It’s the second week of the Autumn Term. Many teachers’ positive attitudes towards the new school year are no doubt being challenged for the first time since the restart. Perhaps you’re one of them. Perhaps the first onerous and nonsensical diktat has come through from your SLT or academy trust. Perhaps you’re starting to wonder if you are going to be able to build a special bond with Pocahontas-Marie after all, or maybe she’s going to make life as miserable for you as she did for Ms. Jenkins when she was in Year 3. Maybe, after six weeks of careful if subconscious rose-tinting, the reality of the state of the professions has simply dawned on you anew and your thoughts return to that question you’ve come back to so many times in the past: “what else could I do?”
At this point a full disclosure is required. Right now, I am sitting next to an ocean-fed volcanic pool in the beautiful garden of the villa in Hawaii where, for the next two weeks, my wife and I are enjoying our honeymoon. Until 7 weeks ago both of us were senior leaders in London primary schools with significant challenges. At the moment our only challenges are avoiding the mosquitoes and the risk of sunburn that comes with the tropical Polynesian climate. For several reasons (outlined here and here) we took the decision last year to quit our jobs and travel the world. We both have bits and bobs of paid work lined up for the year ahead but it’s not enough to live on and for the moment we’re relying on savings, wedding gifts and the rental income from our flat in North London. From our travels, we’re seeking escape and adventure but also a bit of time for reflection. When the money has run out, what should we do next? Before we committed to this decision I worried that this question might niggle at us like a loud ticking clock but, the more I’ve thought about it, the more confident I’ve become that what we face is an exciting choice, not an intimidating deadline.
I don’t want to talk other teachers into leaving the profession, but I also don’t want children in our schools taught by people who only carry on doing it because they can’t think what else they could do with their lives. If that’s you, I want to offer you some reassurance. You couldn’t quit teaching tomorrow and become a heart surgeon or a premier league footballer but, with the skills you have, the majority of jobs out there are yours to choose from. That’s why I’ve compiled this list of seven transferable skills a person gains from a career in teaching.
1.) Project Management.
Many people who think they do demanding project management jobs have never organised a school trip. If you can arrange a visit for a day (or several days) for a group of children and ensure they are all safe, supervised and benefitting educationally from the experience, then there are a whole host of other initiatives you would be capable of organising: conferences, entertainment events, holidays, weddings, training sessions and corporate away days. Project managers are required in many different sectors and no one manages a project as thoroughly or as meticulously as a teacher. And managing a project involving a group of adults who are unlikely to try and escape or wee in the plant pots? Easy.
2.) A Rhino’s Skin
Whether it’s receiving feedback after lesson observations, responding to candid remarks from your students or conversing with that parent through gritted teeth, one thing you need to survive as a teacher is a thick skin. If you’ve lasted more than a couple of years in the profession it means you’ve succeeded in dealing calmly and professionally with levels of personal criticism unheard of in most walks of life. If you decide on a career in the hospitality or retail sectors, no customer will ever say anything to you quite as cutting as the remark about your hair that boy in Year 6 made that time. And if you go into politics, no room of angry voters will ever be quite as hostile as a room full of parents who want to pick apart the new homework policy you’re seeking to introduce to your school.
3.) Dealing with Pressure
Imagine this: a job where you’re set targets that you can meet if you do enough of a certain thing. Guess what? That’s most jobs. The targets teachers are set in their annual appraisal tend to relate to the progress of specific groups of children (often measured in extraordinarily bogus and outlandish ways and which may not be achievable no matter what the teacher does.) If your job is to plant shrubs, your targets will relate to how many shrubs you planted. If your job is to fix washing machines, your targets will relate to how many washing machines you fix. Even if you work is another area where meeting targets depends on other people, like sales, you’re unlikely to come across a target quite as absurd as when you “agreed” that 90% of that class would achieve age-related expectations in maths by the end of the year, despite the fact a third of them couldn’t read well enough to access the test paper, four of them spoke no English and one of them just spent the entire year rocking back and forth on his chair and quietly repeating the word “moist” whatever you said. Lots of jobs have their pressures but few compare to those you find in the classroom.
4.) Presentational Skills
Kind of obvious but this is something that normal people stay up all night worrying about. All teachers are used to standing up in front of groups of children to convey information or explain concepts. Most also have at least some experience doing this in front of groups of adults during INSET sessions. Doing what many people anxiously call a “presentation” is this: teaching a lesson to a room full of people who already understand quite a lot of the subject matter, who are themselves held responsible for ensuring they understand it and who all, to some degree or another, actually chose to be there.
5.) Influence and Authority
You remember all that time you spent building a rapport with that challenging kid? Let’s call him Edward. You remember how, over time, you learnt what made Edward tick and what would make him kick off? You remember how, in the end, you had him more or less doing what you expected of him? Right, now imagine doing all of that with someone you or someone senior to you chose to employ knowing that, in the end, if they didn’t fall in line they’d be fired. People make millions writing books about influence and authority full of content most teachers learnt in their first term. If you can teach, you can manage and you can lead. Of course you’ll need to think about how to package that message at interviews as many of those on the panel at an interview for another management job would like to imagine that what they do is harder than teaching (don’t correct them until you’ve signed the contract.)
6.) Numbers and statistics
This has become an increasingly important part of the British education system as a succession of governments have sought to replace children with numbers. Particularly if you have held an SLT or higher-ranking middle leadership position in a school, dealing with data, statistics and EXCEL spreadsheets is likely to have been a significant part of your role. Imagine if you took all those skills you’ve applied to school assessment data in the past and applied them to something that actually meant something? Those skills could be put to good to use almost anywhere, from scientific research to accounting to charitable fundraising.
7.) A Growth Mindset
This is the big one. If I learnt anything from being a teacher it’s that what determines our success as learners, more than anything else, is our attitude. Aptitude exists too (It would take more years of practice than a human lifespan to make my tennis-playing ability as good as my knowledge of British history, for example, and I know people for whom the reverse would be true) but, all too often, the biggest stumbling block I encountered to children’s progress throughout my teaching career was what Carol Dweck would call a “fixed minset.” Our society celebrates and encourages the view that certain types of people are only inherently good at certain things. I’ve spent the last few years trying to challenge this assumption in my students; I’m going to spend the next couple of years challenging it in myself. A plumber is somebody who learnt to plumb, a surveyor is somebody who learnt to survey and the conductor of an orchestra is someone who learnt to conduct. Investment bankers like to boast of their talents to justify both their existence and their salaries, but all of them are merely people who learnt a particular set of skills that almost anyone could have learnt given the time to do so. Some jobs include skills that take many years to learn while some take only one or even less. You could choose one, put aside a few hours a week, and start now.
If you’re a teacher now and have been for a long time, you will probably never be an Olympic gymnast or an astronaut, but the list of options blocked off for you is absolutely dwarfed by the list of other paths still waiting to be explored. Your career as a teacher hasn’t closed doors. It’s opened more than you realise.
I am sure there are many teachers who feel trapped! It is not easy to escape. Many have tried and failed. As you know I applaud you for following through with your planned escape. The risk is worth it! The world of making a living, indeed making a good living is there for the taking. Far too many teachers believe the old criticism ” Those who can do, those who can’t teach!” We know this is so far from true and was probably coined by a disgruntled student having a bad day! It is true that teachers have many many skills which most other professions would marvel at! The trick is to recignise and use them creatively. That takes courage. It is worth it so take the plunge and do it!
Thank you on behalf of those who will heed your advice! I know I would have!