Teacher transitions from the classroom to a major accounting firm — and reminds others 'you haven't just taught'

michael sanders wearing a white polo and jeans standing in front of a pwc printed background under an arch of orange and red balloons
Michael Sanders is now a CEO Action for Racial Equity Fellow at PwC.Courtesy of Michael Sanders
  • Michael Sanders taught US history at two different charter schools around the start of the pandemic.

  • Although he enjoyed it, he didn't think the time teachers put in compared to their compensation.

  • He talked to Insider about how he transitioned out of teaching to working at a Big Four firm.

In his second year of teaching high school US history, Michael Sanders was still passionate about his job and the subject matter. But when he took a hard look at his finances, he realized over two-thirds of his take-home pay was going toward his rent — and it made him wonder what the next five years of his life could look like.

"If I stayed in the industry, not just that one school, or one system, but, if I stayed doing this, even if I hopped around, what realistically could I expect," Sanders, 27, said in an interview with Insider.

He'd entered the teaching profession with no illusions about money. He figured it would be an opportunity to work and support himself, while staying involved in his favorite subject, but when it became harder to make ends meet, it pushed him to find other options.

Sanders, who is now a CEO Action for Racial Equity Fellow at PricewaterhouseCoopers, a Big Four accounting firm, talked to Insider about his teaching experience and how he transitioned into his current role.

The hours put in did not match the compensation

After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2018, Sanders completed his master's degree at the University of Chicago, and planned to pursue a PhD to become a history professor. But during his master's work, he realized he didn't want to keep going for a doctorate.

In 2019, he started teaching tenth grade US history at a charter school in Barnstable, Mass., which he enjoyed. However, he felt isolated in the town, and had to commute to have a social life. When the coronavirus pandemic started in March 2020, he moved back in with his parents  in the suburbs of Washington, DC, and thought about moving to another school for his second year of teaching.

The next school year, he moved to a larger charter school network in Austin, Texas, and taught AP US history to eleventh-graders.

As a teacher during the height of the pandemic, Sanders said he and his colleagues felt pressure to not only teach, but also to be unofficial advisors and guidance counselors to students facing issues with remote learning and the pandemic.

Some of his students dealt with food scarcity and finding child care for their own children or siblings, and some worked jobs to support families in addition to doing schoolwork.

"I think every teacher that I knew personally during COVID was not prepared by any sort of training or educational theory that they had encountered previously to really navigate all the challenges that were magnified by the pandemic," Sanders said.

The hours he and other teachers put in, compared to their compensation, wasn't sustainable, he said.

"It's not that I burned out or soured on the act of teaching itself," Sanders said. "Rather, I thought that it's really tough to be a teacher, especially during COVID."

Teachers don't "only teach"

Sanders started talking to friends from college and grad school who had jobs in the corporate world as well as a good work-life balance. He also used LinkedIn to connect with people at companies that interested him. When he made it to the interview round at companies he'd applied to, he connected with current employees which helped him get referrals.

He eventually joined PwC as an experienced associate in June 2021 after the school year in Austin. He moved up to senior associate a year later, then started his current fellowship this past September where he works to address disparities impacting Black Americans, including closing the digital divide.

Teachers who want to transition into the corporate world should have a resume that exhibits their teaching skills "in a way that is digestible to these corporate recruiters," he said, as well as network.

Break the mindset that you've "only taught," said Sanders.

"No, you haven't just taught, you have managed stakeholder relationships with, oftentimes, 150-plus students. You've tracked deliverables in terms of their assignments, their different assessments, their homework, across a nine-month period."

He added that teachers also chart students' growth and identify areas of strength and development — a skill that professional companies need and want.

Even after leaving, Sanders said he still loves the teaching profession, and volunteers between five and 10 hours a week teaching English-as-a-second-language at a nonprofit in Austin. He still talks to some of his former students and teacher colleagues too.

"I think it was bittersweet," Sanders said about the transition. "I was really happy for new opportunities. I was sad to leave my students."

Read the original article on Business Insider