Deb Shinder

Teachers Are Catching The Business "Train"

Teaching has been traditionally thought of as "women's work." It has come to be regarded by many women as a female ghetto. When we think of teaching as an occupation, we think of low salaries and little status.

Yet teaching is a profession which requires in most cases a college degree and in many instances, graduate training. The skills and knowledge involved in being a truly good teacher are on a par with such esteemed professions as medicine and law. Were women originally relegated to the classroom because it was a place that men fear to tread -- or because we have inherent abilities that make us good at it? Perhaps both.

Teachers today are learning a new lesson: that if the academic world has lost its thrill, if they no longer feel challenged or gratified in traditional teaching jobs, there is another place where they can use those same skills and receive more money and recognition. Corporate America has gone on a training frenzy, and good instructors are in short supply.

The international business world today is such that most firms must provide specialized training to their employees in order to increase productivity and effectiveness. Even newly hired workers with MBAs, though possessing a good grasp of theory, lack the skills needed to succeed in the typical fast-paced high-tech corporate environment.

Computer skills, foreign languages, and writing skills top the list top the list of areas where introductory, remedial or update training are often deemed necessary. "People skills" are often not addressed in formal academic programs but essential for a company to grow and prosper. The government may require companies to offer "sensivitity" or "awareness" training pertaining to such matters as gender and racial issues, sexual harrassment, or accomodating disabled workers. Even if it's not mandated, businesses adopt training programs to reduce their chances of problems in those areas and decrease their civil liability.

There are hundreds of courses to be taught in the private sector, and a high demand for people who are willing and able to teach them. It's been said that fear of speaking before an audience is so widespread that it ranks second only to fear of death. Teaching any group requires the willingness and ability to stand up before a roomful of people and articulate your ideas in an organized fashion. Experienced teachers already have the most difficult-to-attain qualification for entering the fast-growing field of corporate training.

Adult learning theory differs from childhood learning theory, but the transition isn't difficult. If you're comfortable being the center of attention in a classroom, if you enjoy making presentations before a dozen or more people, if you like the challenge of putting together a lesson plan that can speak to a diverse group at varying levels of knowledge and experience, you have what it takes to be a corporate trainer. And if you have above-average skills in computer software operation, or teaching Spanish, German, French or Japanese, you may be able to land a job that pays several times your income in public sector or private academic schools.

Teaching our children is an important job -- but many elementary and secondary teachers "burn out" after many years on the job. Some stay because they feel "stuck," believe they aren't prepared to do anything else and don't want or can't afford to attain the advanced degrees necessary to move to teaching at the college level. Teaching adults in the business world rarely requires more than a bachelor's degree; since the concept of "corporate trainer" is still relatively new, it's an area where you'll be judged based more on your actual performance than on your "paper" credentials.

For teachers who are longing for a change of pace, but don't want to have to develop a whole new skillset, taking a look at the corporate training field could be a valuable learning experience.

DEB SHINDER is a writer, editor and community college instructor who lives in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metropolitan area with her husband, Thomas W. Shinder M.D. and her teenage son, Kristoffer.

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