What Can a Teacher Become? Facilitating Career Transitions Beyond the Classroom
By Alexandra Rizzi and Kate Rizzi
It is no secret that teaching is a high burn-out career. A RAND Corporation study (Steiner & Woo, 2021) found that nearly one in four teachers was considering leaving their job. This rate is higher than in pre-pandemic years and higher than the national average of employed adults. The authors acknowledge that the pandemic has added to teachers’ stress levels, but that teachers had been expressing similar levels of stress and desire for career change prior to the pandemic.
Many teachers enter the profession determined to engage and shape young minds but find themselves struggling after a few years in the classroom. The discovery that the day-to-day work of teaching is less about helping students learn and grow and more about completing a long list of administrative tasks can be disruptive to a teacher’s career fulfillment. Common stressors include overcrowded classrooms, performance metrics that seem impossible to reach, and a lack of resources. Summer breaks begin with the need to catch up on self-care and end with worry about back-to-school prep. In addition, the teaching profession offers limited upward mobility. Some teachers aspire to become administrators, but the education management career track taps different skills and interests from those required of a classroom teacher.
Independent career practitioners working with teachers who want to make a change may find it particularly difficult to help teachers see beyond the classroom. Two common challenges for teachers in career transition are:
- Their self-concepts are closely tied to the profession of teaching.
- They may have limited knowledge of the world of work beyond education.
Theoretical perspectives of Mark Savickas and John Krumboltz can be especially relevant when working with teachers in transition. Proposed solutions to the challenge of teacher transitions are offered below.
Becoming Someone Other Than a Teacher
In the United States, when meeting someone for the first time, it is common to be asked “What do you do?” This question does not give the respondent much bandwidth to reply with any information other than their occupation, as if that is all that one does. Teaching is a profession that can tend to occupy much space in one’s self-concept. Many teachers envision themselves in the teaching role for years before stepping into the classroom. Others fall into the role through happenstance. Regardless of how one enters the field, teaching demands an investment of emotional labor and time that is above and beyond the job description and workday. For example, teachers are expected to anticipate the needs of all constituents while attending to duties such as grading, planning, and multiple methods of communication. Teachers must pull from deep within and bring their whole selves to the job. The role of “teacher” becomes closely connected to self-concept and thus limits one’s ability to imagine stepping into an entirely new vocational role.
Someone working in sales or consulting might interact with clients in a wide range of industries and functional roles, and therefore have more occupational literacy, while teachers are likely to have more limited knowledge of various careers. Teachers might struggle to stretch their self-concept beyond career options that are only a step or two removed from teaching, such as training or tutoring.
Savickas provides a structure for expanding one’s vocational self-concept through re-writing the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we can do (Savickas, 2013). While some teachers might come to career counseling or coaching with a focus on deciding what to do next, the first step is to help them figure out who they want to become. The “self as author” is one of the key foundations of Savickas’s Career Construction Theory and is particularly relevant for teachers in transition (Savickas, 2013). Teachers who have so closely identified with their roles will need help authoring a new vocational self-concept.
Savickas’s approach asks questions such as, “Whom did you admire growing up and why?” and “What is your favorite motto or saying?” This framework allows teachers to explore their strengths and their values in their own stories and to re-invent self-concepts that stretch well beyond the label of “teacher.”
Expanding Possibilities and Taking Action
Once teachers gain insight into who they want to become, the question remains, “What next?” John Krumboltz might have said, “Try stuff!” Krumboltz posits that “human behavior is the product of countless numbers of learning experiences made available by both planned, and unplanned situations” (2009, p. 135). Many successful career-switchers find their way through a series of unplanned events. The best way to generate and capitalize on unplanned events is by taking small, deliberate actions (Mitchell et al., 1999). In the case of teachers, summer can be an excellent time to gain skills and engage in exploratory activities. It is through engaging in these activities that teachers can see previously unseen avenues to act upon and explore. By taking small steps into uncharted territory, teachers can generate the happenstance that Krumboltz points to as an important part of career success.
New career trajectories become visible through participation in activities such as online courses, networking, social events, volunteer work, and professional organizations. A good way to choose said activities is to follow one’s interests. For example, a teacher who particularly enjoys creative writing might join a meetup group or organization for writers. This may give them access to people who work in various, related fields, opening the door for potential avenues of translating teaching skills into a new role as a copywriter, technical writer, or editor. The skills required to be a great teacher are varied and far-reaching and can be applied to many fields. These include, but are not limited to, consulting, tech, counseling, advising, curriculum design, marketing, and even finance or law. The role of career practitioners is to help teachers expand their view of careers that are available to them and what they are capable of.
Shining a Spotlight on New Ways of Working
Career development professionals have an opportunity to help teachers view themselves and the world of work through a wider lens. New careers are emerging practically every day, and there has never been a better time to create a new path. As one positive psychologist put it, “On today’s journey to the future, I don’t have a choice between the road less traveled and the road more traveled. No one has been where I am going. No one has experienced the future I will experience. The only choice I have is the road never traveled” (Gelatt, 2019, 2nd para.) And so, the question career practitioners might ask their teacher clients is, “Dear teacher, which path forward will you pave and how may I help you take that path?”
Gelatt, H. B. (2019, February 17). No one has been to my future. Positive Uncertainty. https://hbgelatt.wordpress.com/2019/02/17/rules-of-the-road-never-traveled/
Mitchell, K. E., Levin, S. A., & Krumboltz, J. D. (1999). Planned happenstance: Constructing unexpected career opportunities. Journal of Counseling & Development, 77(2), 115–124. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1556-6676.1999.tb02431.x
Savickas, M. L. (2013). Career construction theory and practice. In S. D. Brown & R.W. Lent (Eds.), Career Development and Counseling: Putting career theory to work (2nd ed., pp. 147—183). Wiley & Sons.
Steiner, E. D., & Woo, A. (2021, June 14). Job-related stress threatens the teacher supply. RAND Corporation. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA1108-1.html
Kate Rizzi, M.A., CSP, and Alexandra Rizzi, M.S.Ed., CCSP, are a mother and daughter who have worked in K-12 education for a combined 28 years in various schools, roles, and countries. They have transitioned out of the classroom to become career services providers. Kate and Alexandra share a love of learning, personal development, and helping their clients be inspired by themselves. They now work with clients in private practice on education and career development and are passionate about helping people find their true north. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.alexandrarizzi.com, email@example.com and www.mindfulcareercenter.com