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Plan B: Career Alternatives to Teaching

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Most individuals who pursue a degree in teaching can identify exactly what motivates them to become a teacher.  There tends to be a passion for education, desire to help others, and/or a commitment to impacting the leaders of tomorrow.  Over the years, my work with teachers has always been so inspiring to me.  When I ask about their teaching experiences, they absolutely light up speaking about the students they have impacted, challenges they've helped them overcome, or a creative lesson that really connected with their class.  It's incredibly inspiring to see these new teachers so on fire for their future career!

I've also worked with a number of students who, as they progress through their undergraduate classes, begin to question whether teaching is the right career path for them.  Want to know a secret?  I was one of them!   

 Throughout high school, I always imagined myself as a teacher.  I can't really explain what it was that made me want to pursue teaching as a career, I just never really considered doing anything else.  I had some great teachers who impacted me, one chemistry teacher, in fact, who impacted me so much that I decided I wanted to teach high school chemistry!  High school chemistry, people!  (If you knew me well, you would know that the sciences are not at all my strength and I was setting myself up for a long, rough road transitioning to college level chemistry classes.)

So, I went for it.  I pursued my planned career path, majoring in secondary chemistry education.  Chemistry was much more difficult in college, but I pushed through that first semester on hard work and many late nights studying.  Then came organic chemistry...and I was toast!  Since chemistry was proving to be too challenging for me, I decided to adjust my major to middle school general science education.  Guess what?  Science is hard!  (Big kudos to all you science teachers out there!)  Still, I pushed through with my determination and work ethic and finally made it to my field experiences.  I'll never forget the week I taught a middle school science class during my senior year of college.  It was only then that I finally started to think that maybe teaching wasn't for me.  My senior year.  With student teaching and graduation just around the corner.  No way was I going to change my major now, with commencement mere months away.  So I dove headfirst into student teaching, tried my hardest, worked with some really awesome eighth grade students, and counted the days until I would finally be done with student teaching.  It wasn't the students or my cooperating teacher - they were great!  It was me.  I just wasn't called to be a teacher.  It just wasn't the right fit for me, and I was so disappointed because it's what I had planned and for which I worked so hard for years.  Most of my friends were teachers, excitedly looking for jobs, getting interviews, moving all over the country.  They were also the ones who would light up talking about their student teaching experiences.  I, on the other hand, felt lost and worried about my next steps. 

While I was marking the days off my calendar until I wrapped up student teaching, I took some time to reflect on my education and experience thus far.  What was I good at?  What energized me?  What activities got me so excited that I lost all track of time and felt really pumped about what I'd done?  For me, it was all of the activities I was involved with on my college campus.  I'll never forget a conversation I had with a mentor in our campus student activities office.  I asked, "How can I do what you do?  That seems like exactly what I'm looking for!"  It was through that conversation that I was made aware of the field of student affairs.  From there I did some informational interviews with people on my campus who also had jobs that sounded right up my alley, asking each of them, "How did you get to where you are today?"  I learned that the paths to a career in student affairs are incredibly varied, but that a common undergraduate major going into the master's program was - cue fanfare - education!  The more I learned about student affairs and all of the career opportunities it offered, the more I was convinced it was exactly what I was called to do.  So I applied to the grad program, was accepted, and was amazed at how much easier the classes were compared to undergrad.  Not because the content was easy by any stretch of the imagination; because the subjects were right on target with my personality, interests, and values - my future, exciting, "right fit" career path.  Twelve years later, I've never looked back on my chosen career in career development. And, by the way, I learned very quickly that, had I used my campus career services office earlier in my college career, it's very likely I could have come to this conclusion much easier and with much less stress.  Let this be a lesson to you:  Use your campus career services office early!

I share my story with you because I have met with countless education majors over the years who have found themselves in the same position as I did all those years ago.  They feel drained and overwhelmed as they determine that perhaps teaching is not the right career path for them.  I am thankful I've had the opportunity to spend the majority of my career specifically coaching Education majors, sharing my story with those who find themselves in this place, offering hope, resources, and a strategy for finding their career calling.  If you find yourself considering your Plan B today or in the future, following is my advice to you:

  1.  Visit your campus career services office right away.  Talk with a career coach about what you are feeling and share your concerns.  Your career coach will ask you a number of questions to get a better feel for where you are and may suggest that you take a career assessment to better understand your personality, interests, and values.  He/she will be able to walk you through your results and the two of you can discuss some major/career options that might be a better fit to you.  Career assessments are not a crystal ball - they won't tell you what to do, but they can get you thinking about other options you may not have considered yet.
  2. Talk to you family, friends, and mentors.  Share with them what you are thinking and ask them what they would consider to be your gifts and strengths.  Ask them what careers they could see as a good match for you.  It's always interesting to get the perspective of someone who knows you, your skills, and experiences well.
  3. As you learn about careers of interest to you, do your research.  Google can be a great help, but nothing compares to a conversation with someone working in the role you're exploring.  Reach out to your contacts and set up an informational interview.  Your career services office can help you in finding potential contacts and preparing for the informational interview.
  4. Gain experience in the field you're considering through volunteering, an internship, or a part time job.  Consider this experience a "test drive" of a potential career.  It will not only provide you great resume-building experience, but it will help you to determine if it's the right fit for you.
  5. Re-visit your campus career services office.  Once you've narrowed down your potential career options, they can help you determine the right major/minor combination and help you gain additional experience and contacts to set yourself up for success in that field.

A good book I recommend to my students exploring options outside teaching is Margaret M. Gisler's 101 Career Alternatives for Teachers:  Exciting Job Opportunities for Teachers Outside the Teaching Profession


Valarie Jacobsen

Assistant Director, Career Development

Xavier University


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