From Teacher to Entrepreneur: Things to Consider Before You Make the Leap

As school districts tighten their belts, class sizes burgeon, and federal laws place more demands on classroom teachers, the turnover rate for new educators is higher than ever before. According to an article posted on the National Education Association’s website, one-third of all new teachers leave the profession within their first three years and nearly half — 46 percent — have left teaching by year five. Where are these educators going?  Increasingly, they are jumping into the world of entrepreneurship.

The leap from educator to entrepreneur is more reasonable than you might suspect. To begin with, many of the traits that push a person into teaching — a drive to help others, good communication and time-management skills, and the urge to lead instead of follow — are the same qualities claimed by successful entrepreneurs. And, according to a study by University of Pennsylvania researchers, one of the main reasons why teachers leave the profession is a “lack of power to make decisions about how their own classrooms are structured and run.” What better way to gain power of decision-making than to start your own business? However, understanding how to be an entrepreneur can be the tough part, especially for educators used to reporting to administrators and being part of the rules and order that keep chaos to a minimum.

Fortunately, according to recent research, learning how to be an entrepreneur is a teachable skill. If you are a teacher considering a move from education to entrepreneurship, there are a few key questions you need to answer first:

Can you ditch your day job? Teachers aren’t exactly infamous for being well paid. However, there is something to be said for having a steady stream of income and, typically, very good benefits. Leaving behind a guaranteed paycheck — no matter how skimpy your per-hour pay may be — for at least a few years of very uncertain financial stability is a frightening prospect. This is why many teachers who make the transition into entrepreneurship do so gradually, keeping their teaching jobs and working for themselves on the side. A recent article in Forbes magazine also recommends “keeping your day job” while pursuing entrepreneurial ventures, pointing out that, “You can ponder, prepare, organize, and execute your plan over time … until everything is ready to go.” It may be tough-going for a year or two, but devoting your weekends, evenings and summers to a new business can help you transition into entrepreneurship without giving up 100 percent of your financial stability.

What are you passionate about? A recent intuit.com blog on becoming a “teacherpreneur” advises educators who are considering starting a side business to choose something they already enjoy doing, “so it won’t be a mental drain.” What would you be doing if money and time weren’t factors in your decision? Let your passion guide you and you may find that the extra hours spent creating a business plan, or finding financing for your new business venture become enjoyable instead of tedious.

Is it a good time to start a business? We’ve all been inundated with stories of economic recession and business failures over the past few years, but the times seem to be a changing’. According to a recent Washington Post article, after a dramatic decline in new businesses, the number of Americans joining the ranks of entrepreneurs increased by 60 percent from 2010 to 2011. Search for stories of educators becoming entrepreneurs and you’ll find several tales of success — including Jeff Scheur, the founder of NoRedInk, a site that strives to make grammar lessons fun for students and teachers alike and Nic Borg and Jeff O’Hara of Edmodo, a social networking site for educators that recently garnered 10 million users. Figuring out how to be an entrepreneur is a huge undertaking, but so is trying to wrangle 35 fourth-graders into a tight classroom. As a teacher, you already have many of the skills necessary for starting your own business.  No one can predict what will happen with the economy, but if your intuition is telling you that it’s time to become an entrepreneur, you will find that you are in excellent company.

Are you an entrepreneur who used to be a teacher? Are you a teacher thinking about becoming an entrepreneur? We hope you will share your stories with our readers in the Comments section below.

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