If you’re ready to reevaluate your job and decide if you want to return next school year or explore other options, this episode will help you consider the possibilities.
I’m talking with Daphne Williams Gomez of The Teacher Career Coach about what’s changed in the job market for teachers since she was a guest on the show back in March 2020.
She’ll share trends she’s noticing, as well as questions you can ask yourself to make the very personal decision about whether teaching is still what you want to do. We’ll discuss ways to make teaching work, and the benefits of looking for a school, grade level, or subject area that’s a better fit instead of transitioning to an entirely new career path.
We then explore the attachment many educators have to their job identity, and the struggle to find another career that offers the same noble calling and sense of purpose. We discuss the pros and cons of finding a job that you like — not love — in order to have the time, energy, and money to do non-work-related things you love. We push back against the “anti 9-5 and “be your own boss” narratives that aren’t the right fit for everyone.
Daphne will also share examples of former teachers who have matched their skill sets to other jobs that they enjoy — often, careers they’d never even considered. Finally, Daphne shares what your next steps should be if you’re curious about other work you could do apart from teaching.
You can take Daphne’s free quiz about career options here. You’ll also find links to her Teacher Career Coach podcast, resume and job hunting resources, and info about her online course + mentorship to help you transition to your next career.
Listen to the audio below,
or subscribe in your podcast app
Sponsored by GreatSchools
ANGELA: The last time I had you on the show — we talked in February 2020 — our topic was about how and when to make an exit from teaching. And then the pandemic hit the following month and the economy crashed and everyone was getting laid off, and we were both like, “Um, no one’s leaving teaching, who would quit a stable job that lets them safely teach from home, is this episode even going to be relevant?”
And then approximately one week into emergency remote learning, we both knew: YES, it is relevant, because as it turns out, pandemic teaching is way more stressful than even normal teaching, and the pandemic’s going to go on for way longer than we thought, and yes, a LOT of folks are going to resign over this.
Tell me about what’s changed in the realm of teachers leaving the profession over the past 2 years since I last interviewed you. What are you observing now?
DAPHNE: So things, as I know that you have talked about on your podcast, also have started to get progressively worse for teachers when it comes to unrealistic work expectations of pretending that everything’s normal and getting back to the normal workflow like “catching up from anything that was lost,” and staff shortages. Students are really struggling with classroom management just from being put through a lot of stress over the last few years which is a burden for teachers as well.
And then there’s a lot more political things that are going on inside different states that are impacting teachers and their happiness in the profession. So teachers started to leave during the pandemic as things were progressively getting worse, and I think a lot of people started to see examples of teaching no longer being this forever career. They started to see more examples of what a non-linear career path looked like outside of education. And then they started to realize that with all these stressors and all these examples of it being possible, it could potentially be an exit plan for them as well.
So all of the factors that I talked about with the stress that you were seeing outside of the classroom, I think that a lot of teachers started to face this existential crisis that everyone has been feeling in the last two years. Just this low-level amount of stress that people are feeling from the pandemic is making everyone really question, “Am I living my life the way that I want to live my life and that isn’t just your job?” It’s how you spend your hours off of your job, but it is a lot of what teachers are really struggling with right now.
So I think it’s just had a snowball effect on teachers and made more teachers actually open to leaving. But the thing that I’ve noticed on my end is the majority of people who I do work with who have been leaving, actually have been thinking of leaving for a very long time.
It still has taken them years to build up the courage to leave. It’s not just been the pandemic that was pushing them out. It was something that they said they were thinking about every year over the last five or six years. So that’s one of the trends that I’m really starting to see happen.
I do want to say here that there are teachers who are happy. It is NOT awful everywhere, but the unhappiest voices are the loudest. You and I have both observed that some teachers feel like the profession has been painted in such a negative light that they’re foolish for staying, and there’s no future in education so they’re kind of being pushed out.
Daphne, you and I have sort of a bird’s eye view of the field right now as outsiders, and I know you share my belief that there are teachers thriving right now and schools that have really rebounded well this past school year.
We don’t want anyone to give up on the profession because their school or district has low morale and they assume it’s like that for everyone. If you are a person who loves teaching and wants to stay teaching, but your school is not a good fit, there are openings practically everywhere right now. Find a school that’s a good fit for you.
I’ve heard from so many teachers who love their principal, love their coworkers, and they found ways to make teaching work, but maybe it just wasn’t their current grade level or subject area or school. So is that what you’re finding too, as you’re talking to teachers?
Yes — my first piece of advice for anyone who is struggling with weighing the pros and cons of leaving the classroom is to evaluate a change in environment or a change in your pedagogy, or just changes that you could potentially make. And especially what I heard you say that stood out was those teachers who feel silly, that they still kind of love this career — that is what you should lean into if you know in your heart that you absolutely love this career. Start to evaluate if there are smaller changes that you can make.
The people who I am working with are the ones that have felt like they hated their career for years. There’s that thin line of people who still love the career but know that they have to leave. It’s going to be a very personal decision.
If you’ve never changed school districts and you can really pinpoint that it’s your admin who’s making you feel low or not supporting you. Or it’s the parents at this particular school that have always constantly been doing things that add additional stress that you don’t think would happen in a neighboring district. Then I would evaluate that because that is a much easier option than a career change. The career change itself is never going to be the easiest option.
I have teachers that are close friends of mine who are in districts that you would assume would be, in their opinion, awful and just completely politically or completely polar opposite — like in political beliefs of where they live during the pandemic. And they said that it has been a very pleasant experience working in that school, even though they’re living in an area where they don’t necessarily feel like they agree with all of the politics of what the parents or the staff surrounding them agree with.
They’ve been completely supported when it came to how they felt safety-wise within their school, they’ve been completely supported when it came they’ve been overwhelmed. They were removing PDs from the calendar to give additional time for teachers to plan during distance learning. They just felt truly supported, and they were making all the teachers feel really appreciated and heard when they were voicing those concerns.
One of the people that I talked to specifically said, “You know, this hasn’t been easy. This has been challenging for everyone. There’s not going to be a school that you will find that in the last few years, ‘everything’s been perfect and it’s been easy'”, but there are schools where people feel supported and they are a team and people are happy.
There are also teachers who are unhappy but are staying because they are determined to be using this opportunity to take on those leadership vacancies and start to shake things up from the inside as well. So you have to really evaluate what your long-term goal is, your level of burnout, what your passion is, and then do what’s right for you.
It’s not going to be as easy as just seeing an Instagram post of someone saying, “I love teaching!” You are a completely different person with a completely different situation, and I would just really evaluate how you are feeling,
What are you observing with the job market right now, in terms of various options that are open to teachers?
When I left the classroom, I landed this job that everyone was saying was like a unicorn job, because it was a remote position back in 2017. That was very rare, but now these are far more common. So teachers who are living all across the United States — depending on if they’re near large areas or if they’re in more rural areas — they’re still able to actually land tech positions that are remote.
The top jobs that I am finding teachers successful landing in is pretty similar to what it was three years ago. It’s a lot of learning and development jobs, training jobs, ed tech jobs. But what I am noticing is ed tech is a lot more competitive right now than it was two years ago, because so many teachers are focused on that being their main strategy.
When you are starting to be in this competitive space, my best piece of advice is to just choose one or two clear paths. Maybe you want to be a customer success manager or an SDR or a project manager, and start to really focus on getting the training that you need for those specific paths, and then tweak your resume accordingly to market yourself for those specific positions to help you stand out against the competition.
In your online course, you support teachers who are thinking about leaving and those who are going through the process of transitioning to their next careers. What kinds of fields are you seeing former teachers have success in, and is there anything you suggest to listeners that they might not have considered?
There are so many roles outside of ed tech that teachers are finding themselves really successful in. I’ve seen a lot of teachers who are going into nonprofit work, people who are going into museum education programs, and the bigger bucket that I see that the majority of the teachers outside of that ed tech bucket go into are learning and development jobs.
So that’s like training positions — training manager, learning and development manager, even like a sales enablement trainer which is someone who’s in charge of understanding all of the best practices when it comes to the sales team and leading internal sales team trainings. These are larger corporations. If you’re in a rural area, you can always look to warehouses and they’ll have an L and D department most likely. But there’s also remote possibilities for this as well.
Instructional design has always been a huge one — that’s creating those like e-learning resources — and that happens a lot in the health field and also construction. So creating the learning resources and the training materials, but for the healthcare workers or for construction workers.
I know in your podcast, you interview a lot of teachers who have changed careers. Can you give some examples of some of the different fields that they’ve gone into and some of the different types of jobs?
So on the Teacher Career Coach podcast, we’ve done some in ed tech sales, some project managers, and I have an upcoming one with an editor. I just did one that was a former teacher who went into marketing and has built her way up to be almost a director level in the marketing world, outside of the classroom.
Even a former teacher who is a real estate agent, former third-grade teachers who turned into software engineers … just a wide variety of positions so that everybody has exposure to be able to hear someone really talk about what that day to day looked like and how their unique skills from the classroom actually translated into these fields.
I want to talk to the teachers who are thinking, “I do want to change careers because I don’t think I can keep this up until retirement. However, I’m waiting for a job opportunity that’s going to light me on fire, that I’m going to be so excited about the opportunity and the type of work and the salary and the schedule, that I just can’t say no. And it doesn’t seem like that job is out there. I’m hearing Daphne list off all these possible career choices, but I don’t love any of them.”
I want to posit a theory here, and a mentality that I’m starting to see more and more. And it’s this: Maybe you don’t have to love your job. Maybe your job is something you do so you can love the rest of your life. Maybe you want something that you don’t mind, don’t dread, certainly not someplace that makes you miserable, something where you can go and maybe answer phones all day, and it’s just okay.
But then you can leave at 4 pm and go home and have 6 full hours before bed which you can then fill with activities and hobbies you love, spend time with people you love, volunteer in ways that matter to you but that you’re too drained from teaching to do right now. Maybe your job is something that you do 40 hours a week, and solely to have the money that’s necessary to enjoy the other 128 hours a week.
I think this might be helpful for teachers to think about because most of us went into education because it was a noble passion or a calling. And now when it’s time to look for a second career, you’re looking for things that give you that same passion. And maybe your passion now is not going to be your job.
Maybe your passion is your art, like mine has become. Maybe it’s spending time with your best friend, or your grandkids. Maybe it’s baking, and you need a job that doesn’t light you on fire with excitement but allows you to have the time and energy in the evenings to come home and experiment in the kitchen.
So, I’m just interrogating this belief that you should only do work that you’re passionate about. I don’t think it’s realistic, and historically speaking it’s a really privileged position since most people don’t have that luxury and it’s wholly unnecessary to living a good life.
Maybe instead, you find work that is pleasant, satisfying enough, not overly demanding, some place with a good working environment and a supportive boss and fun colleagues where you don’t mind spending time. What if that’s the goal, to go to a job like that and do good work, then go home and use that money to free you up to enjoy the rest of your time? What are your thoughts on that?
I really agree. And I think that word, passion, is really important to think about because teaching was your passion. You probably have thought about it since you were a child. So you have this really big expectation to replace a job that was supposed to be your passion with something that’s even more impressive.
And when you think about passions, like art and baking or other hobbies, I see something that happens with a lot of teachers is that they reach out to me and they say, “Well, my passion is social-emotional learning. So I only want to work for someone where I get to do social-emotional learning training.” And that is a great goal if you are 100% firm on that goal. Or, “I love baking so much that now I want baking to be my full-time career, but it has to make me this much money, and how do I make that happen?”
Like they have this very clear, “I love being outdoors. So I want my job to be an outdoor job that’s also six figures,” and, you know, a unicorn job just filled with all of their passions. If it was mine, it would be like: non-alcoholic Tiki drinks at a plant store where I met a lot of really nice people and maybe we sold crystals, but they weren’t too expensive, but they were still nice crystals.
And I’m not trying to put down any people who have very clear ideas of what they want. That social, emotional learning training position does exist. It’s just going to take a lot longer to find that specific job. It might take years as opposed to people who are on a time constraint and only months.
But I think where a lot of this comes from are people on social media or selling types of programs and how they are marketing things to us. It makes us feel less than if we don’t have impressive job titles. There are people who are making money off of these get rich overnight, or it’s not success unless it’s working remote on a Sandy beach type of programs. And that makes a lot of people feeling less than if they are sitting at an office job that actually all of their neighbors have very similar jobs that are paying their bills. It may be a pay increase from teaching, but for some reason, it’s a disappointment for them to accept themselves in that reality.
No time to finish reading? Download the audio and listen on the go!
Yeah. I think there’s been, you know, there’s been a lot of entrepreneurial gurus who promote this mentality that you’re basically a sucker if you’re working for somebody else and you should be working for yourself and you shouldn’t be doing a 9-5, but that’s not for everybody because everybody’s needs are different. And as you were talking, I was thinking about when you leave one career to another and the pressure that you feel to be leveling up in our culture — to be moving on to something better.
And if you’re a degreed professional who went to college, possibly even got a master’s degree in education, and then you leave and go do something else to say, “Oh, I’m working in this store and I’m selling crystals and plants.”I think we worry in the back of our minds, like, Are people going to judge me? Is this not as prestigious as teaching?
You know, people at the very least respect the fact that teaching is a difficult job, it’s a noble job. It’s an important job. And so to go from something like that to selling plants can feel like, Am I a disappointment? Am I not living up to people’s expectations?
And I think it’s really important to get clear in your mind about what’s going to make you happy, because if you’re working 70 hour weeks as a teacher and you could work 40 hour weeks selling plants, like who cares what people think about you not using your degree and you’re doing something completely different. I think going back to what you said at the beginning, the pandemic has really caused us to reevaluate what we value and other people’s opinions.
I think as we get older, feel less and less important and we’re able to tap in more to what’s truly gonna work for us. So I think that’s important to bring out here that as you’re looking for your next career or are considering other careers to make sure that you’re going after what’s going to work for you, your family, the people that you care about versus trying to live up to this expectation that you’re going from teaching into this amazing job that everybody’s going to be so wowed by because ultimately, there’s so much more at stake in this.
I couldn’t agree more. Then there’s one thing that I see a lot of teachers doing when they’re struggling with this step. One of the bigger trends that I’m seeing right now is there are a lot of openings at ed tech companies or software as a service also known as SAAS companies that are hiring teachers for either BDR or SDR positions. Those are sales positions that are higher paying entry-level positions. But often depending on where you are on the salary schedule, whatever state you’re in, these jobs are higher paying than teaching.
A lot of teachers are, right off the bat, super resistant to a sales position. And once I start to ask, “Well, what is it about that? Let’s talk about your personality. Why don’t you like that? Like, do you dislike rejection?”
And they’re like, “No, I’m great with rejection. It makes me hungry. Like I can push until I can get my way.”
And I’m like, “That sounds like you’re a salesperson, but okay, let’s keep going with that.” And if you continue to prod, it’s a lot of, What will other people think? Because I went into teaching not for the money. And now everyone’s saying I’m leaving because of this or that. So if I take a position that on paper looks like a higher paying salary, or someone’s gonna make this inference about me about who I am as a person, I’m just not even going to be open to that as a career path or even learn about that as a career path, because I don’t want people to judge me after I leave the classroom.
Teachers just have such a huge issue with this step, and it’s totally understandable because they’re not going to have an immediate emotional reaction to the name project manager or UX designer or bookkeeper or implementation specialist. They know what a teacher looks like, and they know what a good teacher looks like.
The reason why they went into the classroom is because someone touched them in some way in their past that inspired them to want to do this as a profession. So all of these things are foreign to them, and they’re not going to have an emotional reaction to it until they start to really get their hands dirty in these roles and start to try to see what parts of it spark joy, for lack of a better term.
Many people find themselves backing themselves into this education corner, so they focus on what parts of teaching they were the most comfortable with. Maybe it’s curriculum writing as an example. I’ve met teachers and I’ve actually interviewed a former teacher on the podcast who one of the first roles that she was really pinpointing was curriculum writing. I want to be a curriculum creator, a content creator. And that’s great — that can be your full-time role and it’s a great focus.
But then this educator realized that as she was opening her mind to other opportunities, something that wasn’t on her radar at first was becoming a software engineer — just coding and creating. I think she’s a front-end developer so she codes and she creates websites. And what we were talking about was what she likes is the process of building something, like putting together a plan. You like to have a vision of what it looks like, and then you like to see it come to life.
So it looks different, whether that’s still backed in that education corner or starting to expand beyond the bubble of what you believe you are able to actually pursue outside of the classroom. So think about the things that you could do for hours. There are people who have different types of zones of geniuses.
There are people who genuinely like sitting at a desk and organizing files if they have a really messy desk and just figuring out like, I like putting all these things in these folders. There are jobs that you could do that not — maybe not for eight hours on end — but if you find yourself getting lost in tasks that other people find boring, lean into what it is that you actually can find yourself doing for hours, but without feeling like you’re in this dreaded zone that you don’t like to do.
These are a lot of good mind mindset shifts then. So we’re shifting out of having this very narrow idea of what it is you like to do of thinking of leaving teaching as being a failure. That’s something that you and I have talked about before, about how there’s a stigma, even just around the idea of quitting — you feel bad about it, you feel guilty about abandoning “your students, your colleagues, your school.” There’s a whole sense of guilt around that.
There’s the pressure to find an even better job, an impressive job, a job that’s clearly a step up that everyone’s gonna be excited about. And I think thinking more broadly here about what your skills are, what you love and what’s going to fit into your lifestyle is so important because what I’m hearing you say over and over is that what’s working for teachers who leave is often not what they had anticipated.
What would you say to the teachers who are thinking, “I’m really burned out, but I’m so overwhelmed by all the possible career paths I could take. I don’t want to make a mistake and pick the wrong thing that ends up being even worse than my current job. And, I don’t have the energy to job hunt when I’m not even sure what I’m looking for and there’s so much out there”?
This is so personal depending on the level of burnout because I feel like everyone can say at some point, “I am burnt out”, but you really don’t know what that means until you evaluate that person’s specifics. I don’t want anyone to think leaving is going to be the easy solution. There are risks that are involved that I think it’s really important to put an emphasis on that.
Leaving any career is something that is “risky”. I personally weighed the pros and cons by looking at my level of burnout when I was leaving the classroom I left. I was very unwell which is the best word I can describe that last school year. I was crying on the way to work a lot. I found myself breaking down in the middle of the school day while the students were at recess.
And then I would try my hardest to pull it together and I couldn’t figure out why I was crying so much or why I was going to the doctor so much. They just kept saying it was stress-related illnesses. I would say on a scale of 1 to 10, I was a 2. So I was willing to sacrifice that two to even try and find a five because I was so low and so broken that very last year of teaching.
So when I look at big scary changes, are you risking a seven and happiness scale for an unknown factor? Or are you so low that there’s likely not many things that are potentially going to be worse than the situation or where you feel like you’re at right now. While you’re looking at those kind of options, start to think, What is the worst that could happen if I do take this risk? I got this strategy from the book, Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forough, which I love.
I just put out the worst-case scenario: I leave teaching. I’m not leaving in the middle of the school year because I wanted to have the plan B of having my teaching license. So that if after a year of taking a break and doing whatever I needed to do and I felt like I wanted to return to the classroom, then I would have that option. (That it’s a very personal option for anyone, but that was how I did it in a safe way.)
But let’s say I left the classroom. I went into this next position and I didn’t like it. Well, then what? Then I would potentially go to a new school district that would hire me because there is a teaching shortage. Even when I was leaving, it was pretty easy to get into the classroom.
I don’t doubt that you would, if you had left on good terms, have a pretty good possibility of getting into a school district. So is it worth the risk? There is definitely something to be said depending on your level of burnout about what’s called a stepping stone job: one that fills your basic needs and one that you get to leave at the end of the day, and you have this like mental space to heal and to grow and to figure out your next steps from there. I’ve had teachers leave for these stepping stone roles.
One that was particularly unhappy, even in a stepping stone role at a mortgage company. But even there, she took that experience and ended up working as a corporate trainer for mortgage companies. I think it took her about six months, but they said she was a perfect fit because of her combined experience working in something outside of the classroom and her teaching experience made her a great industry expert for a corporate training position.
The real question to really ask yourself is whether or not you would regret not trying — if that is something that you’re going to think about and is something that you’ve thought about year after year after year, even prior to the pandemic. Are you always going to question whether or not you gave this year at all? And if your gut is telling you to stay, then it’s okay to listen to that part too.
What should a teacher do if they’re on the fence or confused or just not sure what their next steps should be?
I would say start listening to other people’s stories, start exploring the feelings that you’re having, because they’re very valid. And I think it’s more dangerous to ignore them because that’s where resentfulness comes from. I do have a free page for all of your podcast listeners. It’s at teachercareercoach.com/truth for teachers.
I have a free career quiz if you would like to be given the career bucket based on your unique skills or what you like and dislike about your profession right now. It’ll let you know which which careers teachers find themselves in outside of the classroom that are best aligned with your own personal needs.
With that, I also have the Teacher Career Coach podcast if you want to hear other teachers talk about their stories or some of the podcast episodes that I’ve done with therapists who talk about why teachers are struggling so much mentally being in a helping position and how that impacts them. There are lots of different topics that we talk about advocating for teachers just continuing to fight, even if you were still inside the classroom for systematic changes, and then also just interviews with all these different former teachers.
And then there’s also one just about weighing the pros and cons of whether or not you should leave teaching. So once again, you can find all of that at teachercareercoach.com/truth for teachers. And I think genuinely exploring it with an open mind if you are on the fence. If you are leaning towards staying, then I would say just trust your gut on that. But I think it is important to know that there are opportunities for you, and not to block yourself just based out of fear or imposter syndrome, because if other people are doing it, then it is a possibility for you too.
Can you close us out with a takeaway truth — the most important thing you want every person listening to this to remember about this topic?
I think it’s important for everyone to know that feeling stuck or trapped in a position is often why I think so many people end up resenting it so much. It is okay to have a plan B if teaching doesn’t work out for you. Especially if you are on the fence, I would start to evaluate what your plan would be even before you need it, because it actually may help you find peace in staying. It helps you find that clarity and knowing that you had the options and you chose to stay because you truly loved the career and not because you were stuck in it.
The Truth for Teachers Podcast
Our weekly audio podcast is one of the top K-12 broadcasts in the world, featuring our writers collective and tons of practical, energizing ideas. Support our work by subscribing in your favorite podcast app–everything is free!Explore all podcast episodes
Founder and Writer
More resources on this topicExplore all podcasts
If you are a teacher who is interested in contributing to the Truth for Teachers website, please click here for more information.