Once upon a time, career opportunities in education were limited. A few (mostly male) teachers became school principals, but otherwise educators largely stayed in their classrooms until it was time to retire.

Not anymore. While many teachers are still happiest working directly with students, others yearn to mentor colleagues or even leave their school entirely to work as a consultant or central-office administrator.

How do you know which job might be right for you? And how do you get hired? Here’s a look at some popular careers, what it takes to be successful in each, and the one thing you should never, ever say in a job interview.

Path 1. Team Leader

By heading up a grade-level or content team at your school, you can stay in your classroom while gaining experience in leading adults.

Pay: Usually an extra stipend ranging from a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand per school year.

Education: No extra formal education required, although experienced teachers with a master’s are more likely to get the nod.

Duties: Plan and lead team meetings. On a content team, the focus is curriculum and instruction;
a grade-level team leader will focus on logistical concerns like student discipline and attendance.

Necessary Skills: Listening, communicating, diplomacy, and assertiveness. In addition to running meetings, team leaders often act as intermediaries between administrators and teachers.

Highlights: “You have more influence over decisions that are being made at the school,” says Crischelle Navalta, who leads a grade-level team at her school in Donna, Texas. And you’ll find out whether you enjoy leading adults as much as kids.

Challenges: Leading adults can be frustrating—you can’t give adults detention when they show up late, for example!

A Good Fit For: Future administrators or coaches; teachers who want to share best practices.

Path 2. Content Coach

Master instructors get to pass on their expertise to other teachers.

Pay: In some districts, coaches are on the same salary schedule as teachers. In others, coaches can make up to 50 percent more.

Education: Requirements vary by state, but many coaches have a master’s in their specialty content area.

Duties: Modeling lessons; observing and working one-on-one with teachers to improve instruction.

Necessary Skills: Extremely strong knowledge of both content and teaching methods.

Highlights: You can increase your impact without getting too far from the classroom. “I’m in classrooms all day long. I still get my teaching fix, but I went from impacting 30 children to impacting 230,” says Kristin Cubbage, who recently took on a coaching role at a Charlotte, North Carolina, school.

Challenges: Although you’re not evaluating teachers, you are providing critical feedback, and not everyone handles criticism well. “I try to present myself as a learner,” says Lucy Kersting, a math coach in Las Vegas. “I say, ‘We’re going to solve these problems together.’ ”

A Good Fit For: Teachers who want to stay closely connected to instruction but are not interested in the administrative duties that come with school leadership positions.

Path 3. School Leader

Principals and assistant principals make decisions that influence the direction of an entire school.

Pay: Salaries typically start somewhere around what the highest-paid teachers in a district make, then rise with experience. Six-figure salaries are common.

Education: A master’s in administration is usually required.

Duties: The assistant principal’s role varies from school to school. Some APs are mostly responsible for logistics and operations, others are primarily in charge of student discipline, and still others head up curriculum and instruction for a particular grade level or two. The principal is a school’s overall instructional leader and manager.

Necessary Skills: School leaders must be supremely organized and decisive. Successful principals and APs are also master delegators and sharp-eyed evaluators of talent.

Highlights: Leading a school means your vision will have an impact on lots of students. Have problems with how your school is run? Here’s your chance to call the shots.

Challenges: Administrators are further removed from the classroom than teachers, coaches, and even some consultants. “There’s public relations, there’s fundraising,” says Ana Tavares, a principal in Boston. “You’re wearing a lot of hats.”

A Good Fit For: People who enjoy working with adults at least as much as they enjoy working with children. Also good for those undaunted by longer days and heightened accountability.

Path 4. District Administrator

Central-office staffers shape policy that trickles down through all schools within a district.

Pay: Low-level administrators earn similar salaries to principals within the same district. In some parts of the country, superintendents can earn up to $250,000 or more.

Education: Most district-level administrators have at least a master’s, and many superintendents and assistant superintendents have earned a doctorate.

Duties: A superintendent drafts a budget, oversees building projects, evaluates principals, and even attends high-school football games. Lower-level district administrators oversee curriculum and organize and lead professional development for teachers.

Necessary Skills: As with most leadership positions, strong content knowledge is key. “If teachers don’t believe in your knowledge base in a content area, they’re not going to take your lead,” says Anurupa Ganguly, assistant director of K–12 math at Boston Public Schools. Superintendents must also build relationships with principals and teachers and communicate the district’s goals effectively, as well as foster solid working relationships with school board members and other community stakeholders.

Highlights: If you’re good at your job, you can eliminate headaches for your teachers. “I wanted to create systems and a curriculum that was user-friendly and better aligned to standards,” says Ganguly. “I thought, ‘If these things are in place, the average day of a teacher is going to be so much easier.’ ”

Challenges: District offices can be hotbeds of politics and red tape. Ganguly warns, “If that’s something you don’t have the grit to push through, you’re going to quit the first week.”

A Good Fit For: People who thrive on networking and politics, and those who don’t mind late nights and extended workweeks.

Path 5. Education Consultant

Consultants for nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies work with teachers and administrators to help boost student achievement.

Pay: Consultants often earn salaries similar to those of teachers, though they can earn more.

Education: Some education consultants have only a bachelor’s degree but a master’s is definitely a plus. Many consultants have worked not only as classroom teachers but also as school- or district-level administrators.

Duties: Analyze student achievement data and use it to make recommendations; lead PD.

Necessary Skills: “It’s way different from a school, where your schedule is prescribed,” says Lo Nigrosh, director of school support at Achievement Network. Consultants must also be adept at taking deep dives into student data and creating plans to boost achievement.

Highlights: By working with a variety of schools, you multiply your impact. You also get a broader view of education, which can be helpful in future leadership positions.

Challenges: Nigrosh works with
13 different schools, and at each one, she has to persuade leaders that her approach will work. “Kids do what you say because you’re the teacher, if you establish that authority,” she says. “But adults aren’t just going to do what you say.”

A Good Fit For: Teachers who love working with data, and those who still want to focus on curriculum and instruction despite working outside a school setting. 

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Image: Jeannie Phan