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Do Good with Your Business Skills

This summer, Teach For America will welcome over 6,000 corps members – from the business world to the military sector – to teach in our nation’s highest need schools. These corps members will begin their training like I did when I left consulting to join a movement of leaders to fight against education inequalities. And like me, these new teachers will learn to “backward plan.

It’s a pretty simple concept. Corps members ask themselves – what will a successful class look like by the end of the school year? How will students interact with the teacher and school? What should grades look like? Once this vision is articulated, corps members build out action steps to realize this vision starting at day one of teaching.

If this sounds familiar, you might have taken a management course at one point. As a consultant-turned-teacher, I was struck by the similarities between this training and the business frameworks I studied. Having taught for two years, I’d argue that business skills translate nicely into classroom leadership and easily lend themselves to careers that combine teaching, school management, entrepreneurship, and school district leadership.

Don’t get me wrong – teaching is an art and science that needs to be nurtured over many years. No amount of business training will help me understand developmentally appropriate ways to teach children from various age groups. Nor will it help me support students with special needs. But there is incredible overlap. After all, getting a room full of different personalities to listen to you is a skill possessed by most effective people managers.

And there are obvious ways to leverage business skills as a corps member.  Personally, I fundraised for my under-resourced classroom, organized parent workshops to provide educational assistance, and recruited volunteers to do everything I couldn’t do, including translating for non-English speaking families. Effective teachers aren’t so different from effective managers. They delegate. They collaborate. And they lead.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely considering getting an MBA – and like many prospective MBA candidates, you’re probably a problem solver. Well, here’s a major problem that still needs a workable solution: there are 15 million students from low-income communities who will not graduate from college in time due to the poor quality of education they are receiving.

Plenty of folks are already leaving the corporate sector to solve this problem.  Birdette Hughey earned an MBA and worked for Johnson & Johnson before joining TFA. She’s now studying to become a principal. Others, like former Accenture consultant Lorea Barturen, became a corps member before earning her MBA via The Consortium. Her backward planning? In her words, “I decided to join the corps because I wanted to make social justice my full-time job. I plan to further expand my skill set to impact systemic change in the field of education.”

As you consider an MBA, I encourage you to try some good old fashion backward planning, too. What do you ultimately want to do? Perhaps a career in education might be part of your plans.

Helen Chan is a 2010 Los Angeles corps member and former senior analyst at the Corporate Executive Board, where she developed new products/services for emerging markets in Asia.  She now works for Teach For America in private sector recruitment.  Contact Helen.k.chan@teachforamerica.org to learn more about joining Teach For America.

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