Now Teacher Gabrielle Wong, Cohort 2020, shares how she transferred skills from her previous career in corporate to the classroom.
When I left my long career as a management consultant to become a maths teacher, it felt like I was entering unchartered territory. The corporate world and the classroom are vastly different, but over time I have realised that there are many transferable skills.
In business, you are expected to have excellent verbal communication skills, especially when giving presentations. As a teacher, you must also present the learning material clearly and concisely and change your tone of voice to emphasise key points.
However, there is a crucial difference between the two spheres, and that is your audience. When I first started teaching, I tried talking to my students like they were a team of managers, but I was met with a sea of blank faces. I realised I had to completely change my style and use more body language to get my point across.
I also had to hone my active listening skills in the classroom. I am used to clients asking me random questions, but it is nothing compared to the wild questions I have been asked in class. I am always conscious that if a student is asking a question, it is because they are genuinely struggling to understand the topic. By listening closely and paraphrasing, you show them that there is no such thing as asking a stupid question.
People with strong communication skills are usually able to persuade and influence a lot of people. As a management consultant, I was very successful in persuading people that they should listen to my advice and rely on my expertise to improve their businesses. However, this was a difficult skill to transfer to the classroom. I was used to having an audience that was willing to listen to me right from the start, which was not the case with my students. I had to invest time in building a good rapport in the classroom and show them that I genuinely cared about them to gain their trust and respect. I did this by learning their names on the first day, praising them regularly and sharing different aspects from my life.
Part of building this rapport and persuading them to take an interest in maths involved me finding real-life examples of the topics we covered in class. An example of this is when I showed my 11-year-old students a video about the Alhambra during my geometry class. They were fascinated by the bright, colourful tiles and the magnificent Moorish architecture and asked lots of questions about other examples of geometry in everyday life.
I believe that patience is an essential skill both in your professional and personal life. In my previous career, I was very patient with myself and allowed myself to be vulnerable. I was always working on new consulting projects, so I had to learn about each business to create tailored solutions that addressed their needs. I was comfortable being vulnerable because I knew that I would master the project eventually.
As a teacher, the temptation is always there to tell my students the correct answer instead of allowing them to work it out for themselves. An example of this is when I was tutoring a 15-year-old girl last year who was struggling with maths and thought she would never be able to learn it. By asking her open questions and giving her the time to think about them, she realised she knew more than she thought she did. For me, there is nothing better than being part of these breakthrough moments, particularly when it is with students who have specific learning difficulties.
The final skill that I was able to transfer to teaching was being adaptable. The corporate world is very fast-paced, and you are constantly under pressure to make decisions quickly. You also have to think on your feet as a teacher. You can spend a long time preparing a lesson, but then something will go wrong on the day, and you will have to think of something else to do.
An example of this is that a few weeks ago, I was teaching a group of older students a new topic, and I noticed that one of them was struggling to understand the material I had given him. Instead of relying on what I had prepared for class, I found an easier worksheet online for him to complete. It was worth taking the time to do this because he grasped the concept immediately and was able to join in with the other activity with his classmates.
For people who change career to teaching, it may feel like a complete culture shock initially, but remember that you bring vital skills, resilience and experience from your previous job, which will enable you to overcome any issues that you may face. By being patient with yourself and developing a positive growth mindset, you will enhance not only your teaching skills but also your students’ learning experience.
To find out about other skills that you can transfer to teaching, check out this blog.
The corporate world and the classroom are vastly different, but over time I have realised that there are many transferable skills.