Every day, millions of teachers contend with one of the most challenging professions that it is possible to pursue. While they all broadly drive towards the same goal – imparting knowledge to others – teachers experience vastly different circumstances in terms of pay, workplace conditions, support levels and job satisfaction.
Whether they are motivated more by ‘push' or ‘pull' factors, teachers in China frequently look beyond their industry for future job prospects to make the most of their highly marketable skills and experience in an increasingly competitive global job market.
We caught up with three former teachers who have, at various stages, passed through the corridors of CEIBS to pivot their careers away from education through an MBA.
Meet the teachers
Will Hubbard: After four years of teaching in Chinese public secondary and bilingual primary schools, Will decided to stay in Shanghai but completely change his profession and industry. He is due to graduate from CEIBS MBA in 2024.
Amanda Pawlowski: Arriving in China as the Director of Education at a top education consulting company, Amanda helped students prepare for admissions to top 10 boarding schools and various universities in the United States, including standardised exams and interview preparation, as well as individual course recommendations and competition coaching. She is due to graduate from CEIBS MBA in 2023.
Eric Seidner: Eric arrived in China where he began teaching English to first-grade students as a means of funding his backpacking exploits. By 2007, he was living in Xiamen teaching business executives and hotel staff, before moving to Shanghai to begin his MBA studies at CEIBS. After graduating from CEIBS in 2012, Eric's career took off, and he now serves as the Commercial Program Manager at Apple APAC.
Making the switch: What attracts teachers to try their hand at business?
Will: I decided to move on from teaching because, while it is a very stable profession, I noticed that there was a hard ceiling in terms of self-development, at least in my area of teaching. There weren't enough opportunities to learn and grow, to develop new skills and challenge myself. I was looking for something more.
Amanda: I found that education can be limiting in terms of career growth. I did not want to work in education in the US and found that most positions with high growth potential and good benefits were primarily available in China or potentially the Middle East. This felt confining to me, and since I always knew I wanted to attend graduate school, I chose a degree that was more versatile and would open doors outside of education.
Eric: I guess, at that time, I was fully aware that I had a hodgepodge of a career. Sure, I had great exposure to a country that was changing rapidly in front of my eyes. But I had no clear narrative nor stamp of approval. I was looking to transit from a caterpillar to a butterfly, but I didn't see that happening in teaching.
Choosing an MBA: What's the attraction?
Eric: For someone with an ‘alternative background,' an MBA is a much-needed way to quickly grasp business fundamentals and a general understanding of the current global business landscape. Also, you can learn so much from your peers, and vice versa. My philosophy is: "If you see it, sell it." If you have an alternative background, sell how this allows you to see things in a different way and the value that brings to your classmates when conducting case studies. If a waiter-turned-English teacher can do it, so can you.
Will: I believe an MBA is a very effective way to gain a wide range of different skills and experiences in a relatively short space of time. I've been able to master a lot of new subjects, and meet a wide variety of young professionals who are in the same situation as myself. I am also getting introduced to a wide variety of different industries and roles that previously I had zero knowledge of.
Amanda: An MBA appealed to me over an educational leadership degree as I knew it would offer me options outside of education in my future career and open doors that I otherwise would not have access to. I knew that wherever I moved in the future, I would always want to continue to build my network and connections in China, and CEIBS seemed like the perfect school to help me.
Transferrable skills: What do teachers bring to the table?
Will: One of the most helpful aspects of my teaching experience is my confidence when giving presentations and public speaking in general. This is a major aspect of the MBA programme, and as a teacher I feel I have an advantage over some of my fellow students. I had to prepare for multiple classes every day, and then speak in front of students for 35-40 minutes at a time. This experience has allowed me to feel much more comfortable when standing in front of my classmates or professors to give presentations.
Amanda: In education, it's essential that you are a compelling salesperson. You need to craft and deliver a top-tier service and build trust with clients. You also have to nurture and develop client relationships and grow your brand. I think these skills translate well into any business setting.
Drawbacks: What disadvantages do teachers need to overcome in an MBA setting?
Amanda: Coming from a non-traditional background, whether teaching or otherwise, can make more quantitative courses more difficult to access initially. Such as accounting, for example. Nevertheless, my presentation and organisation skills, as well as the fast-paced educational environment have allowed me to adapt quickly to the challenges of the MBA programme.
Will: My lack of business experience is an undeniable disadvantage compared to my fellow classmates. I wasn't able to contribute to certain aspects of class discussions as much as others, since I couldn't give authoritative opinions about the subject material. However, I also see this as a learning opportunity, as I can always take advantage of the experience around me and learn as much as possible from my classmates.
Future plans and prospects: Where are they now?
Eric: Now I'm the Commercial Program Manager at Apple APAC, which is my dream job! I'm part of a large team, and my organisational behaviour takeaways are more important than ever as I'm working to persuade some extremely sharp analytical minds. It's tough getting here, but if you look at a problem sideways and break it down into manageable pieces, the steps you need to take to achieve your goals will become much clearer.
Will: I'm currently looking to move from education to technology, with a specific focus on the gaming industry and marketing. It's my personal passion, but it's also an industry that I expect to rebound and continue to develop both within China and globally in the future. It also provides good opportunities for foreigners working in China – a key consideration for any non-Chinese postgraduate looking to build a life here. I've just finished my first term at CEIBS, but so far I've already met with alumni and CEIBS contacts at the likes of NetEase, miHoYo and TiMi studios (Tencent) in the video games industry.
Parting advice: Words of wisdom from those who have gone before us
Will: The most valuable lesson that I have learned from teaching is the power of preparation. I remember what it was like to be fully prepared for a lesson, rather than being ill-prepared and trying to ‘wing it'. These memories, particularly the negative experiences, have led me to always build in enough planning, enough time and preparation for whatever task I'm faced with, and this includes applying for an MBA!
Amanda: Don't wait too long to change your career path. If you know that you do not want to work in education for the rest of your life, make a change as soon as possible. Go to networking events and seek out a mentor who has made a major change before, then take action as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the tougher it will be.
Eric: As Steve Jobs said, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. Try to find value in every step of your career development, learn as much as you can from everyone you meet. Don't cut yourself off from learning opportunities just because they don't fit perfectly into your current plans.
Next steps: Is the MBA right for you?
For teachers interested in finding out more about the MBA at CEIBS, click 'Read more' below, leave your details, and we will introduce you to Will. Feel free to ask him about the curriculum, scholarships, career support and what grade he would give his experience on the other side of the classroom so far.
Writer | Tom Murray
Editors | James Kent, Michael Thede and Effy He