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A Career in Business: Five Transferable Skills Gained While Leading a Classroom

With Teach For America, you’ll have a profound impact on your students’ lives—while gaining hands-on experience with these key 21st-century business skills

January 8, 2020

Teach For America: Five Transferable Skills Gained While Leading a Classroom

At Teach For America, we know it takes leaders working in all sectors to change the inequitable systems that prevent all children from receiving a high-quality education. After working as teachers, our corps members go on to many different careers, continuing to impact children’s lives from any number of industries. In this series, we explore the skills corps members gain from the classroom that help them succeed and deepen their impact as they pursue a variety of careers. 

At Teach for America, we understand that change starts from the ground up. Our large and growing alumni network is comprised of professionals working in government, education, technology, policymaking, management consulting, investment banking, entrepreneurial startups, large corporations, and more—and all driven by a shared passion for advancing educational equity in the United States and bringing about meaningful change for everyone.

The TFA corps experience is designed to nurture today’s leaders and create tomorrow’s innovators. Our program provides useful frameworks for learning the real-life work skills that will help emerging professionals in any field or career they choose to pursue.

Here we discuss five important transferable skills that our corps members take with them from the classroom to a career in the business world.

Creative Communication

Effective communication in the classroom involves understanding different nuances of body language, breaking down barriers to effective team collaboration, handling conflict when it arises, and much more. Similarly, effective communication in the business world involves networking, writing reports, handling public relations, creating and inspiring teams, and getting others on board toward achieving common goals. The true test of effective communication is when you can help people understand concepts and come up with creative ways to get a message across regardless of the setting, background knowledge of the audience, or tools at hand.

This is what Teach For America alum Rose Rodd Hartwig (New York City ’93) did. Using different tools to help her fourth-graders incrementally improve their writing ability throughout the year, she developed a blueprint for communication success that she used to not only win a large technology grant from IBM for her school but also to launch her own firm, Marketing Fluency, that helps clients understand and leverage technology to improve marketing and business communications.

Critical Thinking and Collaboration

Teachers are required to address a wide range of problems, many of which can be time-sensitive and need immediate attention. Answering challenging questions on the spot, resolving conflicts, working across lines of difference with students, parents, and colleagues, and often working with inadequate and under-funded resources—each of these helps encourage creativity in the classroom and the development of new and innovative ways of getting things to work.

These are skills that Raman Shah (Chicago-Northwest Indiana ’06) learned during his time with TFA. A demanding undergrad experience at Caltech helped prepare him for the corps, and once in the classroom, Raman shared his passion for STEM subjects with his students and even launched a calculus program at his school. Raman’s corps experience helped him hone his ability to not just think critically but to bring together like-minded individuals to work toward common goals. Upon leaving the corps, that is what he did. He earned his Ph.D., started a career as a data scientist, and eventually launched his own data science consultancy, where he and his team help organizations and their leaders of those who are less fortunate make smarter decisions.

Launch a Business Career—In the Classroom

Make a difference in students’ lives and gain valuable skills for a career in business by applying to the 2020 Teach For America corps today.

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Planning and Organization

Teachers are expected to manage, and master, many tasks. Teaching, attending meetings, developing lessons, grading tests and assessments, maintaining records, developing relationships with students, parents, and others, and managing time efficiently are just a few of the many tasks that teachers juggle on a daily basis. Everyone knows that if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. The challenges that corps members face and learn to overcome during their time with TFA provide them with the perfect training ground for learning the importance of organization. It also helps them better understand what they need to do, how, by when, with whom, and using which resources.

These skills are applicable to a wide range of business roles, including managing accounts, budgeting, operations management, supply chain logistics, strategic optimization, and project planning, and they are skills that TFA alum Minh Tran (Los Angeles ’09) has leveraged in numerous roles. As a founding member of a charter school in Los Angeles, he helped develop the fifth-grade curriculum from scratch while helping his students outperform district averages by double-digit percentages in both math and science.

Minh is now the director of research and academic partnerships at Education First, an international education company that specializes in language training, educational travel, academic degree programs, and cultural exchange. In his current role, he works with universities and ministries of education on large-scale language assessment and research projects. He was part of a global team that launched the EF Standard English Test (EFSET), the world’s first free standardized English test and has flown all over the world—to 23 countries and counting—to promote the EFSET and speak about research and innovation at Education First.

Redefining What Is Possible

Encouraging students, identifying their skills, nurturing their passions, and helping them to believe in themselves are integral to teachers’ success in the classroom. We have seen that the more engaged and enthusiastic students are and the more they believe in themselves, the likelier they will be to work toward goals and objectives that interest them and that matter. Elaine Dang (New Mexico ’09) did just that. By holding her students to high expectations and helping them work together, her students moved from second-to-last to first place in the district for math scores.

Another TFA alum, Hunter Pierson (Bay Area ’01), did something similar. Through projects such as creating a camp to take kids to college campuses, he helped his students see what was possible and learned that kids can get an excellent education even with limited resources. Learning how to encourage and inspire children in the classroom is the perfect training ground for becoming an inspirational leader in the workforce—someone who can take an idea from conception to reality either on their own, if needed, or with the help of a team or a department that has been inspired to work toward the same ideal.

As executive director Teach For America Bay Area, Hunter later helped increase financial investment in TFA’s regional operations and oversaw the professional development and culture of hundreds of corps members. Hunter is now a VP at Goldman Sachs and also serves as board chair of New Schools for New Orleans, applying his financial expertise to advise charter schools in his hometown, ensuring that they are well run and operationally strong.

Patience and Grit

If passion and inspiration are one side of a coin, then patience would be the other side. Teachers often need to display extreme patience, especially when dealing with challenging classroom situations—a skill that is always useful in the business world. Sandhya Dhir (New York ’08) recalls the challenges of teaching 9th- and 11th-grade history at her school in lower Manhattan. Classrooms sometimes did not have enough seats for all her students, and she had to balance a full teaching load with leading mock trials and managing a federal grant at her school. She also had a job to do in the classroom, of course, which involved explaining difficult concepts, managing students who acted up in class, ensuring all children were learning despite different learning styles and paces, and engaging with obstacles related to parents, coworkers, and the administration.

Sandhya attributes her success to leaning on friends from her summer training and brainstorming solutions with second-year teachers to get through challenging days. Her grit and determination—and the skills she learned at TFA—helped her lead her students to the school’s highest-ever pass rates on the U.S. history exam, and she herself later earned an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management and is now pursuing a career in marketing, finance, and operations.

Regardless of the field you work in, your background, or your experience level, joining TFA has lots to offer you. If you are interested in learning more about how TFA can help you launch a career of lifelong impact, get started with the 2020 TFA application today.

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