Switching Careers from Teaching: A Comprehensive Guide

Switching Careers from Teaching: A Comprehensive Guide
In the process of becoming teachers, classroom educators accrue an array of marketable skills transferable to other professions. Image from Unsplash
Lucy Davies profile
Lucy Davies April 30, 2021

Are you a teacher ready for a career change? We cover a slew of new career options for educators, both within and outside the education system.

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You probably decided to go into teaching for compelling reasons. Maybe you’ve always loved working with children. Perhaps the flexibility of a teacher’s schedule dovetailed with your other life commitments and priorities. Maybe you had a teacher from your own life inspire you to pursue this much-admired career.

So why consider a career change? It may be that working with children is not as much a focus of your day-to-day teaching life as you’d hoped, and the stress of teaching to standardized tests has taken the fun out of your lesson plans. Perhaps the amount of time you need to spend after hours to prepare for your classes has dampened your expectations of getting home by 4 pm and taking summers off. Or maybe the pressures of the modern classroom are not allowing you to inspire your own students the way your favorite teacher from middle school inspired you.

You may have your own reasons for wanting change. They can come early or later in your teaching career. Whatever your reasons for switching careers from teaching, we’ll outline the skills you’ve developed as an experienced educator and look at some alternative careers both inside and outside the world of education. In the process, we’ll address:

  • Why stop teaching?
  • Transferable skills you developed as a teacher
  • How to switch careers
  • Alternative careers in education
  • Alternative careers outside education
  • Are you sure you’re ready to quit teaching?
  • Choosing the right alternative career

Why stop teaching?

If you’ve done a search to see why others in your profession might be looking to move on, you’ll very soon find yourself reading about burnout. There are a lot of reasons for a school teacher to feel at the end of their rope. Even the most devoted educator can find their enthusiasm waning when faced with the realities and challenges of the classroom.

Most of those who pursue a career in the education field do so because they love the work. They are inspired to teach and share their interest in a subject they feel passionate about and want to mentor and guide young minds. They benefit from a collaborative work environment that fosters debate and curiosity in the academic as opposed to the corporate world. So what are the reasons an educator might experience burnout?

For some, the pressures of standardized tests and assessments prove exhausting and take the drive and passion out of a teaching job. Without the support of the school district and administration, many full-time educators lose their enthusiasm. Add to that the expectation that teachers routinely work up to 60 hours a week, including weekend hours, and are rewarded in many states with less-than-generous salaries. It’s no wonder many begin to re-assess their master’s degreeand look to a career change.

Turnover disproportionately affects high-poverty schools, as noted in an Alliance for Excellence in Education report. Many teachers who leave the profession do so in the first five years, leaving vulnerable school systems at a greater risk. Without high-quality mentoring and ongoing support from school administrators, many teachers find themselves looking for a new career.

What are your options if you find yourself reevaluating your career path? You are probably still motivated by the same reasons you went into teaching in the first place, so you may not want to move very far away from your current focus. Let’s look at the skills you’ve acquired to get your education degree and become a teacher and see how those same skills can move you in new but related directions.



University and Program Name Learn More

Transferable skills you developed as a teacher

Assessing others’ work

No matter the grade level, one of a teacher’s greatest assets is the ability to assess the work of their students efficiently and thoroughly. From test grading to editing essays to critiquing an oral presentation, a large part of a teacher’s week is taken up with evaluations. The ability to clearly outline strengths and weaknesses and areas of improvement are invaluable and easily applied in many other contexts.


Whether discussing a student’s progress at a parent-teacher conference or collaborating on curriculum with others on your team, strong communication skills are a must in teaching and a marketable asset in nearly all workplaces. A teacher’s work experience at the head of the classroom makes them especially adept at conveying information in clear and exciting ways.


Being responsible for a classroom of pupils means making lots of decisions for lots of people every day. Flexibility and the ability to adapt a lesson plan or classroom discussion in light of current events takes agility and tact. Great teachers can think on their feet.

The building of a syllabus itself requires planning and decision-making skills, as does working out accountability and expectations for the overall culture of the classroom. A teacher’s decisions reflect both their good instincts and depth of knowledge. These are marketable skills.


An educator’s primary function is to instruct, and the ability to disseminate information in a clear and impactful way is an invaluable skill. Whether demonstrating proper scissor-holding to preschoolers or debating Durkheim in a university lecture hall, the teacher is both an expert and a performer with a gift for getting material to stick!


As the head of the classroom, the teacher upholds the leadership role. Lesson planning creates the framework for the material the teacher will present. Even so, the leadership skills needed to prepare and furnish these materials reach further—into mentorship, career and personal counseling, coaching, research, and implementation of ideas and policy.


The best teachers are excellent listeners. They understand the interplay between teaching and learning. A strong voice at the head of the classroom should be balanced with open ears and the ability to hear students’ concerns about both the teacher and themselves. Good listening skills allow feedback and reflection on classroom material and help foster good teacher/student communication.


The energy needed to lead a class of students is in itself an inspiring force, but motivation for students should go beyond the classroom. Encouraging individuals to reach further and challenge themselves with their writing and research can help them become lifelong learners and inspire them to succeed in various ways. A great teacher works to motivate the students who may be the most challenging and may need the extra push toward taking the initiative and advancing.


Teachers are skilled negotiators who broker debates on everything from grades, due dates, and extra credit and work to create the culture and value of classroom contributions. There is a challenge in meeting individual student needs with teacher expectations, and teachers work at the intersection of the two, working out the details.

Outside the classroom, there are administrative and contract negotiations that are hammered out, too, further sharpening the skills of any seasoned teacher.


The planning and organization required to map out coursework for a semester or year-long curriculum are remarkable. Educators must identify and set benchmarks, then figure out months in advance how to reach them at a specific time to stay on track. They must also adapt material for students and classes at different levels and keep track of who has progressed to what point in the material. Supply chain managers have nothing on teachers.


From tracking progress reports, test grades, and report cards to following a student’s progress in reading and writing, teachers are excellent record keepers. Accuracy and detail help mark growth and development in each student as an individual and allow for following up with those who require extra support. Good record-keeping benefits students within a school year but also benefits the teacher over many years of experience in the classroom with the patterns and lessons they can take with them.


Planning and scheduling provide the framework around which good teachers build their year. From daily planning to mapping the entire school year, teachers need to deliver lessons and deliver students to their next class on time. Add in booking parent/teacher conferences, staff and curriculum meetings, and office hours and you see that scheduling occupies a significant place in any teacher’s planning.

Social skills

Strong social skills are critical for teachers and reflect the culture of the classroom. Flexibility, sensitivity, and showing respect for others are taught by example—this is true from early childhood education to the top of academia and higher education. Adaptability and conflict resolution aid relationship management and allow for a dynamic and respectful classroom. Teachers need well-developed social skills to work in groups and one-on-one with students and faculty in productive and positive ways.

Time management

The balancing act of time management for classroom teachers is fast-paced and complicated. There is the in-class pacing of wrapping up lesson plans in the right place at the right time and also the after-school time needed to grade papers, follow up with parents, write letters of recommendation, or provide extra support for students who need it. A teacher’s day is packed full and deadline-driven, so being on top of the day usually means meticulous planning of the week ahead.


Writing skills are critical for success in almost any career, and for teachers, this skill should be developed early and strengthened with the pursuit of a master’s degree. Communicating as a thoughtful and clear writer benefits everyone you work alongside and the students you teach. Strong writing skills are essential in any subject or department, from history to the natural sciences. As transferable skills go, this one might be the easiest to demonstrate in a job search and the most valued one in your back pocket!

How to switch careers

So once you’ve added up the many teaching skills you’ve acquired over your years on the job and determined your reasons for wanting change, how do you make the switch to something new? The best way is to create an overlay of alternative careers and transferable skills and see where they connect for you. For some, this will move them away from the world of education and academia; for others, it might mean moving past a master’s to pursue a doctorate degree and move into administration or adding a psychology or counseling certification to their skill set.
We’ll take a look at career alternatives both in and outside of education and explore the ways career changers can revive their enthusiasm for a new job.

Alternative careers in education


Careers in administration include principal, vice-principal, or superintendent roles. They represent a step out of the classroom and into the offices that oversee the overall operations of a school district. Depending on the state and whether you are working in a private or public school, the requirements will vary. Some positions will require a master’s degree, some a doctorate.

As a school administrator, you can continue to be involved directly with students and families, which may satisfy some of the reasons you went into teaching to begin with. Your experience and strength in assessment, communication, decision-making, and leadership will support you in an administrative role as you will work with each strataum, from pupils and families to classroom teachers to members of the Board of Education and state representatives.

While you will have stepped out of the classroom, you will be helping make decisions that impact the culture of your district, allowing you to stay involved directly with the people and curriculum you care about.

College admissions coach/consultant

For teachers coming from or wanting to move to, working at the college level, a college admissions and consulting move can be a good choice. Unlike a shift to administration, admissions consulting will have you working one-on-one again with students, helping them make informed choices about next steps in higher education and career goals.

This role requires at least a bachelor’s degree, and possibly a master’s in counseling, depending on the requirements of the university you are consulting for. Working from the admissions office, you’ll use your assessment, decision-making, and listening skills to create educational and career plans for students as they launch their academic and professional lives.


Former teachers are ideal for a career in curriculum design, as they are intimately familiar with what works and what sticks in the classroom. You’ll use your skills in instructing, organizing, writing, and communication in your work in concert with other teachers and administrators in your district planning. Feedback from the classroom will help to strengthen material year-over-year and allow you to create unique and evolving content.

You’ll need at least a master’s degree in education and years of classroom experience to make the shift to curriculum design. Still, it may be an excellent fit for those who loved the planning and detail of setting up a classroom and lesson plans while taking a step back from the implementation of material.

Literacy specialist

If you focused on literacy instruction and assessment as a teacher, a new career as a literacy specialist might be a comfortable shift. This position is a collaborative one, working with other literacy professionals to plan and design instruction for diverse learners. You will use your skills in leadership, social skills, assessment, record-keeping, and instruction to create curriculum and reading support for students and training and assessment for teachers.

This position will have you working with both students and teachers, making it a comfortable balance in and out of the classroom. You’ll likely need a master’s degree in education as well as a K-12 reading specialist license, but if reading is something you’ve enjoyed fostering in the classroom, working as a literacy specialist can be an extremely positive move.


For an even wider angle on influencing education, you might want to look into a position in education policy and research. Work in this field can put you in larger conversations with advocacy groups, politicians, and nonprofits and allow you to assist and direct funding and support to high-need districts, supporting the schools and areas that need it most.

You’ll use your leadership, negotiating, and assessment skills, and you’ll see your influence at work when the policies you help shape are implemented. To work at this research and policy design level, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree; many districts will require a master’s or a doctorate.


Perhaps the most obvious option for a shift from your current teaching position is to leave the traditional classroom and work one-on-one with students as a tutor. A move to individualized student attention may be the focus you are missing in your current position, so this shift to helping students with their specific needs and challenges might make a lot of sense and provide the change you are after. You will be able to structure and edit lessons to fit each individual learner, allowing for success and positive growth in each student.

You can work as a tutor as a freelancer or through an agency, and you will use your listening and social skills in this type of position for sure. You’ll need at least a high school diploma, but any teacher leaving the classroom will be well-qualified to take on a tutorial role and design methods to suit individual learning styles and challenges.

Alternative careers outside education

Anything in your area of expertise

Depending on the experience and focus your teaching background has provided, you will be able to market yourself in particular ways outside the world of education. Specialization in STEM, years of teaching philosophy or psychology, classes in creative writing, or the business and finance classes you’ve taught will give you the kind of expertise valued in related fields.

You’ll be able to move in very specific directions based on the experience you’ve curated over your teaching career, allowing you to follow those same foundational interests into new industries outside of teaching. You may find that the subjects you’ve focused on for years hold the seed of interest you are happy to maintain and that it is the classroom instruction you are comfortable moving on from.

Corporate training/professional development

You’ll have a great deal of flexibility if you decide to become a corporate trainer or work in professional development. These positions are held by both independent consultants or those hired to work full-time by large corporations to train employees on new skills, procedures, and policies and to provide professional development to keep skill sets relevant and up-to-date. This would be a clear move from academia to business but would still allow flexing that teaching/instructing muscle. The job utilizes the same communication and instructing skills you gained in your years of teaching.


Clearly, counseling is a career that values many of the skills you will have developed in your experience as a classroom teacher. You will rely on your listening and social skills but will be called upon to foster good decision-making, leadership, negotiating, and communication skills in your clients. A counseling position can satisfy your interest in one-on-one interaction with clients, something you might miss when you transition from the classroom.

Career opportunities in counseling can be found in the corporate environment or private practice, which can provide even greater flexibility in your next steps.

Human resources

There are lots of skills and expertise ex-teachers can bring to a career in human resources. If you’ve got a background in psychology, financial planning, economics, business strategy, or management, you have a great foundation for shifting into this corporate position. You’ll use your record-keeping, negotiating, motivating, leadership, and communication skills to manage human capital and create the framework and workforce for a growing company. Work might include anything from recruiting, supervision, and employee evaluation to motivation and mediation of disputes in the workplace. It’s a job that focuses on people, making it a good fit for a teacher moving on from the classroom.


Perhaps a more obvious move for an educator is from a school to a library. This might be a good fit for teachers who spent a good deal of time in research and organizing materials. Note that the move may require a Master of Library Science (MLS) degree.

The job of librarian serves a vital role for both schools and the local community and reaches beyond books and reference materials and archives management to include guidance in digital research. It, too, allows for one-on-one interaction with visitors. It may also provide a satisfying balance to those who enjoy research and preservation of materials and want to assist others with their research projects.


A more dynamic choice in career moves might be toward marketing, either within a corporate structure or as a consultant. A job in marketing might include advertising and promotion in the sale of products; it would represent an easy transition for someone who taught business, social or political science, or even creative writing and fine arts. You will rely on your communication, motivation, and writing skills for jobs in this field, as well as your experience with negotiation, which you will apply in relations between corporate business and creative departments.


All good teachers are already psychologists who apply various theories and techniques in the classroom. But to become a psychologist in the formal sense, you may need to go back for a higher degree. With a master’s in psychology and a license to practice in your state, you may want to further specialize in industrial and organizational psychology, marriage and family counseling, or applied behavior analysis. Strong listening and social skills are needed for this type of position, and you may need to invest many years of schooling and training to make the transition from your current post. For many teachers, this line of work and study may prove very rewarding.


The energy teachers apply to their jobs is a good match for the energy needed in sales. If you loved the pitch from the front of the classroom, you’ll probably enjoy selling products in place of curriculum. A career move to a sales position could feel like a very natural fit for teachers who have worked to strengthen their writing and communication skills. Depending on which industry interests you, you may be able to make a shift to this new job in a short timeframe, with only some industry training to get you started.

Social worker

Social work has its own reasons for burnout, many of which are shared with teaching. Still, maybe in your career, you encountered a student or a family you wished you could have helped further, and it just stuck with you. To help make lasting change and practice as a social worker, you’ll need to pursue a master’s in social work and be licensed in your state. For many teachers, moving into a job that can impact both students and their families is a satisfying fix for their new career plans.


Strong writing skills can benefit any new position, but maybe it’s the part of your career you’ve liked the best. Writing tends to be a quiet, solitary pursuit, so you may run to it as an escape from the performance of a crowded classroom environment. Whether you choose to write your first novel or write grants for a museum or historical society, you’ll find that your training in research and organization will serve you well in a writing career.

Are you sure you’re ready to quit teaching?

So, with all this thought and research about a move to something new, are you sure you are ready to quit classroom teaching? Maybe seeing your options both in and outside of the world of education helps you make some connections and see the framework of a positive move.

You may just be experiencing a lull in your enthusiasm that a long break might help remedy. However, if you are truly ready to write a cover letter as a way into something different, make sure you review your options, strengths, qualifications, and skills and know the time and monetary cost of making a change.

Choosing the right alternative career

Sometimes the specific path we’ve chosen just needs a tweak to get us back on track, and sometimes that means heading back to school. If your original thought was to teach in a classroom, but you’ve been moved by inequity in resources or funding, maybe you feel a pull toward refocusing on fair education practices. You’ll find programs designed to address that shift by doing your research into schools that speak to your new focus, and you can find programs that can help you change education for the better.

But it may be that the financial, time, or other pressures of teaching have pushed you to think about your alternatives further outside the academic world. With a robust set of transferable skills and some ideas of where you’d like to go, you are in an excellent position to make a move. Take your list of skills, strengths, and goals and frame it out with some new career ideas and possibilities. As always, you’ll need to consider your financial situation and the time you need to invest, but once you work that into the mix, you’ll see your options clearly and come up with an exciting recipe for your future.

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