In my business visiting schools, one of the real pleasures is seeing a group of committed professionals who adore the youngsters in their charge. The smiles and laughter that often escape the corporate world are a key feature of a typical school. Despite this, one of the most common questions I’ve been asked over the ten years I’ve been doing this, is “how did you get out of teaching?”
The short answer is whilst I wasn’t sacked or managed out, I didn’t feel I had any choice. I worked for a Head who didn’t manage the pressures of being a Head at all well and that impacted severely on both staff and pupils at the school. As it was clear she wasn’t going anywhere, I felt I had to.
I should add that teaching wasn’t my first job, so I did have other skills to draw upon, though they were of the ‘soft skill’ variety: that’s to say I’m not handy man. I’ve done my share of honest graft whenever I’d needed to (frozen veg factory, pickle factory, fruit picking etc), but most of my professional experience was in sales. Now sales skills are useful, but once I’d completed my PGCE, it became apparent how much cross over there was, so let’s look at some of the skills I’d gained from my sales career that transferred well to my teaching career - mainly because teachers have those skills as well. Whether they realise it or not.
One of the key skills any teacher has to develop, is the ability to negotiate.
Now in a sales scenario, you have two sides looking to find an advantage in the way of a cheaper price, or a better profit margin. Each party will seek to achieve this through discussion, pointing out the benefits of what they have to offer. Sometimes one party has a significant advantage in these discussions, or much better leverage, but each has something the other wants.
Let’s contrast that with the classroom.
We all know that tired line we were all told about if we work hard at school we’ll get a good job right? And we all know that kids really couldn’t give a sh*t, because they just want to go play on their devices. Everyone’s approach to the next part of this story, which is repeated several times during a teacher’s daily ritual, is different. As you get more experienced, you develop more authority, but that needs to be developed for most of us. Think about how every day you persuade young people to do something when lots of them would rather be doing something else. Those skills right there - they are negotiation skills.
Again, in the sales scenario, these skills are essential. We buy from people we like, unless what we’re buying is such a good deal that we’ll tolerate the complete b*****d who’s selling. Now let’s be honest, some of the little darlings in a classroom simply aren’t that likeable, so as a teacher, you have to make sure you are.
Now it’s one thing being likeable to the kids, but you also have to be likeable to their parents and, if you want your career to go anywhere, your colleagues. If you get on at least vaguely well with all, or at least some of these groups, think about how you made it happen. And I say made it happen, because trust me, it didn’t happen by accident. Most businesses, including your own if you start one, will be able to make good use of those skills
If you’re a team leader or you’re responsible for a group of people in business, you need to be able to motivate them and get the best out of them to maximise productivity.
If these people are adults, they’ll be familiar with the concept of taking personal responsibility and accountability. If they’re not, they won’t last long in the job. Many of the team will be looking for progression and the rewards are financial and visible.
Let’s face it; children aren’t always like that. Someone else is responsible for putting a roof over their heads and whilst there is a concerning issue of child poverty, most children don’t need to worry about going hungry. Think about the strategies a typical teacher has to use on a daily basis, to ensure that thirty pupils, of varying ability and attitude, to achieve targets and levels of progress when not all of them want to. Maybe you have a team of teachers who you need to motivate to do that on top of managing your own class.
That’s people management.
Don’t laugh. We all know that a teacher’s work is never done and we’re even hearing less people making sly digs about holidays and a 9-3 day, but there’s no denying, time management is a challenge. Take a typical report week and think about how you juggle that along with everything else. You might not feel as though you have much of a life at times, but if you’re just about coping, you have at least some time management skills.
You might be an expert in your subject area; you might not be. You certainly won’t have covered every area of the curriculum in your qualifications, so you will have had to undertake a degree of research in order to plan your lessons.
As the years progress, you’ll know from experience where to go for quick information. You’ll know a few Google tricks and you’ve undoubtedly learned how to spot a trustworthy source of information. Have a quick glance on Facebook or Twitter to see how rare these skills are.
You have them; be proud.
Come on - even the biggest self-doubter must appreciate that they have decent presentation skills? A few hours a day every day? Engaging people and getting a message across?
Data Manipulation, erm, I mean management
I used to hate this.
I mean really hate this. Every time I fill in a Vat return, I’m grateful for the time spent doing it though. The thing about data (and you might well be sick of hearing about it), is that it’s evidence. Now if you wanted to go for another job, your data is basically proof of all of the above. Think about it. That’s a skill that’s incredibly useful, regardless of the area in which you work.
Now, I realised I either had or I was developing all of the skills mentioned above. To me, coupled with my ability to sing without being embarrassed, meant I was able to start a business that’s kept me in a living for over ten years. There is no reason whatsoever why you couldn’t do the same. At the very least, you are in the position of being able to prove that you would be an asset to any business.
I should say that under different management (such as the management my old school currently has), my teaching career might well have continued. I loved the job and any teacher should be proud of the impact they have on young peoples’ lives - I know this from having children of my own. But, if you’re in the unfortunate position of redundancy, or even if you just fancy a change, I hope that this blog article might prompt you to appreciate the skills you have and view your CV in a slightly different way.