Teaching skills are transferable to a wide variety of markets. Leading classrooms and developing young minds requires huge stores of patience, empathy, strategic thinking, and communication ability that can translate to any number of careers—if you know how to sell yourself.
I talked to ten teachers who have successfully transitioned to other careers in order to create this guide. Almost all of them wanted to share one key piece of advice to other teachers thinking about switching jobs: value your skills and know how to explain how they'll be valuable to hiring managers.
But let's hear it from them directly, before I go into specific careers and jobs for ex-teachers (and a few case studies about why teachers are perfectly qualified for them):
- "People assume teachers are babysitters and don't acknowledge our ability to multi-task, pivot on a moment's notice, persuade others, create something from nothing, and manage people," says Danielle Bayard Jackson, who was a high school English teacher before transitioning to a career in public relations, where she now runs her own PR agency focused on women and minority-owned businesses.
- "You and your experience are incredibly valuable. Do not sell yourself short. If a firm or organization even remotely talks down to you for having been a teacher—walk away. Your incredible efforts and discipline absolutely can and should be celebrated," says Michael O'Gorman, who taught elementary school before leaving the classroom to work in central administration at the NYC Department of Education.
- "Realize that you have amazing interpersonal skills from being a teacher that are 100% needed and desired by employers, even if they don't realize it," says Renata France, who worked as an art teacher before teaching herself programming, becoming a team lead and senior developer at an agency, and then transitioning this year to a senior technical product manager role. She's currently developing a career consulting practice to help other people find their paths.
If you're a teacher thinking about switching jobs, start by clarifying what kind of next career you're looking for. What aspects of teaching did you like? Do you want to stay in the world of education, but contribute to it from outside of a classroom? Or do you want to switch industries entirely? Were you a subject-specific teacher who wants to stay in that lane—like a bio teacher who wants to become a lab researcher—or will you need new training for your new career? Define your appetite for change and go from there.
If You're an Ex-Teacher Who Wants to Stay in Education
There are plenty of opportunities for teachers within the world of education that fall outside of traditional teacher responsibilities.
1) School administrator
Why it's a good idea: If you liked the planning and operational aspects of teaching, a career in administration could be great for you. You could work within a school itself, like as a principal, or with your city or state's department of education.
Median salary: $71,949
Case study: Michael, who you heard from above, notes the most useful teaching skill that he deploys in his new role doing urban planning and strategy for the NYC Department of Education: "Empathy and perception. Being a teacher requires you to pay very close attention to your behavior and emotions and the behaviors and emotions of others. You have to be constantly in tune with the energy in the room to know how to keep moving forward. This has paid significant dividends in my work now."
2) Academic advisor / counselor
Why it's a good idea: You know what students need to successfully fulfill requirements and pursue their goals, whether that's at the high school or college level. A role as an advisor or counselor will allow you to help lots of students grow and develop—but without ever having to make a lesson plan.
Median salary: $41,567
Why it's a good idea: You'll still be helping students, but on an individual basis, meaning you can focus specifically on what each student needs to succeed. Depending on whether you set up as an independent contractor or take shifts with an existing tutoring company, you may have significant control over your schedule, too.
Median wage: $18/hour
Case study: Emily Wilson, who was an elementary school teacher who transitioned to tutoring and now runs the Huntington Learning Center in East Boise, Idaho. "The transition to being a center director at a tutoring center has been interesting but no less rewarding. I still have flexibility to teach students in the way they learn best. The biggest difference is the variety of students that I work with. It's fun to teach phonics to a kindergartener and then work on an essay with a fifth grader," she says.
If You're an Ex-Teacher Who Wants a New Career, But Without New Training
Skills like adaptability, organization, time management, public speaking, and empathy, which teachers have in spades, are infinitely useful in many a business role. Which is to say, teachers should be able to write a cover letter highlighting their abilities and transfer right into one of these roles, no extra learning necessary.
1) Content marketer
Why it's a good idea: You understand people. How to motivate them, inspire them, coach them, and instruct them. That translates well to a field where you need to convince people to do or buy certain things, especially through the written word.
Median salary: $50,759
2) Project manager or coordinator
Why it's a good idea: Running a project might feel like nothing after running an entire year's worth of lesson plans, activities, and individual development. PMing or coordinating will lean on your organizational expertise and allow you to design and run systems across departments.
Median salary: $73,555
3) HR specialist
Why it's a good idea: Chances are you're good at understanding people, navigating systems, and advocating for an individual's best interests. A role focused on enabling and supporting people will draw on your empathy and help highlight the human part of a company.
Why it's a good idea: Relationship-building comes easily to you, and you're a great communicator who has an organization system for everything. Helping clients get press and maintain their social image will let you flex those skills.
Median salary: $45,961
Case study: Danielle, quoted above, who now runs her own PR agency. She realized PR was right for her when she identified her skills and interests: "I like to write, read, talk to others, and be on the move. I also like to create creative presentations and teach people things. That's when I landed on public relations. I write press releases, create unique campaigns for my clients, and I read tons every day to stay on top of the latest trends in my clients' industries."
5) Career coach
Why it's a good idea: You know how to connect with people, help them articulate their goals, and create plans to achieve them. Coaching individuals on how to reach their career aspirations should come naturally to you.
Median salary: $43,270
Case study: Emily Eliza Moyer, who now runs her own career coaching practice after working as an elementary school and then in sales for Remote Year. "Teaching gave me the foundation for almost everything I know about being a leader, manager and coach," she says, and highlights that her path from teacher to coach followed the same driving passion: "Becoming a Career Coach has felt like my true purpose coming to life. Helping professionals find their purpose so that they can actually love the work they do (and in turn, their life) is what I'm meant to be doing."
Jobs for Ex-Teachers Can Be Anything, Really
The specific jobs I've talked about above are good starting points for teachers who are exploring their options, but really, teachers can transition to absolutely any job they want—including starting their own businesses. Teachers have a huge set of highly useful skills that can apply across disciplines. Take a look at these ex-teachers for inspiration:
- From literature teacher to video game tester: Piotr Jasinski's previous experience teaching high school lit was highly transferrable to his current job testing video games for Lionbridge, a marketing, testing, and globalization company. Says the Lionbridge team: "Our hiring managers appreciated Piotr's gaming skills, but were truly awestruck by the attention to detail he had developed as a teacher, having focused for so many years on the individual needs [of] each student. This transferrable skill helps him find games' errors."
- From social studies teacher and coach to insurance agent: Randy Wolfe wanted to transition out of teaching to a bigger salary that could better support his growing family. He was passionate about helping seniors, so he started his own insurance agency, QuoteMyMedicare.org, where he uses his teaching skills every day. "My previous experience as a teacher helped me to develop a lot of patience, which is very important when dealing with seniors."
- From music teacher to director of his own music school: Adam Cole wanted to pursue his dream of running his own music business, Grant Park Arts. He leaned on his teacher-developed skills as he started off: "Being a teacher means learning to prepare for worst-case scenarios with a highly-developed plan. It prepares you to present yourself as strong and confident in any situation. You also develop a good sense of what people are like, what they're hiding, and how your relationship with them is going to pan out, which is invaluable in hiring."
Ex-teachers, go out and prosper. And remember that whatever job you end up in will be lucky to have you.