Daphne Gomez reached a breaking point in 2017.
Gomez had been a teacher for three years, and she had serious reservations about leaving a profession that “everyone said was my calling.” But, feeling fried and stuck in a toxic work environment, she knew she needed to seek out a different professional path.
“I often found myself crying on the way to work and in the doctor’s office,” Gomez told #evolve, “ due to stress-related illnesses.”
However frazzled Gomez might have felt at the time, she still couldn’t see herself leaving the classroom behind forever.
“I thought I would get another role for a short period of time and then potentially return to teaching when I felt better,” she said. “But I realized how much happier I was in my next role and never looked back.”
That next role was as an educational consultant for a Fortune 500 company, where she provided training to teachers and spoke on her employer’s behalf at national conferences. Gomez held that position for three years before moving on to become an instructional designer with an education company.
Gomez might have initially thought that this new career route would lead her back to teaching.
Instead, it served as a springboard to her current role as CEO of Teacher Career Coach and Qualified Team Solutions, where she now helps other teachers make the transition from the classroom to the corporate world.
Gomez knows exactly how hard it can be to make that leap.
“The biggest challenges I faced were the guilt and stigma of leaving teaching, and with gaining career self-esteem after feeling devalued as a teacher,” she said. “I had to come to the realization that at some point I would have to prioritize my own needs over the needs of others, which helped remove some
of the guilt.”
Scores of teachers are having the same epiphany that Gomez had five years ago, and the education sector is losing teachers at an alarming pace.
As the Wall Street Journal recently pointed out, federal data indicates that the rate of people quit- ting jobs in private educational services rose more than in any other industry in 2021.
A recent survey of National Education Association (NEA) members paints an equally grim picture of the profession. In a poll of 3,621 teachers, 90% of respondents said that burnout is a serious issue for them and their peers.
The same survey saw more than half (55%) of current teachers giving serious thought to
walking away from the classroom. And those who are leaving the teaching profession are finding employers eager to bring the skills and expertise that educators have honed in the classroom to a more corporate environment.
Bringing a Lot to the Table
Burnout was prevalent among educators like Gomez long before the coronavirus pandemic’s arrival early in 2020. The upheaval of the last two years has only exacerbated teachers’ stress, and it’s no wonder why educators are especially weary right now.
“Throughout this pandemic, America’s educators have shown us how committed they are to helping their students thrive,” said National Education Association President Becky Pringle in a statement summarizing the aforementioned NEA poll findings.
“But, as our new survey shows, after persevering through the hardest school years in memory, America’s educators are exhausted and increasingly burned out.”
In the midst of the pandemic, teachers have often found themselves unable to provide students the one-on-one attention they need and are frequently forced to give up class planning and lunch time to fill in for colleagues who are out because of COVID, added Pringle, who described the ongoing exodus of educators as “a five-alarm crisis.”
Teachers looking for a career change have no shortage of opportunities outside of education.
In December 2021, for example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 10.9 million job openings. And the worsening teacher shortage is “proving a boon to hiring managers in industries such as IT services and consulting, hospitals and software development,” according to WSJ.
“Teachers’ ability to absorb and transmit information quickly, manage stress and multitask are high-demand skills, recruiters and careers coaches say. Classroom instructors are landing sales roles and jobs as instructional coaches, software engineers and behavioral health technicians,” the newspaper’s Kathryn Dill wrote.
Teachers’ experience and expertise should trans- late well to any number of positions and industries, said Rebecca Starr, area president of Gallagher’s HR consulting practice.
“Manager competencies are evolving due to work- life changes, the pandemic, remote work and the war for talent, for example,” said Starr. “There’s a line that can be drawn from these evolving manager skills and competencies to the attributes found in many teachers.
“It’s also interesting to note that not every individual in an organization is a manager, but every teacher is the manager of his or her classroom — having a direct impact on the performance of their students,” she continued. “They have a better understanding than most of the power of their influence and how that can affect a subordinate or colleague’s behavior, performance and loyalty to the organization.”
Good teachers are typically gifted with strong oral and written communication skills, “along with wonderful active listening skills,” added Gomez, noting that these skills are applicable to many customer-support and service roles as well as business/sales development positions, for example.
A typical teacher is “passionate about helping others succeed,” she said, which makes them ideal candidates for learning and development roles, project manager positions or recruiters, for instance.
“Good teachers are typically gifted with strong oral and written communication skills, along with wonderful active listening skills.”
Shining Brighter, Quicker
Mercer’s data science team conducted an analysis of elementary and high school teacher roles in an effort to better understand the strengths and attributes that teachers can bring to a business environment, and to determine the skills that are most applicable to other roles and industries.
The New York-based consultancy’s assessment found many of the qualities that Starr and Gomez detailed — organizational skills, problem solving, communication and teamwork, for example — topping the list.
“These skills are highly sought after in the [job] market, and are thought to be essential for many roles across all industries,” said Monique McCloud Manley, U.S. and Canada workforce solutions leader at Mercer, adding that Mercer’s Skills Library places these attributes among the top five skills preferred for “thousands of jobs across hundreds of job families from HR to marketing to operations.”
It’s up to the employer to harness these strengths and make sure lifelong educators develop in the areas where they may need more seasoning, she said.
“Employers that take a skills-based approach to linking talent to work have a keener vision of skill adjacencies and are more likely to take advantage of the potential of new hires, including teachers entering the corporate world.”
And, as is the case with any new hire, transitioning teachers might not possess all the skills required for the role.
“It is the responsibility of the organization,” said McCloud Manley, “to identify and hire for the most important skills and establish channels for new hires to learn in formal and informal settings.”
It’s equally helpful “to understand the translations between corporate and classroom skills in case a strong candidate [coming from education] struggles with terminology,” added Gomez. “It’s also important to remember that skillsets and job duties can be taught, but personality is always going to play a big factor in who can quickly [transition] into certain positions.”
Providing an educator making this transition with some room for error “is going to go a long way in helping a teacher feel comfortable with applying their own strengths,” she said.
“Whether someone is coming out of teaching, the military or another unrelated industry, there will be a learning curve. It’s no different when hiring teachers, so offering the same level of training, assistance and resources that make any employee successful will be a big help.”
Gomez points to a strong onboarding process and mentors as being equally critical to a former teacher’s development in a more corporate role.
Ultimately, teachers are lifelong learners, “so they’ll continue to grow in their abilities if you point them in the right direction and continue to give feedback. Showing them that you value what they do bring to the table, and having a plan to help them learn what they don’t know are going to put them at ease,” she said.
“Any training and additional resources offered will be a big help, but having someone they can go to for reassurance as they begin to exercise their new skills will help put their minds at ease and allow them to shine brighter, quicker.”