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Education Careers Outside of the Classroom

Deborah Swerdlow profile image

Deborah Swerdlow

Education Careers Outside of the Classroom

September is back-to-school time for most students, parents, and teachers—time to get back into the rhythm of homework, carpool lines, and parent-teacher conferences.

But what if you're a teacher who decided to not go back to school this year? Or a soon-to-be education graduate who's looking for non-teaching career opportunities?

The good news is you don’t have to leave the education field to find a fulfilling job outside the classroom. Consider one of the following career options.

School counselor

What it is: School counselors work collaboratively with teachers, parents, and administrators to help students succeed by providing services such as career planning, character education, violence prevention, and addressing social and emotional development needs.

You may like this job if: You’re passionate about the non-academic wrap-around services, conditions, and systems that can affect a student’s ability to succeed.

What people are saying about it: After six years as a preschool and elementary school teacher, Lital Ehrlich started a two-year master’s program in school counseling at the University of Maryland this fall. Ehrlich said she was starting to feel burnt out as a teacher but still wanted to work in education. She realized that one of the aspects of teaching she most enjoyed was working with kids in small groups or one on one, listening to them talk about their issues, and helping to identify and address what may be blocking them from succeeding.

That realization “pointed me in the direction of school counseling,” Ehrlich recalled. She said she looks forward to “growing my toolkit” through the school counseling program and using her new skills to help change the overall school system and advocate for families and students who don’t have as strong of a voice in schools.

Instructional designer

What it is: Designing courses and modules for instructors to use in the classroom or for self-guided learning.

You may like this job if: You enjoy the intellectual aspects of teaching, such as choosing the right teaching approach to aid someone’s learning.

What people are saying about it: Andrew Ratner recently started working as an instructional designer for a government contracting firm after teaching high school English for eight years in Washington, DC. He designs digital learning modules, which has converted him from being a “technology agnostic” teacher to someone who now sees learning opportunities in almost any technology.

Ratner described his work as similar to being a teacher but without the classroom. For him, getting out of the classroom has allowed him to spend more time with his two-year-old daughter and listen to music (a passion that had fallen by the wayside as teaching became all-consuming).

Working at an education-related social impact organization

What it is: It depends on the kind of organization you join as well as what your role will be. Some organizations give grants to schools and community organizations focused on education, while others work on education policy or work with children in a non-classroom setting, such as tutoring or mentoring. Most organizations offer a variety of roles, such as development, communications and marketing, programming, direct service, or research.

You may like this job if: You want to make change on a larger scale, beyond one classroom or one student.

What people are saying about it: Sara Kirschner found a great fit at Higher Achievement, a nonprofit organization that provides middle school students with year-round academic training, mentorship, and enrichment opportunities. Kirschner landed at Higher Achievement in 2014, two years after leaving her elementary school teaching job for something completely unrelated: a volunteer management position at The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

“Ultimately, I always wanted to return to education, but I really needed some time away from the classroom to evaluate what I wanted to do,” Kirschner said.

Kirschner’s time at The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society also gave her skills that directly transferred to her first role at Higher Achievement: managing volunteer mentors for the DC metro area. From there, she became curriculum and training manager for all four locations (Baltimore, MD; Pittsburgh, PA; Richmond, VA; and the Washington, DC, area), and most recently she worked as an independent contractor designing a new Higher Achievement math curriculum after taking time off to have a baby. Now Kirschner is applying to PhD programs in math education leadership and hopes to continue with curriculum development and providing professional development for teachers.

Museum educator

What it is: A museum educator provides formal or informal learning in a museum, whether that’s by organizing workshops and lectures, speaking to school groups on a field trip, or developing worksheets or creative materials such as scavenger hunts.

You may like this job if: You’re passionate about art, history, or another common museum topic, and you want to work directly with people to help them discover the same excitement about it. Also, teaching experience is helpful but not essential, so a career as a museum educator could be a good place to start if you’re not interested in classroom teaching.

What people are saying about it: Dena Rapoport, a museum educator on the National Gallery of Art’s Family Programs and Adult Workshops Team, said she chose this field because it allows her to share her love of art history (she has undergraduate and graduate degrees in the subject) with the public, face to face.

Most of the National Gallery of Art’s family programs happen on the weekends and involve an interactive experience in the gallery, followed by a hands-on art activity inspired by what the participants have seen. Rapoport spends the weekdays preparing for upcoming programs by researching works of art, planning lessons, and spending time in the galleries to try to put herself in the shoes of museum visitors.

“A museum is a site for unexpected learning opportunities,” Rapoport said. “If I can serve in any way as a conduit towards those moments of exploration, wonder, excitement, reflection—that for me is very powerful.”

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Deborah Swerdlow profile image

Deborah Swerdlow

As a nonprofit advocacy professional living in Washington, D.C., Deborah works with groups across the country to educate their communities and lawmakers about public policies that can help low-income residents make ends meet. She is passionate about helping people connect their interests to a cause they believe in and empowering them to take action.

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