There are many jobs to choose from within education, and a deep need for excellent people in all types of roles and at all types of organizations. I work in education entrepreneurship because it matches my work style, which centers around putting order to chaos, ideating and creating. You could have very different preferences. This guide to the (not always simple) landscape of education careers should help you navigate the field and find the place where you fit best.
Working in Schools
Schools are high energy, fast-paced places. Because you work directly with children and families, you can see the impact of decisions you make almost immediately. Each day will also contain surprises because children and families are incredibly unpredictable. Working in schools requires being able to build deep personal relationships with every child, to make decisions quickly and to execute effectively. Finally, when you work at a school, you are tied to the school calendar. You will have early days and you will need to be present. There is little flexibility in your schedule.
Administrator (e.g. Principal's Assistant, Athletic Director, School Leader)
Special Education Specialist
Operations (e.g. Office Manager, Director of School Operations)
Where to Start
Talk to people who work at a school about their day and their colleagues' days. Shadow them. Become familiar with, not only on the in-school work, but the out-of-school work as well. Most school-based staff do much of their planning outside of school hours. Experience multiple school environments, from private schools to charter schools to traditional district schools. If you're able, find a school-based internship -- they are very common. If your local school doesn't have one, simply ask if you can volunteer -- nine times out of 10 they'll say yes. To make the most of your internship or volunteer experience, be proactive in advocating for work that is challenging, that adds real value to the school and that you will approach with the utmost humility.
Working in Districts
Working in a district (or their equivalent for charter schools, networks) means being part of a hierarchy. Decisions made at the district level have multiple ripple effects down the line as they are implemented in schools and affect teachers, staff, children and families. As a result, getting things done requires finesse in bringing together multiple stakeholders, the ability to see the implications and potential unintended consequences of making different decisions and a good deal of patience. Working at districts is often similar to working in the office of a traditional organization with its 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. work hours and office environment.
Academic (e.g. Curriculum Writer, Chief Academic Officer)
Strategic (e.g. Chief of Staff, Superintendent)
Communications (e.g. Public Relations Manager)
Where to Start
Explore the organizational charts of various districts and talk to people in different roles, as each role is very different. Ask current school district workers about their backgrounds and paths into district work. At the district level, people can come from the school level or from outside education entirely. Their previous experiences will color how they view their role at the district. Organizations such as Education Pioneers and The Broad Residency focus on recruiting for education at the district level or broader. Read up on their fellows' experiences to gain leads into potential organizations and roles.
Working in Education Policy
Education policy organizations grapple with everything from methodical research to forceful advocacy. At their core are a group of people who take a bird's eye view of education and like talking about education's big picture ideas and questions. You will need to love reading, writing and deconstructing arguments. Education policy generally moves very slowly and may or may not result in tangible changes on the ground in schools. The working environment of education policy organizations varies greatly by organization.
Executive Government (e.g. State level or Federal level Department of Education)
Where to Start
Read broadly, study extensively and talk to a variety of different people with different viewpoints to form your own opinions on education policy issues. For the issues you find particularly compelling, figure out who the thought leaders are and engage with them by following their blogs, adding them on Twitter and meeting them through conferences and common connections. In addition, explore different roles within education policy to figure out where you lie on the spectrum between research, advocacy and policy execution. Finally, learn about both an organization's working environment and their philosophy on education. Most education policy organizations, including research organizations, have strong stances on certain education policy issues. You'd likely want to work at an organization whose mission and views on education matches your own.
Working in Education Services
Work in education services involves accumulating expertise in one niche of the education system and spreading it widely by working with different clients. Because of this, you get to see how a multitude of different organizations work, rather than being steeped in the assumptions of any one organization. In addition to gaining expertise in your service offering, you will need to be able to adjust it to each client's specific circumstances. This requires good relationship-building skills and the ability to be flexible. The working environment of education service organizations varies widely by organization.
After School / Summer Enrichment
Vendors (e.g. Revolution Foods)
Where to Start
Ask for introductions to people in education service organizations. In those conversations, ask about their daily work schedule, their organization's theory of change and introductions to other industry players within their space. Try to determine the lay of the land in terms of what factors to consider when searching for jobs in their particular market niche. Website like Idealist.org can help generate leads about which organizations to approach. As part of your networking process, ask what challenges they are facing and see if you can pitch yourself as having the requisite skill set and experience to meet those challenges.
Working in Education Products
Schools and districts are supported by a variety of different education specific products, from dissection kits to online math games. Education product companies are often both profit-driven and impact-driven, though the degree to which one or the other is emphasized varies by organization. Within each company are people who work in many different roles, from sales and marketing, to product development, to business strategy. Your experience at an education product company will vary widely based on organization and role within that organization.
Where to Start
Ask teachers, parents, children and administrators about their favorite and not-so-favorite education products. Research those products and the companies that provide those products. Research their competitors. Besides the big publishing companies, most education product companies are small and niche, so the information available on them can only come from industry insiders. Try to see if you can do work for some education product companies on a consulting basis. You can even offer to do free work for a limited amount of time and in a very specific context. This is not an unpaid internship, which is company controlled. Rather, it is an opportunity for you to pitch your services, try out a new industry/role and generate positive reviews. If you do excellent work and make a good impression, people who work in education products will not hesitate to recommend you to other people in the industry or hire you for themselves.
In short, there are many roles to fill in education and many ways for you to explore where you might fit. This is by no means an exhaustive list due to space constraints, but I hope readers will add additional information in the comments.
Note: I give special thanks to Anupama Pattabiraman who contributed extensively to the atmosphere section of Working in Education Services. I also thank my many mentors and advocates who have helped me personally explore each of these fields. I wouldn't be where I am today without you.
This post was initially published on DesignED, Deborah Chang's personal blog.