How does teaching translate to other work?
August 2, 2012 7:24 PM   Subscribe

To former teachers: in what ways did teaching prepare you for different jobs in your post-teaching career?

I was very lucky when I graduated from college. The school where did my student-teaching for certification hired me when I finished my BA in History and the certification process. I had a great 6 year run at that school, teaching various AP and IB level classes to high schoolers in grade 10 through 12. Lots of good memories.

Things went south over my last year teaching there. Over the years, I accumulated more and more responsibilities until I reached my limit. At the end of that school year (which would have been just a few months ago), the anxiety overwhelmed me leading to insomnia and depression (which is currently being professionally and medically taken care of).

I resigned from my position, not really due to these issues (my school administration 100% supported me with my struggles), but because my wife started her medical residency in another state (mentioned in this AskMe). I am currently jobless, but I am in no financial rush to break into a new career right away. I don't want to get back into teaching (aside from substituting) right away either.

The issue is... teaching is all I professionally know. I don't really know what skills and habits I developed while teaching can be transferred to other jobs. If I were in an interview for a job and they asked me how my teaching experience would help me do that new job well, I would have no idea how to respond.

So, former teachers, how would you field that question? What experiences in teaching translated to the job hold now or another post-teaching job you had?
posted by Groundhog Week to Work & Money (13 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Public speaking is a really valuable skill that many teachers end up mastering.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:26 PM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

In interviews I usually said something like, "if I can handle a room full of sixth graders, you know I can handle XYZ."
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:36 PM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You are now a master multi-tasker. As a teacher you had to constantly assess the progress of a large group of individuals and make adjustments for each. That's really a version of project management. You worked with multiple stake holders: students, parents, colleagues, administrators, school board and as a part of that, had to appropriately communicate with each in their "language" and using whatever medium they prefer (meetings, emails, website updates). Did you write any grants? Track the progress of students? Plan the curriculum? Those all have analogous skills in the business world. Also, don't forget about any subject-specific skills (which I can't help you with). Did you stay up on education research (lots of that is psychology and impacts what you know about how others learn and respond to different situations).
posted by adorap0621 at 7:59 PM on August 2, 2012 [7 favorites]

My whiteboard handwriting impressed my interviewing committee when I was applying for my current job as a web developer! I also think that my speaking experience will come in handy in the future when I present talks, etc. Teaching also developed my explanatory powers, which helps with discussing code I have written.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 8:08 PM on August 2, 2012

You don't start teaching because your lesson plan is perfect -- you start teaching because it's 9:00 and you've got thirty twelve-year-olds staring at you.
Stolen from Lorne Michaels.

Translated -- you know the importance of a deadline and understand that the 90-percent-right solution on time beats the 100-percent-right solution too late.
posted by Etrigan at 8:13 PM on August 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

I would say that the above answers are on spot. As someone in a former HR role I could see the multi-tasking with specific examples as well as the deadline answers really impressing the interviewer. Of course, all of the answers should be tailored to whatever specific job you end up applying to. The XYZ in the above answer is key. To show the interviewer you understand the purpose and importance of the said job.
posted by MyMind at 10:04 PM on August 2, 2012

Best answer: In my experience, teaching also taught me a lot about dealing with unexpected situations while remaining calm and unflappable and STILL getting the majority of the material across. It also taught me a lot about prioritizing and a fair amount about gauging the task to the worker (a management task). My K-12 teaching experience has led me to be able to turn on a dime far more efficiently than many others with similar degrees/backgrounds. From what I have seen, fellow people with K-12 experience are far more able to deal with something going wrong and the show going on than people who have only taught higher ed.

It also shows punctuality, an ability to work hard, and the fact that you know how to navigate bureaucracy/deal with meaningless hoops to get stuff done.

Teaching well also requires being a self-starter in many ways and being very highly self motivated.
posted by eleanna at 2:38 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In one of my past career lives I was a teacher. One of the biggest skills I learned was the importance of being proactive and anticipating problems (and their solutions!) before they happen. What if the printer breaks and I can't make copies of that worksheet? What if some kids forget to bring their permission slips? What if a kid gets sick on the field trip? etc etc etc. This skill definitely has carried over into the jobs I've had since I left teaching. I am rarely totally suprised by speed-bumps and usually have a contingency plan already in place--employers love this!
posted by bookmammal at 3:23 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

All of the above answers are great, and I'll add this: I became a teacher because I really wanted to help my students understand stuff (and I had this in common with many of my colleagues). This translates very well to training roles, because your training as a teacher helps you figure out how to present content so that it's understood by the maximum number of people, then perform some sort of assessment to find out if they learned what you thought they were supposed to be learning.
posted by SeedStitch at 5:58 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I taught at universities and now work in advertising.

It turns out years of lecturing and tutorials have made me really, really good at selling ideas. I have zero fear of speaking in public, and know how to prepare for a presentation. I've learned how to listen, how to give high quality feedback, and how to receive that feedback. Selling ideas and persuading people is an incredibly important skill, and teaching prepares you for it in a number of ways.
posted by nerdfish at 8:41 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a long background in teaching. I have taught pre-school, middle school, and high school. I graduated from college with a Master of Arts in Teaching, and decided that as much as I liked kids, I did not want to teach. I had a difficult time finding a different career track, but I think that was partly because I didn't have much real-world job experience at that point. Teaching can lead to many different career paths. Such as corporate training, public speaking, textbook writing, tutoring, etc.

For me, I wound up spending three years working as a textbook writer, ditched my job to go live abroad for year, and now I am working as an editor on a government contract. I think the key for you is to be open minded about different kinds of jobs, to be willing to take some kind of pay/seniority cut, and think outside of the box on how your skills apply to different kinds of jobs.
posted by emilynoa at 8:48 AM on August 3, 2012

Best answer: I'm a former classroom teacher who got fed up with school as an institution. I transitioned into museum education and love it. Among the things I have found incredibly useful:

-planning and time management, project management, creating timelines and moving a unit of effort through various phases to completion
-evaluation: devising methods to measure knowledge or activity and show progress from point A to point B.
-cognitive science: the grounding in learning theory has been a pretty powerful contribution in settings which aim to educate
-curriculum design: breaking down a given capacity area into a set of teachable skills and devising a way to teach them
-interpersonal skills: getting a quick "read" on people, understanding their intrinsic motivations (or lack thereof) and creating incentives to increase motivation; settling disputes, dealing with different points of view, building confidence, facilitating groups, individualizing approaches
-collaboration: knowing how to enlist others, both inside and outside of the classroom environment, into your projects.
posted by Miko at 12:16 PM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone!
posted by Groundhog Week at 6:01 PM on August 8, 2012

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