While the gap between teaching and media may at first appear vast, many skills developed leading a classroom are sought after by media organizations.
January 15, 2020
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.
Joining Teach For America can help prepare you for a wide range of careers in media. That’s certainly been the case for Natasha S. Alford (D.C. Region, ‘10), Carmen Perez (Houston, ‘07), and Priscilla Thompson (Houston, ‘12). After their time in the corps, these alums went on to roles as editors, producers, and journalists. All three have found the skills, insights, and knowledge gained as teachers invaluable and deeply relevant to their work in media.
"I knew TFA would make me a stronger journalist because of the experience and the perspective I would gain," says Priscilla, a 2020 campaign embed with NBC News.
Take a look at some of the skills used just as frequently by educators as media professionals across roles in public relations, journalism, production, marketing, and other media-related fields.
Convey Complex Information
For both media professionals and teachers, the ability to convey complex ideas in clear, readily understandable terms is imperative. The age of the audience may differ, along with the information being shared, but the core skill—sharing information in a way people can follow—remains the same across the two professions.
As a middle school English teacher, Natasha developed the ability to break down information for her students. Now, as deputy editor at theGrio.com, a video-based news site aimed at a national African American audience, she applies that same know-how—but with an adult audience.
“Skills such as lesson planning, presenting, and engaging students translate perfectly to a job where I’m expected to present new ideas to an audience in high-stress media situations, as well as break down complex issues and inspire people to care,” Natasha says.
Long gone are the days of a lone teacher facing a classroom of students and talking at them. Today’s teachers use every communication method available to convey ideas effectively: posters, videos, presentations, websites, infographics, and more.
In the world of media, this kind of creative, strategic thinking about the best way to create and share content is essential. Stories are just as likely to be told in an article as on TikTok.
The explosion of vehicles for communication is exciting—but also potentially overwhelming. Carmen, a producer on Good Day Orlando, notes that her time in the corps strengthened her ability to set a vision. “I am able to identify how I want my show to end up daily before I even begin and it helps me then fill in the middle,” Carmen says. And, her time in the classroom also bolstered Carmen’s creativity. It showed her how to see the big picture and “find a way, even when it doesn’t seem like there is one,” she says.
Communicate Clearly and Directly
As a teacher, you’ll need to communicate effectively with students as well as with parents, administrators and school leaders, colleagues, board members, local government bodies, and many others.
Heading into the corps, you’ll already be adept at verbal and written communications. During your time as a teacher, you’ll refine these public speaking and writing abilities, gaining experience in communicating at the right level and tone for your audience, whether in a group setting or one-on-one.
This will be central to your success in any media-related career. Whether you are writing a podcast script, an abstract of a research report, or developing content for a mass media audience, you need to be able to communicate clearly, and being a teacher will help you hone this skill.
Inspire and Connect
Both teachers and media professionals must be able to understand and connect with all sorts of audiences and demographics. As a teacher, you’ll work every day to know your students—their academic levels, abilities, aspirations, backgrounds, and interests—and adapt your communication style to work best for them.
After her corps commitment was complete, Natasha sought a platform where she could continue to educate and inspire. “Journalism allows me to do that on the largest scale possible and weigh in on important social issues and current affairs,” she says. As a journalist, she applies the same strategies she used with her students to connect and inspire an online audience.
Think on Your Feet
Being in front of a classroom can be a uniquely intimidating experience. “My first day of teaching, I was beyond nervous,” Priscilla recalls. She arrived three hours early to make sure everything was ready for her classroom of sixth graders.
But her nerves faded quickly, Priscilla says. As a teacher, you’ll become comfortable with large groups and adept at thinking on your feet. After all, when you’re in front of the classroom responding to a raised hand or classroom conflict, there’s no time for an online search for the best tactic.
“My time in the classroom taught me how to work well under pressure,” Carmen says. “Making decisions with that kind of pressure is something I learned how to do in the corps.”
Find Stories, Everywhere
As a teacher, you’ll interact with students, colleagues, and parents who may be shaped by backgrounds that are very different from your own. You’ll learn to identify and reduce your biases and see the value of being your most authentic self in the classroom.
By teaching, your world will open up—and for people in media, that’s a gift.
“My students taught me that everyone has a story,” Carmen says. “That skill has allowed me to look beyond the obvious and find the story that is waiting to be told.”
This storytelling can act as a continuation of the work you did in Teach For America, points out Priscilla, who says that TFA sharpened her ability to advocate for others. “Through storytelling, I’m able to inform people about their rights and resources. I can shed light on injustices through the stories of everyday people whose lives are marked by some of the most profound issues this country has to deal with,” she says.
Teaching Is a Unique, Effective Background for Media Professionals
As a Teach For America corps member, you will benefit from learning a useful variety of cutting-edge skills and how they can be leveraged to achieve a wide range of goals—not just in teaching and learning but in facing challenges, engaging with an audience, educating about public issues, and driving change.
“Even if TFA doesn’t seem like the obvious choice for you, apply anyway,” Carmen recommends. “At first glance, it seemed like TFA would derail my plans to be a journalist, but in fact, it only made me a better reporter, producer, and all around person. The skills and experiences I had during my time in the corps will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Interested in learning these skills to help you launch a career in media? Apply to Teach For America today.
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