The field of education is so much larger than just classroom teaching. Yes, classroom teachers play a central role in almost all formal learning organizations, but what if you get into teaching only to find that it isn’t for you? Maybe it has to do with classroom management, the ebb and flow of a school day, the long hours of evening grading, repeating the same activities several times a day, the rigid policies and procedures, or any number of other things. What do you do then? You just spent tens of thousands on a degree in education, and you still love the broad field of education. You are just not sure that you and the classroom are a good match. Here are some tips for working through such a challenge.
Revisit or Discover Your Compelling Why
Why did you go into teaching in the first place? When you have a truly compelling why for your work, it gives you the capacity to work through challenges and strive to improve. Many people go into education because they love the idea of helping young (or older) people grow and learn. If you try to bracket the current challenges and difficult parts of teaching for you, can you find something that might be inspiring, that resonates with you? If so, that is great. If not, it could be that your slump is making it hard for you to see, but it could be that you have another passion that you want to pursue. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, pursuing a compelling why in your life, even if it leads you out of the classroom, is a great model for students.
It isn’t always fun to play an instrument when you first start. Practice is hard. Some people find the same thing to be true with teaching. In a good K-12 teacher education program, you hopefully get much of that practice before your first job, but some of us take more time than that. If you are teaching in higher education, this it is even more common to enter a classroom with little to no experience in the art or science of teaching, so it will take time to learn and improve. Find a couple of trusted and good teachers. Ask them to observe and give you feedback. Reflect on your own teaching. Use all that to identify your growth opportunities and prioritize them. Then find a mentor/coach to help you work on the top one or two items. As you improve in those areas, work your way down the list.
This can make all the difference. I wanted to quit teaching after two weeks because I was overwhelmed by the discipline challenges in two of my seven classes. The best thing that I did is went to the principal, explained my fears and challenges, and asked him for help. He observed, gave me some tips, and I put them into practice. It was a night and day difference, and turned my teaching from drudgery into one of greatest joys in life.
So, it is good to figure out if it might just be an area of weakness that is pulling you down. If you can persist and address that area, you might rediscover the reason you pursued the career in the first place.
Not all teaching is the same. There are so many ways to teach. Get informed about the diverse possibilities of how to design learning experiences and your classroom. There are countless books and resources to help you explore them. Changing your paradigm on what it means to be a classroom teacher much be just what you and the students need.
I once gave a presentation called Extreme Classroom Makeover: How to Improve Student Learning, Increase Engagement, and Decrease Your Grading Time. A teacher of 25 years contacted me two weeks later explaining that this completely transformed her teaching career. She was no longer spending three hours a night grading papers but students were more engaged and learning more than ever before. She just got 15-20 hours a week back from her life and her love for teaching was renewed. So, sometimes it is just about being creative with how you go about teaching.
Is it All Classrooms or Just This One?
There are also many different types of schools today. With the magnet, independent and charter schools, you can find everything from self-directed learning academies to place-based learning, project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, direct instruction, classical, and fifty others. Sometimes people find themselves in a school that doesn’t align with their own values and beliefs about education. That might call for finding a school that better aligns. The same thing is true with higher education teaching options.
There are Many Roles in Schools
Some people discover that what they really love is supporting students and being part of the school community. They are less interested in the traditional classroom teaching part. I’ve seen people find their niche in countless roles. People leave traditional classroom teaching to become great administrators, leaders in the business office, library media specialists, coaches, tutors, guidance counselors, technology coaches, curriculum coordinators, admission counselors, advancement professionals, IT professionals, and dozens of other positions in modern K-12 or higher education organizations. Sometimes your passions and interests are better used in one of these other roles. You can stay part of the community while finding a role that is a good fit for you at this stage in your life.
There are Many Other Roles in Education
There are also countless jobs in the education sector. There are education startups, education publishing houses, established education software companies, companies that specialize in teacher professional development, educational technology providers, instructional design companies, and more. Some of these serve K-12 and/or higher education clients, and your background in education can be a great start to explore one of these roles. You might find that such a role better matches your gifts and goals while also contributing to a field that you value.
This isn’t for everyone but it can be great if you have the entrepreneurial spirit, a strong work ethic, and a tolerance for risk. There are so many ways to do “education” work as a self-employed person. You can do mentoring, coaching, consulting, online teaching, public speaking, write, create and sell lessons and educational resources, and more. Much of what you learned in your education degree can transfer well into a variety of self-employment options. There are also plenty of coaches and workshops waiting to help you make this change.
Education is larger than classroom teaching. It is even larger than schooling. Education is a multi-billion dollar industry. It is also something that is needed in pretty much every part of society. As such, a committed and hard-working person with a passion for education along with education expertise has plenty of options beyond the classroom today, options that still help people grow, learn, and achieve their goals in life. As I’ve written before, I see education as a form of social entrepreneurship, and while we need plenty of great classroom teachers, we need all types of people. If you have the committed to growing and the passion for the mission, take heart, because there is a place for you.
In fact, if you just read this article and want to explore some of the possibilities, I am more than happy to chat with you. Feel free to share in the comment area, contact me using the email link at the top of the page, or reach out on social media.