching (and riding) in Italy, which gave him a new perspective on what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. His website, NSMB.com, now boasts a sizeable following and several heavyweight sponsors in the outdoor industry.
He still holds on to his teaching credentials, just in case, but he doesn’t regret his career move. His advice for current teachers considering a similar 180?:
“It depends on your employment and family responsibilities. But generally my advice is to go for it; we regret more what we don’t do than what we do. Also, the flexibility of teaching – summers, holidays – can allow you to start developing your new interest on the side at first. So take advantage of that.”