A large percentage of the emails I get from this blog are from teachers. Some teach in a classroom but keep their kids out of school. Some don’t have kids but they read this blog because they are sure they won’t put their kids through what they see their students going through. Many teachers who read this blog feel stuck. So this post is for them. 

Teachers are well aware that the system is stacked against them. The best teachers are ones who have great ideas for what kids need to feel fulfilled. Those are the teachers that could make a huge difference in kids’ lives. If only their days were not tied to the Common Core standards.

Teachers can think of a million reasons why being a teacher is so different from other professions – summers off, done at 3pm, responsibility to the kids, etc. But I’ll tell you, you don’t accomplish anything by telling yourself you are a special case because then you’re back to solving all your problems on your own.

The best thing to do is to look at other people in industries that are a mess. What are those people doing?

The reason most commonly cited for staying stagnant in a horrible profession is that “this is all I know.” or “I love the regular paycheck.” In other words, people stay in jobs that will never get better because they are afraid.

But the rules of growth are the same for teachers as it is for kids: If you’re not failing you’re not growing. So you owe it to yourself to try new ideas for your career, even if the first few you pick might not work out.

The healthcare workers who are growing are setting up shop on their own. Nurse practitioners, especially, have a huge entrepreneurial spirit to transform the way we receive health care. They earn money when they have patients, and they’re trusting themselves to bring in more clients each month.

The people in the newspaper world who are surviving are those who took a more entrepreneurial route. Nick Denton, Om Malik, Sarah Lacey. They earn money based on traffic, so it’s a hard risk to take, but who better to bet on than yourself?

When I was in fourth grade, my grandma had been teaching school for thirty years and got so fed up with the administrators that she left and opened a children’s bookstore. I remember laying out her first round of inventory. I could tell she was nervous that it wouldn’t work out.

But it did. And my grandma went on to have one of the most high-profile children’s bookstores in the US.

So it’s natural for me to expect that teachers who feel stifled by the system will use entrepreneurship as an outlet. Entrepreneurship is a good way to change up a career choice gone bad. And for those of you who think teachers aren’t the type, that’s just not true.

Here are two more examples:

Manzanita Kids is a husband/wife team. David is a carpenter and Adrienne is a school teacher. Adrienne designs toys she knows her students would love to play with, and David builds them.  Today the business has grown and Adrienne is not teaching because she is stuck—rather, she’s teaching because helping students learn is fertile ground for her design instincts to run wild at home, after school. Entrepreneurship breathed fresh life into Adrienne’s teaching career.

Another example of an entrepreneurial teacher is Lindsey Volin, founder of Home Art Studio. When I think of art I think of all the budget cuts schools have had in recent years. It seems the more we know about the benefits of art curriculum, the more schools leave it to parents to provide that curriculum to kids. Some teachers complain about the situation, and indulge a sense of doomed powerlessness against the system.

Lindsey, however, chose to use her art education degree to launch a company that exposes kids to a wide range of art, through a step-by-step home-based curriculum. (The photo up top is from one of her fans). Lindsey shows another path that’s open to educators besides being a cog in the wheel of a system that doesn’t work.

Teachers going out on their own has another great benefit: recognition. While teachers in schools are mired in politics of parents and budgets, entrepreneurial teachers are recognized quickly for excellence.  and the place most conductive to innovative teaching is outside the classroom.Lindsey, for example, just received a prestigious award for art curriculum.

The teachers who are bright, innovative and driven should have the opportunity to succeed, and using their talents outside the school system is more realistic than most people think.

Here are some resources to get started:

Entrepreneur magazine’s How To section for starting a business

The science behind getting yourself to take a risk

Your biggest barrier to starting a company (it’s not what you think)

My course, How to Start Your Own Company (I have to add that one, right?)

List of investors who put money into education companies



17 replies
  1. Mary Prather
    Mary Prather says:

    I LOVE this…. I am a former music educator turned homeschool mom, turned curriculum author. I have my own music appreciation curriculum – SQUILT Music, that I think feels a big need for homeschooling parents that want to expose their children to beautiful music.

    Your article is spot on and very encouraging to me!


  2. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    The first person to encourage me to homeschool was a former public school teacher in my former city’s best school district. She has a Masters in Education from an Ivy League school. She decided to quit teaching once her oldest child was school-aged and has homeschooled ever since. She’s too nice to come right out and say how schools are horrible, she would just say it wasn’t the right environment for her own children and leave it up to you to connect the dots.

  3. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    A lot of the teachers I know aren’t very supportive of homeschooling. They think it’s weird and that as parents we don’t know anything about ‘real’ teaching. I wonder what’s really at the bottom of that, though.
    I read so much about brain growth, gender differences, and cultural studies that involve children and learning that I could probably create my own course study. I already have, in a sense.
    When I’m constantly reading and learning on my own, though, I’m encouraged to keep going at it and it just keeps making sense. I have always thought of myself as a ‘life-long learner’ before I had even heard the phrase, and I think just modeling that has an impact in my family.

    By the way, what was your grandmother’s book store called?
    Sarah M

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      Once on a flight I got seated next to a young lady who is in college to become a teacher. I went out of my way to tell her that I not only homeschool my children but I unschool my kids, how limiting school was for my child when she was part of a traditional private school, and how I feel teachers aren’t allowed to really give individualized attention like they say they want to.

      She at first acted like she never heard of homeschooling, then we talked the entire flight about it. Then the lady on the other aisle blurted out that she wished she had homeschooled her kids. It’s amazing how inside the box people can be. How do you teach this? What do you do about that? I respond with, why is that important to you? How does that benefit anyone? Why should every single person learn exactly the same thing in the same way? No answers.

      Once it is explained to someone that I don’t try to emulate school. I don’t have required topics, we aren’t trying to produce well-rounded inside the box learners, my kids are free to pursue their passions, be creative, think outside the box, and to be authentic. That either doesn’t sit well with people or they want to know more. I don’t have a lot of patience for people that can’t comprehend what I do.

      What you are doing, self-directed…sounds like what we do! :)

      • Sarah M
        Sarah M says:

        Yes, I totally agree Elizabeth, re: your questions you posed her. I think it’s just *so hard* to try to explain the paradigm shift of homeschooling. I know because I went through the same thing. I feel like my son, who hasn’t ever been to school, thinks wayyyy further out of the box than I do.
        Once you start doing it, it makes so much sense and the pro list just keeps getting longer.

        • Elizabeth
          Elizabeth says:

          It’s actually really easy to explain it to people. I think what is hard is for people to grasp the meaning of what we are explaining. Some people do get it. A lot of people seem puzzled by all of it and really just can’t understand something different. I just move on at that point.

          Your kid sounds like mine. :)

  4. sarah
    sarah says:

    The best teacher I ever had bucked the school system the whole way. I loved her. I learned more from her than any other teacher. At the end of the year she was fired.

  5. mh
    mh says:

    The best teacher I ever had was poverty. And back surgery.

    There’s nothing like knowing what the worst case scenario looks like.

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      I like this game!

      Mine were competitive swimming, a nasty break-up in college, and speaking in front of an audience.

      Not exactly worst case scenarios, but life lessons and have served me well. ;)

      Practicing saying tongue twisters ten times fast has been one of the most helpful tools to forming my thoughts before speaking.

  6. Stephanie Q
    Stephanie Q says:

    “Teachers are well aware that the system is stacked against them.”

    unfortunately we don’t discover just how much it is…until we get graduate and get fully immersed in the profession.

    • mh
      mh says:


      All sentient beings know that teaching isn’t what it’s crackle up to be, but every education major wants to be “oh captain, my captain” standing on the desks.

      Delusions of grandeur + burdensome administrative requirements = disillusioned teachers.

  7. Gena
    Gena says:

    I think the key to any career success (for a smart innovative individual) is to find a shortcut as early as possible to what they really want by avoiding or minimizing the false paths. I really loved forensic accounting, but realized that in order to get in, I will have to do years of mind numbing journal entries, so I got out in time and became a data scientist in the field where people are desperately needed and use their brain to make an impact from day one. And all my accountant friends are so overworked bored and stuck, it’s sad. For a real scientist, to be stuck in a lab or a pharma company following procedures is a nightmare. For a true creative spirit, Art Director in an agency following dump client requests is equally a disaster. And for a real teacher who loves their craft what a disappointment to be stuck in a school! Entrepreneurship and homeschooling are two amazing ways out!

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      For a true creative spirit, Art Director in an agency following dump client requests is equally a disaster.

      If you’re clueless, yes. I know a lot of art directors. They make more working at adv. than they ever would on their own. They usually don’t deal with a client anyway- that’s a different position. The real artists shine and move up in better art director positions eventually becoming creative directors (I.e. the best). Their talent always shines through. Being able to take direction and infuse their creativity pays really well.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *