You want to leave the classroom, but you’re not sure what else to do. You’re crippled by the fear of stepping away from “a good thing.”

Googling “alternative teaching careers” turns up results like corporate training, selling lesson plans online, working for testing companies (because that’s the part of teaching we all want to double down on!), or becoming a tutor/consultant/nanny.

Which all seem great on the surface. Those are logical steps. But they’re pretty awful choices if you simply want to get out of education.

No one wants to leave a career they no longer like for an alternate version of a career they no longer like. That’s like trading in your dirty undies for a pair with stains. They’re slightly better, but they’re still gross.

The word “alternative” is about choices. Doing a similar version of the thing you want to leave behind is not a choice. It’s a cop-out.

Fortunately, without sounding like too much of a Pollyanna, your skills are highly transferable(and desired). You really can do anything you want.

But as a rock-solid teacher, you know examples work best, so this is the kick-off post in a series of posts profiling true alternatives to teaching. None of this variation on a theme stuff.

These profiles are people I personally know who have successfully left teaching. They’re friends. And they’ve suffered the same doubts, fears, and uncertainty you’re probably feeling. But they overcame all of that and forged ahead, despite the instability and uncertainty.

In the end, they knew the greatest risk was in staying, not leaving.

Here’s Jonathan’s story.

Science Teacher Turned Doctor

Go to med school? Crazy, right? You can’t just become a doctor overnight, but bear with me on this one.

My friend Jonathan was an amazing science teacher. He taught AP Bio and pushed kids to do things I had never seen in a classroom. I once saw a group of students in the hallway outside my classroom throwing paint against the walls and floor.

When I stepped out to ask what the hell they were doing, they told me they were creating a murder scene so that another group could analyze the blood spatters and help solve the crime Jonathan had presented to them.

That’s the kind of cool stuff that gets kids into science. Where was this guy when I was in school?

The Teacher Becomes the Student

Plagued by the same sense of dissatisfaction I was feeling, Jonathan left the classroom to pursue a newly realized dream. He applied to Emory. To become a doctor. Whoa…

Actually, this wasn’t really a shock to those of us who knew him. (This is a running theme in these stories, actually. Most people go on to do things that are unsurprising to those around them.)

Once he and his wife arrived in Atlanta, he thought he’d be “grossly inadequate” in comparison to his classmates. He assumed he’d be “outdated” from his time in a classroom. He lost hope about his own success because he feared he’d “been out of the game” too long.

Even this brilliant scientist and highly loved and successful teacher suffered the doubt that comes with moving on. Sometimes it’s hard to face moving on.

But now?

Three years in, he’s experiencing huge satisfaction in teaching others how to care for their diseases and manage their medications for a better life.

He likens it to the same one-on-one experiences he used to get with kids who’d come in for extra work after class.

He’s been able to have amazing “teaching” experiences through the application of what he liked best about teaching, the personalized instruction that moves people forward in their lives.

“One of my biggest fears was regret. But fear of the unknown, fear of leaving, was leading me to complacency in my life and my career.”

High Risk/ High Reward

His decision to leave teaching wasn’t easy.

He worried that others would call him a quitter or assume that he wasn’t good at his job or that he hated kids. He worried about being labeled a “deserter.”

After overcoming his own assumptions about himself, he was able to fully embrace his new role in life. He says he had to weigh the short-term investment in med school with the long-term happiness he knew was waiting for him.

He quickly found that he was one of the best on his team or in his class because of the interpersonal skills he developed as a teacher. While some “kids” are afraid to pick up the phone to call patients, he relies on his background from parent-teacher conferences to have direct and clear communication.

“I knew I could talk to people, but I had no idea it would come into play like this. Some people are afraid to assert themselves on the phone, but I have no problem with it. That’s a direct result of my time dealing with parents.”

Doctor’s Advice

When I asked Jonathan what he’d say to a teacher who feels stuck, but doesn’t know how to move forward, he offered this:

“I always felt under-compensated for my skillset, but I knew my value. I knew I could still make a difference in people’s lives, even if it wasn’t in the classroom.”

“Don’t dismiss your skillset. Don’t think of yourself as “just” a teacher. We’re used to being a commodity, to being disregarded. Don’t mistake a lack of self-worth for “humility.”


So, should you quit and go to med school? Not necessarily, but there’s a bigger lesson here.

Don’t be limited by tutoring or a nannying job because you think it’s all there is. The world truly is open to you. Dream bigger.

Push yourself to consider doing something so outside the box, that it scares you just a little. Then you’ll know you’re on the right track.

Have something to say about Jonathan’s story? Feel free to leave a response below. Or head over to Shift to get yourself unstuck.