Citing the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Education Association reported that the number of teachers working in public education was roughly 10.6 million in January 2020. That number had dropped to 10 million in March 2022—meaning about 600,000 teachers left the profession just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in America or have quit since.
The NEA, the country’s largest teachers union, has been sounding the alarm about the situation. It released its survey on the matter on January 31, 2022, and reported the results on the NEA website the next day. The key finding? A “staggering” 55% of educators were thinking about leaving the profession earlier than planned—up from 37% the previous August.
Even before that, research organization RAND Corporation confirmed the educator exodus was underway in a report that outlined a survey of US public school teachers conducted in January and February 2021. “Nearly one in four teachers may leave their job by the end of the current (2020-21) school year, compared with one in six who were likely to leave prior to the pandemic,” the report stated.
Without question, the reasons that teachers are leaving education deserve close examination. But, in order to attract this crop of versatile candidates, it’s just as important for recruiters and talent acquisition professionals to know which types of new jobs former teachers are looking for and where they’re looking for them. Beyond learning the ropes of LinkedIn, for instance, teachers both the US and UK can search job boards aimed at would-be former educators, including the newest one on Teacher Career Coach (more below) as well as UK-based DidTeach, which is set to expand to the US this year. In addition, teachers and former teachers are upskilling themselves via training programs and swapping job tips on private Facebook groups.
While some of the brands that hire former teachers may seem like a natural fit—from non-profit Save the Children US to educational publisher Scholastic—others might surprise you, including SaaS customer support provider Simplr and healthcare recruiting firm PRIDE Health. As Trish Ferrett, Managing Director of Talent Attraction and Acquisition at Save the Children US, tells Recruitment.com, the nonprofit has long employed many former teachers. “Is it part of [our] talent acquisition strategy to look at people formerly in education? Absolutely. It's a natural perspective with the children,” Ferrett says of the organization's efforts to promote childhood literacy across the country.
Here, Ferrett and recruiting experts from other companies that hire former teachers—along with in-the-know former teachers themselves—share why a teacher might be your next great hire.
Why Are Teachers Quitting Their Jobs?
The short answer: They’re burned out. The NEA noted in the article about its survey that 90% of teachers said burnout was a “very serious or somewhat serious issue.” It reported, “General stress from the pandemic is also a very serious concern, and student absences and unfilled job openings leading to more work for remaining staff are also key stressors.”
Similarly, RAND Corporation found that the public school teachers it surveyed are “almost twice as likely to experience frequent job-related stress as the general employed adult population and almost three times as likely to experience depressive symptoms as the general adult population.”
Though both surveys help quantify the number of teachers who are thinking about leaving education, particularly given the additional stress of COVID-19, they don’t capture the nuances of making such a life-changing decision.
Beyond burnout, exactly why do good teachers quit? Here are some leading factors.
As of 2020, starting salaries for public school teachers by state ranged from $32,871 in Montana to $56,313 in the District of Columbia. Many teachers are also feeling the financial strain as prices continue to rise across the country.
“All last summer, I did Shipt driving, shopping,” Barbara Nicho, a high school teacher in Palm Beach County, Florida, with 22 years of teaching experience, tells Recruitment.com. “I shouldn't have to do that to survive. Particularly in Palm Beach County, they don't pay us enough to live in the community we serve. Pretty sure right now, I wouldn't qualify to rent, based on my income.” Making matters worse, Nicho says her current base salary of about $54,000 is only “$5,000 or $6,000 more” than when she started teaching in 1996.
Recruitment Tip: Given such financial considerations, it benefits companies to readily disclose salary details and other benefits to help attract qualified applicants. At Save the Children, doing so is standard operating procedure, says Ferrett. “We have our salaries published, so people can look online at the level of the grade and then go to our website and go, ‘OK, well, this job pays X to Y.’ They can look at that and all of our benefits.”
Former teacher Daphne Gomez, who calls herself the Teacher Career Coach, provides advice and support for former educators wanting to make a career pivot. Many of the teachers she speaks with are under significant stress.
“It's an unrealistic workload, where the expectation is to work before you go to work and after you go to work. You have that seven-hour window when you have students, and usually your entire focus is on students during that time,” she tells Recrutiment.com.
“Now, there's a lot of expectations to catch students up to a certain grade level after there's been ‘learning loss.’ The pressure of that is very, very high when you care about kids. So if you stop working at 4 PM one day because you want to go hang out with your family, not going above and beyond that night may be the reason why a kid doesn't reach grade level.”
Recruitment Tip: It’s critical to ensure proper onboarding for any new hire, but perhaps even more so for potentially burned out teachers. “People coming directly from the classroom probably aren't as accustomed to the corporate way of working. Inclusion is such an important part for any employer who wants to do that,” Ferrett says.
The Great Reshuffle
Teachers have also been part of the Great Reshuffle, in which workers around the globe have sought new job opportunities and benefits brought about by COVID-19, including higher wages and flexible work arrangements.
“A couple of the teachers we've placed have said, ‘I used to have to leave my house at 6:30 to get to the school by 7:30.’ Now, [with remote work] they're like, ‘I can walk my dog in the morning and get a workout in and have my lunch at home and not spend so much on gas,’” Katelyn McMahan, Manager of Candidate Experience at Aspireship, a platform that connects graduates of its free sales training program with SaaS companies, tells Recruitment.com. “There are so many factors contributing to [teachers leaving education]—[they want] the lifestyle changes they didn't get the luxury of making like a lot of other people did.”
Recruitment Tip: Just because someone wants to leave education, doesn’t mean they’re necessarily ready to do so. Gomez says there are telltale signs that a former teacher is prepared to make the switch, including changing their profile on LinkedIn. “If they have changed their headline to, say, ‘Educator transitioning into SDR roles,’ that is a clear indicator of, ‘This person's identified the path that they're the most open to,’” she says. “Teachers who are closer [to being ready to change careers] have been upskilling and doing a lot of homework, because they are hungry for these opportunities.”
On top of these reasons for wanting to leave education, teachers are also facing increasing risks on the job. A study released by the American Psychological Association in March 2022, found threats to teacher safety have escalated since the start of the pandemic. “Violence Against Educators and School Personnel: Crisis During COVID,” revealed that, “One-third of surveyed teachers reported experiencing at least one incident of verbal and/or threatening violence from students during COVID (e.g., verbal threats, cyber bullying, intimidation, sexual harassment).” Perhaps unsurprisingly, almost 50% of teachers surveyed said they wanted to quit or transfer jobs because of such concerns. This doesn’t even take into account horrific school shootings like the latest at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Also worth noting: Even before the pandemic, there was a teacher shortage in the US. Now, because of COVID, Gomez says, “The amount of people leaving is stretching everyone else thin.” It’s only natural, she says, that many teachers eventually get to the same conclusion: “You're not going to be the one person who changes the entire system.”
What Are the Best Jobs for Former Teachers?
According to Gomez, teachers are capable of taking on a multitude of roles outside the classroom, and she has highlighted more than 50 on her podcast—a list that includes in-demand jobs like project coordinator, real estate agent, human resources professional, instructional designer, and salesperson. She even offers a quiz to help teachers whittle down their options.
What makes former teachers so adaptable? It’s their highly sought after transferable skills, says Gomez. “What I have seen with the majority of the teachers I work with [is] excellent oral and written communication skills. Whatever role they [ultimately] go into—even some of those tech-heavy roles such as software engineering or UX design—they're able to give excellent presentations.”
“With those oral and written communication skills,” Gomez continues, “there's a lot of great active listening skills, which is something that comes in handy with customer success or SDR [sales development representatives] and BDR [business development representative] roles, because they've been doing it for so long when it comes to working with parents, working with students—always wanting to understand what they can do to support that person.”
This may contribute to the high success rate of graduates of Aspireship’s virtual SaaS sales job training program, which, according to McMahan, includes a significant number of teachers. Since it was launched in 2019, the program has helped about 90% of its nearly 1,000 graduates land SaaS sales roles at more than 100 partners including Mindbody, Modus, and Simplr. “The vast majority of these individuals, close to 90%, did not have any prior SaaS sales experience,” notes Jaclyn Mullen, Aspireship’s Growth Marketing Manager.
Changing careers can pay off figuratively and financially. With many of these jobs, classroom teachers can expect to make more money, whether as a corporate trainer (for which the national average annual salary is $43,127), an HR professional ($64,115 per year), or a project manager ($83,455 per year). “If it's an entry-level customer success job at an ed tech company or an entry-level BDR, SDR, many teachers are finding that that is a pay increase,” says Gomez.However, sometimes teachers don’t realize their own bargaining power. Katherine Sharpe, who left teaching for recruiting and now offers tutorials on her YouTube channel for teachers who would like to follow her path, says she often hears from teachers who think they “only” have teaching experience. “I’m like, ‘Well, what does that mean? That means you're highly organized, you know how to communicate ideas.’ Those are two skills [that are] extremely needed in recruitment. I wouldn't be a recruiter if I didn't know how to organize my candidates. And I wouldn't be a successful recruiter if I didn't know how to communicate with hiring managers, candidates, anybody in between,” says Sharpe, whose own self-described “COVID-proof” career in healthcare recruiting began at PRIDE Health in 2014.
What Types of Companies Hire Teachers?
Scholastic, a major publisher and distributor of children's books and various educational products, is one of the companies that hires former teachers—and has done so for many years.
With its educational and literacy focus, the company seems like a logical next step for many teachers transitioning from education. As HR Director John Evola told Recruitment.com, working at Scholastic allows teachers to reach an even wider audience. “If you want to impact many children or many classrooms, [you can] expand that and scale it a bit.”
Save the Children’s Ferrett, who started a career in music before quickly switching to HR after grad school, says she prefers to hire candidates with “some runway left.” “I look for people with room to grow and develop. As we know, the job market is contracted mightily. If you hire for potential, you get the opportunity to groom that person with all of the knowledge you have, rather than trying to correct all of these habits that are so baked that you can't undo them.”
And what about former teacher candidates who don’t get the job? Gomez suggests that recruiters give them constructive feedback—especially given that most teachers thrive on learning. “What teachers are most hungry for is one or two bullet points of what they can do to be a stronger candidate in the future. So, if you are talking to them, and you decide to move on, if there's a free course, if there's somewhere you can direct them. They may still be looking in a couple of months—and you would be impressed by how much they've grown in that time.”