The Skills I Gained as a Teacher that Led Me to A New Career

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Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

Before I recently switched career paths, I thought that I would always be a high school teacher. But, like most working adults, I chose my career path way before I had enough life experience to know all the opportunities that existed or what direction I wanted to go in life.

I’m not saying I made the wrong decision, by any means, but isn’t it crazy to think that we’re all forced to limit our careers to a single choice made in early adulthood?

After eight years in the classroom, I couldn’t help but ask myself whether this was the only thing I would do for my entire career. I had an itch to try something new and challenge myself, but since I spent so much time and invested so much money into my degrees in foreign language education, I assumed I had very limited career choices outside of what I was already doing.

That is, until a friend of mine challenged that assumption and pushed me to apply for a new job. So, this past summer, I stepped out of my comfort zone and did just that.

I started applying for jobs that I was only vaguely qualified for. And this landed me in a business consultant role that has led me to discover something surprising about the modern working world: your college degree shouldn’t matter anymore.

My background as a teacher prepared me for the business world in a somewhat indirect but also perfectly applicable way. Because although hard skills that come from formal education are important (like computer coding or accounting), LinkedIn conducted research that paints another picture for job recruiters:

“The most interesting part of this research is a simple fact: in today’s world of software engineering and ever-more technology, it’s soft skills that employers want. 91% of companies cited this as an issue and 80% of companies are struggling to find better soft skills in the market.”

I’ll admit, I lacked a lot of technical hard skills when I transitioned to my job as a consultant. So I started learning Salesforce (a popular customer service platform) and all things cloud computing. I had to spend a lot of extra time studying outside of work so that I could use this knowledge in front of clients. But I could pick these skills up through studying and repetition.

Despite my personal skill gaps, I also saw other people in business struggling with a different set of skills. For example, some people had trouble presenting in front of groups and others weren’t good at working as a team with their fellow colleagues.

These skills — communication and collaboration — are examples of the soft skills that LinkedIn shows companies are struggling to find.

And I would argue these skills are exactly what make teachers highly-valuable.

In fact, teachers are experts at the top 5 most in-demand soft skills that companies are seeking.

So if you’re a teacher and looking for a job outside of education, let me tell you firsthand that teachers can be attractive and sought-after job applicants.

Take my word for it, because these are the skills that helped me land my new job:

Teaching is both an art and a science. It’s the former aspect that gives teachers creative freedom in their work. I never considered myself a creative person before I started teaching, but it didn’t take long before I realized that a bland worksheet or dull presentation wouldn’t keep my students engaged.

So year after year, I would re-design a lesson or worksheet or activity or project and then I would create my own examples to use. Not to mention the creativity I poured into the design and layout of my classroom. All teachers naturally must develop mad decorating skills (thank you, Pinterest).

I also became a pseudo-creative director, helping my students create engaging work that wowed their peers. I realized that form mattered just as much as function and this lesson became just as important as the other content I taught.

And this is why companies could use more people with creativity skills — to engage their employees and customers. Teachers don’t often realize it, but their ability to engage their students is proof of their creativity.

Everything teachers say and do is persuasion. They have to distract, motivate and re-direct students every minute of every day. Everyone knows that being able to convince students of the benefit of their education is no easy task.

It’s especially hard in this day and age of technology and social media. Students are more distracted than ever and yet good teachers still manage to hold their attention and convince them of the importance of their work.

Teachers also impact student behavior by persuading them what direction to go in their lives. It’s more indirect, but teachers are good at persuading students to capitalize on their strengths and grow their weaknesses.

Companies are looking for people who can speak confidently to groups of people and persuade them to buy their products. Teachers develop persuasive communication skills that can make them excellent presenters and facilitators in any setting.

Teachers are good at working with others, because they’re good at helping their students work together. Teachers manage groups of students and become very adept at reading people’s interactions. This gives them a different approach when working with adults too, one that makes them keenly aware of how to make sure that everyone gets along.

In the interviews for my new job, various people asked me how I thought that working with high school students translated to working with adults.

The truth? All humans are the same, no matter what age level. As a teacher, I learned how to hone in on people’s needs and work with them to enable their success.

Teachers are also selfless by nature. It’s part of the job requirements — work really hard for very little money and little appreciation.

In business, however, I’m finding that many people are more motivated by money or a promotion, so they try really hard to one-up each other instead of being good team players.

And this is again where teachers shine: they can quiet the loud voices and encourage the quietest of people to speak up and be heard. They thrive in collaborative environments, which is hugely important at a time when the world is shrinking and companies are more connected than ever.

The most innovative companies are those that collaborate across business functions and help their people connect. Something teachers are very skilled at doing.

Teachers excel at adapting to any situation. Every day in the classroom was about having a backup plan ready for whatever craziness would pop up out of nowhere.

The internet stopped working. The fire alarm went off accidentally. A student threw up in class. Another teacher was out sick without a sub. A fight broke out in the hallway. A student fell asleep. You name it, I’ve experienced it as a teacher.

So many random things happened every day that I became a wizard at handling it. I could listen to multiple conversations at the same time while keeping a student on task and ensuring the lesson ran smoothly.

Every day for teachers flies by when managing so much unpredictability, but it’s the most useful skill I have now. Companies are seeking people who can problem solve their way out of any situation and that’s exactly what teachers do every day.

Teachers run on an extremely tight schedule. Every lesson had to be planned down to the second if I was going to fit in everything I needed my students to learn in the school year. And I had to time each lesson every day, because I had to repeat it several times a day to make sure that every student got the same learning experience.

“Bell to bell” is how teachers operate and they become so accustomed to utilizing every spare second in a practical way. They’re only allotted tiny fractions of a break throughout the day and these they use to go to the bathroom (if they’re lucky).

Meanwhile, companies waste incredible amounts of time sitting around tables discussing things during so-called “meetings.” Teachers could help these companies achieve greater outcomes in less time, because time is such a precious commodity in school.

So as you can see, teachers have all the right soft skills that businesses are looking for. It shouldn’t matter what degree you have, what really matters are skills that can’t be taught but rather must be learned through experience. Teachers have all gained the most practical education there is and these skills transfer to any career.

Whether you’re a teacher or just anyone looking to switch career fields, try highlighting these soft skills in your next interview and you may be as surprised as I was to find just how qualified you are.

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Stories of a former high school teacher, now business consultant. Husband. Travel fanatic. Obsessed coffee drinker. And all-around nerd.

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