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How to Leave a Teaching Career

by Nicole Vulcan

Teaching is a career that comes with many rewards, but it's also an exhausting, often low-paying job that has a high rate of burnout. About a third of new teachers last only three years on the job, while about 46 percent stay only five years, according to a brief by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. If you're ready to retire and stop working all together, the only concern you have may be writing your resignation letter. But if you want to continue working after leaving teaching, you'll have to take some steps to highlight the skills that will translate to a new career.

Brainstorm a list of jobs you'd like to do other than teaching. Depending on where you are in your career, you may be able to pursue only part-time work or a lesser-paying job that provides you more flexibility and fun than you had during your teaching career. You likely already have a bachelor's or master's degree, which can open a lot of doors in business, marketing and government, not to mention the possibilities that await in your content area. Instead of teaching music, you could start a new career as a songwriter. Instead of teaching physical education, you could become a personal trainer. To see what's out there, start browsing the classifieds in your local paper or on an online site.

Create a resume that highlights the skills you have that can transfer into other careers. Before you send out a resume, it should be tailored to the job in question. But a preliminary step is writing a generic document that includes your general skills, qualifications, awards and training. As you find jobs you are interested in, change the resume to include the skills the employer wants to see. For example, if the employer wants employees to have an attention to detail, touch on your experience grading student papers for grammar and style. If the employer wants to see leadership, talk about leading the student newspaper or managing your classroom of kindergartners.

Apply for jobs in the late winter or early spring, so that you'll have the spring and early summer to attend interviews and negotiate the terms of your job. Let the prospective employers know that you want to leave teaching so they'll understand that you may not be available to start work until the school term is done. If possible, schedule interviews after the school day is done. If that's not possible, arrange for a substitute teacher.

Review the terms of your teaching contract to refresh your memory about how much notice you must give. Some districts require you to give notice 45 days before the school term begins in order to give district officials plenty of time to find a suitable replacement. Some contracts also require you to work for the entire school year or risk losing your teaching certificate. You may not plan to use your teaching certificate in the future, but burning that bridge with your employer is never a good idea. Also check your contract for information about your pay schedule. Many teachers elect to stretch their paychecks out through the summer months, meaning you'll continue to get paid as you look for jobs over the summer.

Give notice to the school district as soon as you've made your decision. Teacher contracts often require that you give notice to the district in writing, though it's courteous to give your principal face-to-face notice, as well. She may already have other teachers waiting in the wings, or may appreciate the extra time to get things in order. Leaving on good terms means she may also give you a positive reference for jobs in the future.

Tip

  • Even if you've decided to leave teaching and have another job lined up while school is still in session, do your best to stay present and do good work. Your students deserve an engaged teacher who will provide them the guidance they need to succeed in school.

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