Daphne Williams is a former teacher who became a consultant working for a large educational company and currently works full time as an Instructional Designer. During her speaking engagements for the company at educational conferences, teachers often asked her how she got out of teaching. She realized the huge need for information and support on transitioning out of teaching and created The Teacher Career Coach.
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How to overcome the guilt and mixed emotions that come with quitting
ANGELA: Daphne, I love the way that you are de-stigmatizing teachers’ desire to leave the profession. I think that’s something that is so important and so needed. I wrote an article/podcast episode a couple of years ago called Five Things I Learned From Quitting My Teaching Job Twice, and I tried to validate the mixed emotions that I think a lot of teachers feel when they’re in those situations where what’s best for you conflicts with what’s best for your students. You just feel really torn about the decision.
I’m wondering what you would say to teachers who know that it’s time to move on professionally, but they feel embarrassed or guilty about that.
DAPHNE: This is actually one of the main reasons that I created a community for teachers looking to transition. People transition out of other careers all the time, and I wanted to help normalize the teacher’s decision to do the same.
Leaving teaching was a really rough personal decision for me, and I didn’t take it lightly. I went into teaching with the idea that it was going to be my forever career and that it was my calling. Like many other teachers facing the same predicament today, I realized it wasn’t a good fit for me, but I didn’t have a plan B.
I was super overwhelmed. I was juggling all these super heavy emotions and doing a lot of soul searching, and I had other people encouraging me to stick it out because I was a so-called “good teacher.”
I heard the exact same thing all the time! “But you can’t quit, you’re such a great teacher.”
Yeah, absolutely. And I know that I was a good teacher, and I know people were trying to encourage me, but even that muddied the waters of my thought process about whether or not I should leave. So I just had to shift my own mindset and do what was right for me.
I eventually left for a job as an educational consultant for a large technology company, and luckily all of my coworkers were really kind about my decision. But unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Even today, I have teachers who are trolling my Instagram that call others on there backstabbers or quitters, so the stigma of leaving teaching today is obviously still a huge issue.
To anyone struggling with the guilt, weigh your options and make the best decision for you and your family, and drown out all of the outside chatter. You can make a transition for something that’s a better fit for you.
You went into this position because you have a good heart, and you’ll continue to have a good heart even if you decide to leave. You can continue to support education in other ways, through volunteer work or campaigning for pro-education candidates or propositions. I’ve been volunteering at a nonprofit organization that teaches creative writing workshops for low-income youth in Los Angeles, and so I still spend my time giving back to the community and doing things like that.
I feel like a lot of people get into teaching because they want to make a difference. They don’t just want a job. It’s a calling to them, and they want to feel like the work that they’re doing really matters.
So, I love what you’re saying here, and think it’s important to point out that a) classroom teaching is not the only way to do work that matters, and b) you can move into another role and still have time — maybe even more time and energy and bandwidth — to give back, and do work that feels important to you in other contexts.
Yes. You do not have to sacrifice everything to be a good person.
Why teaching may not be a viable life-long career choice anymore
I hear a lot from teachers who feel like they’re needing some sort of change. It might be a professional change, or a lifestyle change. They’re just feeling like teaching isn’t something they can envision themselves doing all the way until retirement.
I think a few decades ago, teaching was something that you stayed with right from college. You may take a few years off to have kids or something like that, but you’re pretty much going to retire as a teacher. You might even retire in the same school, or in the same district.
And now, I feel like teaching has become such a demanding, stressful position that it’s just not something that people can see themselves doing for 30, or 40+ years anymore. Is that something that you’ve noticed too?
Yeah, absolutely. That was one of the main questions I was asking myself is, Can I envision myself doing this for another year? What about five years? What about 20 years? That line of questioning made me realize I needed an exit strategy.
Your skills as a teacher are valuable in other professions–you just need to translate them from school speak to corporate speak
There’s this feeling where I don’t know if I can really stick with this long-term or not, but in addition to the guilt, there’s also another thing that is holding back a lot of the teachers I’ve talked to: they don’t know what else they can do.
Some of that concern is because they don’t think anyone’s going to want to hire them. They feel like an education degree is only good for teaching, and all they have is classroom experience and that’s not valuable.
So I want to start by debunking this myth that someone who’s only been a teacher throughout their adult lives is somehow only qualified to teach.
Yes, I think besides the teacher guilt that everyone faces and then not having a plan B because they assumed it was going to be their “forever career,” another reason why it’s so hard to transition out of teaching is that we have low self-esteem as career professionals. We feel devalued in our work, and over a period of time, it takes a toll on us mentally.
One of the main lessons that I teach is describing yourself as a professional, and it helps teachers develop mindset shifts to overcome some of these mental hurdles that we place on ourselves.
The good news is having a degree is a positive when you’re applying for any position, even if it’s an education degree. Most HR professionals are looking for experience more than they are for specific degrees. So you don’t even usually need to worry about going back for a specific industry degree unless you’re trying to go into something like the health field.
It’s more important that you’re able to showcase how the skills you’ve acquired translate into the skills that make you the most qualified candidate for the position.
So some of the more obvious skills that teachers have are curriculum writing, content creation, professional development, and training implementation. But depending on your job duties as a teacher, you may also have managerial experience, project management, marketing skills, and budgeting experience.
If you were in charge of managing the TAs’ schedules or if you helped the PTA with a budget, you can write all of those down as experience. And it might kind of feel like a stretch, but it’s really important that you realize how these skills translate into other industries so that you’re super confident that you have the skills required when you go into the interviews or apply for jobs.
That’s such a great point about just being able to describe what you do because so many people in other industries don’t know exactly what it is that teachers do. So it’s really up to us to be able to tell them: “Look, it involves a whole lot more than you think, we’re not babysitters, we’re doing a lot of stuff in here. We have a lot of skill sets that are very diverse.”
When I first started applying to new positions, I had my teaching resume and I made a couple of quick tweaks to my resume, but I wasn’t explicitly going in and translating everything, and that was a huge no-no.
I assumed that someone would make the inference that, oh, this translates into this in the corporate world, but that is not the case. So I’ve developed a ton of different corporate-to-classroom vocabularies that you can kind of steal and tweak so you don’t have to figure it out. But it’s really, really important for you to be able to translate your skills for potential employers.
I want to go back to the point that you made about teachers feeling devalued in their work because I don’t think that that’s a fact that can be overstated either. The amount of different types of jobs that teachers do is pretty unbelievable, you know? We sum it up with little cliches like “teachers wear many hats,” but it’s way more than wearing many hats. You’re doing many, many different jobs.
And often the work goes unappreciated, and a lot of it is unseen labor. There’s so much emotional labor and behind-the-scenes stuff … things that no one really sees that you’re doing and you’re not really recognized for.
So it’s so easy to buy into this idea that, “I’m just a teacher, I don’t know how to do anything else but teach,” and not realize that the way the system is set up to de-value you and not recognize your accomplishments is shaping the way that you think about yourself.
And that to me is one of the most heartbreaking things about supporting teachers who are in this position, and it’s why I’m so excited to have you on the show to talk about the different supports that you have for teachers. Because they deserve to have someone help them see their own value, and then convey that value accurately to other organizations and companies that might hire them.
Yeah, I constantly hear teachers saying, “No one will hire a teacher,” and, “No one will value this degree except for in education,” and that is absolutely not true. So I’m really happy that you brought that up.
How to figure out what other jobs might be a good fit for you
So how can a teacher figure out what job would be a good fit for them? In other words, how do they translate the things that they love about teaching into another job that allows them to get those same levels of satisfaction or use those same skills?
This is one of the most common questions I get asked, and I established a framework to help walk teachers through determining what jobs are the best fit for them specifically.
So one of the first questions to ask is whether or not you want to stay in education. You can stay in education and work for education companies, or you can make a complete pivot into a corporate environment using your skills.
If you’ve been a teacher for less than five years, you’ll be qualified for careers that are higher paying but entry-level, like account manager positions or implementation specialists. And if you’ve been a teacher longer, you’ll be looking more for corporate trainer or learning and development manager positions.
Everyone’s going to have different qualifications that they’ve established with their own job duties as a teacher. So you’re also going to have to account for that, and experience from other positions or volunteer work that you’ve established in your professional life. So some of The Teacher Career Coach members have transitioned into curriculum writing, instructional designer, and office manager positions.
Another thing to remember is that not all jobs are going to be the same. Even if you’re pursuing a position as an instructional designer, you may find some job listings you’re under-qualified for or some you’re overqualified for. That’s why I walk all the Teacher Career Coach members through steps for reading job listings to help determine which positions would be the best fit within their qualifications.
I’m betting that some of the teachers you work with are surprised at the number of different opportunities that are out there. I bet there are people listening to this who are like, “Corporate trainer? I didn’t know that there was such a thing!” or “Learning and Development Manager? Oh, I didn’t know that was a job.”
There are so many other types of jobs that I think we’re not even aware of, because when you’re little you hear things like, “What do you want to be when you grow up? A teacher, a doctor, a firefighter?” And we don’t think about all these other different types of positions.
And maybe you don’t know anyone else who does that job, and maybe there aren’t a lot of those opportunities out there, but they do exist and they are just perfect for the skill set of a teacher.
A lot of these jobs were completely brand new to me. I was like, “Wait, what’s an implementation specialist?” But it’s just someone who’s really good with the product and can walk someone through step-by-step how to implement that product. So … it’s another word for a teacher. There are a ton of positions like that which were always off my radar, but they hire former teachers all the time.
I remember talking to a former teacher once who writes the manuals for different products. So when you buy an appliance, you know how a lot of manuals just don’t explain what to do very well? This company got really smart and hired a teacher because she knows how to break down steps and how to explain things clearly and how to make sure the diagrams match the words. It’s a fantastic job. She loves it and she gets to work remotely.
Who ever really thought about that? But someone’s got to write the manuals and the assembly instructions for the products that we buy, and a teacher is great for that.
What the job market is like right now for teachers wanting to transition into other careers
Let me ask a follow-up question here, because there may be some people who are listening to this and thinking, “Well, that’s really cool, but I’m in a very rural area or a small town, and it’s hard for people to get work here in general. There’s not a lot of jobs, and I don’t know that we have corporate trainers in my town.” What would you say to those people?
There’s a ton of companies out there that will hire for remote opportunities like implementation specialists and instructional designers. Many companies don’t mind if you do everything virtually from wherever you’re at.
I went through and found all the education companies that I could, and looked up their Careers pages, and then I also flagged where their headquarter location is and if they’re hiring for remote opportunities, just to help save time for all the members of my course.
What is the job market really like these days? I’m wondering if you can speak to folks who’ve been teaching for quite a while and they really don’t have any idea how the application process has changed, how much competition there is for jobs, what kind of jobs are available, and so on. What things are you seeing right now in terms of trends and people’s ability to get hired?
So the job market has changed a lot due to the advancements of technology. Like I was just saying, there’s a ton of opportunities for remote working or working from home. My first position outside of the classroom was mostly remote, unless I was traveling for public speaking events or working in schools or national conferences.
Teachers who are still in the classroom today can even start freelancing positions to help build resume experience and gain extra income. If you’re looking for a position where they want you to have tech or design skills or something like instructional design, you really want to start building out that digital resume that you can refer to with your experience and showcase your work on your website.
Another thing to think about is that because of technology, the majority of resumes are now submitted online, so it’s so much easier to submit a ton of resumes quickly. But with that, the way that you need to write your resumes needs to change.
Around 75% of resumes actually never even see human eyes. The majority of HR professionals use applicant tracking systems to sort through all their applications to find only the most qualified people, because they’re getting so many resumes. That means you need to ensure that your formatting, keywords, and the file type that’s submitted are all accurate in order for the resume to get opened.
So pinpoint companies that you’d like to work for — you’re more likely to get your resume opened if you apply directly to their careers page on their website than using one of those larger job search engines. And if you can find out about a job that’s available even before it’s posted through networking, it’s even more promising.
Shifting the way you think about earning money and hourly rates
Great point about how teachers who are still in the classroom can start freelancing to build resume experience and gain extra income. That was my first step out of the classroom as well — I just started looking to see what was available. I found a part-time position working with an animated educational movie company, editing scripts and writing the lesson plans that go with their movies, and that kind of thing.
It was not intended to be a remote position. They didn’t advertise it that way. But my husband was living in New York and so I was slowly trying to transition to New York. I told them, “I’m not really living there yet. I’m still kind of down in Florida. Can we do remote most of the time?” And they really worked with me.
And then once that was established, I was able to find some part-time work doing instructional coaching for another company in the city. So cobbled together different jobs rather than finding one full-time job, and then left my position with the school district.
That might be one thing that we want to talk about here, too — I know a lot of companies are moving away from hiring for full-time positions and offering benefits, and moving more into the gig economy with freelancers and contractors and things like that.
That can be scary to a teacher, if you’re used to having guaranteed income and a pension. Letting that go can be hard. But you can make a really great living by diversifying your income streams. So you are earning some money working a little bit for this company, then you’re doing this other thing for this company, maybe you’re doing this one thing for a business for yourself … that can add up to significantly more than a teaching income, and you’re still working the same amount of hours you were in the classroom.
Can you talk a little bit about those kinds of opportunities as well?
One thing that I always ask everyone to think about is how many hours are they actually working as a teacher, and how many hours they would they get back working in another field. Do the math and figure out how much you are actually getting paid.
For instance, as a teacher, I worked around 70 hours per week, and I might be taking a 5K 10K pay cut hypothetically to leave and go to a different position. But what if I was gaining 20 hours a week from that? What would I be doing with that extra time?
I left the classroom for a better-paying position, but I also had so much more free time that I started a TeachersPayTeachers store, which ended up making me a passive income stream.
So that’s also something that I really am passionate about teachers figuring out — whether they can create different passive income streams that they enjoy doing. And that way they’ll be able to supplement their income even further if they do happen to only be working in freelancing positions or something where they’re not having as many benefits as they had in the classroom.
Right. Because if you do the math on your hourly rate as a teacher — if you divide it by the 40 hour workweek that you’re paid for — it’s a decent living. But when you look at the fact that most teachers are working an additional 10, 20, 30 hours a week … it’s eye-opening. Some people have crunched the numbers in the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club and discovered they’re making like $10 an hour.
It doesn’t seem quite so hard to find another job that pays well when you realize how many hours you’re putting in for your current salary. You might crunch the numbers and discover that a job which technically pays less is also allowing you to work fewer hours than you did as a teacher, so you’re making more per hour and working less. That extra time may be more valuable than the money, or it may free you up to create more income streams so you can make more money.
So you may need to break out of the traditional framework of, “I need to know exactly what I’m getting paid every two weeks,” and be open to thinking about hours and compensation in a different way than I think we’re accustomed to in education.
My first jump into an educational consultant position felt a little risky because I did not have benefits, but then I found myself making so much passive income with the TpT store that I was making more and still having money to put into retirement. I was making more than I would have if I stayed in the classroom for 10 years within the first two years of being outside of the classroom.
The first steps to take when you’re ready to make an exit plan
What is the first thing that you would advise a teacher to do if they are considering leaving the classroom? If you’ve got them excited now and they’re really thinking this could be a possibility for them … what’s the first step they should take?
Start getting your timeline together, and figure out your peak application season. It’s around two months before your contract expires if you’re planning on staying through the end of the year. Then just start backwards, mapping what you’re realistically going to be able to do prior to that time.
At a minimum, you’re going to need to identify a few career paths that you’re interested in and write transition resumes so that you can have them ready to go during that peak time.
So if your school year ends, let’s say at the end of May or sometime in June, your peak application period then would be March or April. That’s when you’d want to start?
Yeah. So if you were leaving the classroom around June, I would start applying in March. You want around six or eight weeks to be pushing out your resumes, as many as you possibly can, just so that you can get your foot in the door and get interviews during that time. And some interview processes actually take four to six weeks. So you want to give yourself a big chunk of time that you’re pushing out a ton of resumes.
How to get more resources and support in transitioning out of the classroom
I want to talk about the resources and support that you have for teachers who are wanting to transition out of the classroom because–and I’ll be really honest here–one of the main reasons that I wanted to have you on the show is I’ve been getting questions for years from teachers who want to transition out but they need support.
The information that you’re sharing here is not widely available. Trying to get any kind of practical information — resume support, figuring how to translate teaching into another career — is really, really hard. I know there’s a huge need for that, but I just honestly wasn’t passionate about that work. It wasn’t something I personally wanted to support teachers with.
So I was hoping was to find someone else who IS passionate about that work, and who’s doing it really well, and then promote their resources as an affiliate for the program.
And so I’ve watched you and a couple of other folks who have been doing this — just watching everything for the last 6-12 months. I took a long time to make this decision because when I endorse something, that has meaning to me. I’m not going to point people towards resources that I think are just sort of mediocre.
I’ve just been really impressed by what I’ve seen on your social media, in terms of you providing the mindset support to teachers that they need and helping to build their confidence and giving them practical tools. And I really like the resources that you are offering them.
So I want you to tell teachers more about your resources, because I have looked, and I will tell you that these are the best resources on the market. If someone wants to transition out of teaching and just isn’t sure how to do it and feels like they just need more guidance and tools so that they’re not spending hours hunting through job listings and trying to figure it out on their own, I really think that your program is great for that.
My digital course is called The Teacher Career Coach Course. I hired a certified career coach and an expert resume writer to help create many of the resources in the course.
In the video modules, I walk teachers through identifying their new career path, mindset shifts, describing themselves as a professional, networking, resume writing, salary negotiation, interviews and more.
The course currently includes a ton of printable templates, like a list of translated vocabulary from classroom to corporate to make your resume writing process way easier. And the resume writer I work with has created sample transition resumes for new teachers and experienced teachers all looking to transition to different job markets.
I even answer some of the trickier questions, like how to talk in interviews about your decision to leave the classroom, or a toxic administration, or shifts in politics within your district.
And, we have a private community built out for our course members so you can chat with one another for encouragement and support.
So if you’re just getting out there and exploring your options but not ready to dive into it, I also have a free eBook with some samples from the course and a list of the top jobs that hire teachers. All of this can be found on one website page, which is teachercareercoach.com/truthforteachers. So that’s where you can find more about the program that I’ve put together and then grab some free resources if you wanted to.
When I think about the cost of hiring career consultants and coaches and resume coaches … those services are so expensive, Daphne. And if you are on a teacher salary, it is really hard to invest $2,000 in a coach when you’re scared about not having a job soon, and you’re afraid of not having any income and losing your pension, and now you’ve got to kick out all this money to have someone help you.
So I’m really, really grateful that you chose to make this affordable for teachers and something that is accessible for as many people as possible who want that support.
Yeah, I am not a certified career coach. I am just a former teacher myself who made this transition successfully. And I kept hearing kind of the same questions from teachers, the same type of struggles over and over. I’m basically outsourcing that large fee and hiring out a certified career coach who will answer their questions. So everyone gets to see that answer and it’s not at an additional cost to them. It’s just a membership cost.
Right, so they’re basically sharing the cost of it. Just pay for access to the course, and you get all of these benefits, and then you get access to these resources that have been created by experts in the field, rather than you as the teacher having to go out, find the coach yourself, work with them individually, and go through that whole process and shoulder the whole financial burden on your own. Is that right?
So let’s leave out with a takeaway truth, something that you want every teacher to understand about transitioning out of teaching.
One thing I want everybody to understand is it’s okay to leave teaching. Changing jobs is normal in most other fields and there shouldn ‘t be a stigma about it in education. You can also make a career change even if you love teaching, if that’s the best choice for you in your life.
Right, because when you leave teaching, it doesn’t mean that you hate it. It doesn’t mean that you couldn’t hack it, even though you may feel that way at times. You may feel that sort of guilt or pressure.
But the truth is that you don’t have to stay in the same job for your whole life. There are just so many other options out there for you. And there are always choices. You don’t ever have to stay someplace that isn’t meeting your needs.