About Tracie Happel

Ms. Happel has been teaching for 25 years, specializing in special education/deaf and hard of hearing students and students with specific learning disabilities. She has also worked with regular education students at the elementary level. Ms. Happel worked for three years as a governor-appointed education commissioner, bringing the most pressing and recent research in national education to state stakeholders. When not working hard to inspire and educate her students, or collaborate closely with colleagues, Ms. Happel trains for and races in Ironman triathlons. She has two beautiful children who are beginning their lives as young adults in college, and in mission work. Ms. Happel is available for consultation services and presentations on a variety of educational topics. She can be contacted at traciehappel@gmail.com.

Last week, over 300 Chicago teachers lost their jobs. Every year, teachers leave the profession for a myriad of reasons, but then come back because the private sector doesn’t seem to recognize our skills outside the classroom.

Doesn’t matter the reason for not being in the classroom anymore, being jobless with a background in teaching is really difficult. I know. I am there right now. But it can be a good move for both an employer and employee because teachers are a little of everything, wrapped into one.

Nine years ago, I was called into my principal’s office where he, and the Director of Special Education, told me I was being let go because there were not enough students in the deaf and hard of hearing program (my specialty area) to qualify for a full-time position. They would keep me in mind for anything that opened in the district, and I would be encouraged to apply when something opened. Keep in mind I was one of  50 other people being laid off that year. Instead of crying or getting upset, I simply looked at my principal without even thinking and old him, “It’s okay. God has other plans for me. He’ll provide. I mean, not to sound like a Bible-banger, but I truly believe that.”

Believe me, I am the last person you’d consider a Bible banger. Sure, I am Christian and have strong faith, but I don’t go spewing it every chance I get. That’s not me. But I do believe God will provide for me. And for you, if it matters. But when we are out of a job and have rent or mortgage bills facing us, what do we do? Many of us turn to our faith, and that’s the way it should be. But when the bills pile up and we have children to provide for, how do we parlay our teaching skills into the private workforce, if that’s the path we choose?

When the bills pile up and we have children to provide for, how do we parlay our teaching skills into the private workforce, if that’s the path we choose Click To Tweet

In my situation, I was able to move to a 4th-grade position, and it was GREAT. I loved it! But I ended up leaving education in a few short years, moving into a private agency. Since then, I’ve been bouncing around both just outside of education and way outside of public schools. What I’ve learned is this- teachers have skills we can use outside the classroom and do not let anyone tell you differently. Moving from classroom to corporate can be tricky to navigate, but it can be done.

For example,  teachers, we have incredible people skills. Reading people, interacting with them, dealing with them, and having them come to see our side of things are skills corporate America loves. In addition, the ability to organize and manage projects is another skill we are masters over. If you add in data collection and analysis, there are fewer potential employees who can do what we do.

Another helpful tip when leaving the classroom for something new, make it a point to learn the industry language. We are teachers of synonyms, use your knowledge to adjust your language to fit the world you want to move into. Update your resume to reflect those adjustments, and use that language when interviewing. It can happen for you, because it happened to me when I didn’t believe that it would.

As you start this school year, if you do not love being in the classroom, you truly should not be there. Go out and explore your options and find what you love, then live that saying…”Love what you do and do what you love.”

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