Teaching to Tourism: How I’m getting out of the classroom and into the world

I always knew I’d be a teacher. But now I can’t get away from the classroom fast enough.

When I was a child, I would corral the neighborhood children into my basement to play school. My aunt had somehow procured a few school desks and I managed, through the sheer force of my oldest-child personality, to get my neighbors to sit down and do worksheets while summer blazed outside. 

For nearly twenty years, I taught in public and private schools and did three separate summer teaching stints. I coached a large speech and debate program. I’ve taught kids from 4th to 12th grades, from basic English skills to AP English Literature, from suburban Colorado to the top of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. 

In the summer of 2022, Israeli teachers were protesting down the street from where we were staying for the summer. I, of course, joined in and received a t-shirt and sign in solidarity with their efforts. I learned the word for ‘shame on you’ in Hebrew and was interviewed for an English-language radio broadcast. Teachers are frustrated the world over. These teachers were protesting for, you guessed it, better pay and working conditions.

I am a good teacher. Guiding young people to find their voice in public speaking or writing; watching them find their human condition reflected and expanded in literature; seeing their eyes light up when they could communicate with me in their second language–this work remains some of the most meaningful of my life. The rewards of teaching are truly immeasurable. So, how could I ever leave it? Why did I suddenly find myself dreading teaching even one more year?

A broken system

Education in the US is a broken system but because teachers keep stepping into the cracks to hold it together, it is not made evident to communities. Teachers sacrifice their time, money, and mental health to be bandaids for a hemorrhaging public institution. This is not a state secret. People are fond of telling us how much they “respect teachers”, how we “aren’t paid enough”, and how “thankful” they are for us. Yet little changes and any challenge to the system on behalf of educators is often met with political footballing and a sudden silence from all those grateful citizens.

Many still find their work to be fulfilling enough to push through the brokenness. I commend these men and women and, as a parent, remain actionably grateful for their sacrifices. (Actionably grateful looks like supporting them by holding my child accountable at home, voting for pro-education measures, and minimizing screens in my child’s life.) I loved being a teacher, and I was certainly happy to be part of holding it all together…until I wasn’t. 

Facing burnout

There are really three reasons I refuse to be a teacher any longer: time, money, and respect for my life.

A student’s kind note thanking me for my recommendation letter helping them to get into their college of choice isn’t enough to justify the hours and hours I spent working outside my contract. 

A parent’s nice email never put money in my bank account.

A student’s growth in reading isn’t enough to be asked to be a human shield. 

The classroom is pure magic. But I just can’t do it anymore. And if you’re feeling similarly (and the data says many of you are), I’m going to share how I’ve crafted my exit from education.

In the summer of 2023, I was preparing for five weeks away from my family as I’d landed two teaching fellowships that would take me from Wyoming to Israel. This had become a pattern. I’d teach all year and then burn my summer doing more education-related travel, justifying this as a way to make myself a better teacher and see the world. Often my family tagged along, but not this summer. 

I realized I was leveraging teaching to travel and found myself counting down the days until I had breaks. I had switched schools and despite loving my new colleagues and having fewer students and a better work/life balance, I still felt deeply unsatisfied and unfulfilled. I’d seen teachers burn out and stay in the game long after they should have moved on. I refused to do that to myself or students. 

From burnout to getting out

A dear friend of mine was a longtime teacher before her district bought out her contract. She became a tour director and led tours all over the world (including Cuba when it was open to US tourism). I’d long admired her career and had picked her brain over the years about her post-teaching career. 

This friend was an instructor for the International Guide Academy (IGA), which trains future tour guides and tour directors. If I was willing to give up yet one more week of summer, I could become a Certified International Tour Manager (CITM). I sat down with my husband, and we decided a career change was possible for me and our family. I would get my certification, teach one more year, and then start managing tours. 

Teaching to tour directing

Becoming a Certified International Tour Manager was my first move away from teaching. I cannot stress enough how refreshing it was to learn something outside of education for a purpose other than taking it into the classroom or earning hours for recertification. I graduated first in my class and IGA helped me to secure a job quickly.

The three things I am looking forward to the most as a tour director:

  1. I can set my own schedule.
  2. No. More. Grading. 
  3. Traveling the world. (Duh.)

I know it seems illogical to choose a career that will take me away from my family, but this is a decision that makes sense for us. From where I stand, I will actually be MORE available to my family as a tour director than I was as a teacher, which drained me to the point I wasn’t as present to my family as I wanted to be. 

In the time since I made the decision to become a CITM, I have discovered that my skill set is incredibly valuable outside the classroom. I have felt validated in ways that are as satisfying as teaching. It’s great when students, parents, or administrators offer praise, but it is also powerful to know that your skills have value outside the classroom, too. 

As I’ve prepared for this career change, I’ve spent countless hours researching and crafting my new business. I’ve felt more excitement and thrill than I have in a long time. The IGA course was a great decision and a good launching pad for job opportunities. And I am happy to share that I have already secured a position for next year’s tour season with a great company. 

Should you stay or should you go?

If you are a classroom teacher, please hear this: You are valued and so important to your students and their families and our society. If you are satisfied and fulfilled, thank you for choosing the classroom. But if you are starting to eye the exit, please know that teaching has prepared you for many, many careers. You CAN make a career change that can be very fulfilling. (You can also travel a whole bunch as a teacher, often for free. CLICK HERE to learn about opportunities for you!)

Going into travel and tourism is a good fit for me. It may or may not be for you. If you’re looking to get away from teaching, I encourage you to visualize your ideal workday. Where would you be? Who would you be talking to? What kind of work would you be doing? How much income potential would you like? Once you’ve spent time considering these questions, start talking to people. My little dream to travel for a living has metamorphosed exponentially since I started thanks to conversations with people outside education.  

I will always be a teacher at heart. Nothing has really changed about me since those basement classroom days of my childhood.

But now, my classroom is the world. 

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