What do Desmond Tutu, Oliver Tambo, Athol Fugard and Robert Sobukwe have in common, apart from their dedication to freedom in South Africa?
They were all once teachers.
At some point in their lives, so too were J.K. Rowling, Sting, Hugh Jackman and, more recently, Oprah.
In fact, a cursory desktop search of teachers who went on to thrive in other professions reads like a veritable ‘who’s who’ from around the world. Think American politicians like Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Jonson, to game changers like Socrates, Confucius and Einstein, to CEOs and leaders of tech giants.
So, why do so many teachers who opt to work in other sectors, thrive?
The answer, after researching industry thoughts such as those espoused by Marcel Schwantes, founder of Leadership from the Core, probably lies in the fact that it is ultimately people who drive industry, and leaders who understand people can effect efficiencies and innovation at a granular level – 2 key value drivers for growth and development.
So, what makes teachers such good leaders?
In his online discussions around successful leadership, Schwantes quotes Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, who states that all of his most successful hiring decisions were based on values, the most important of which was ‘integrity’. “Integrity is what makes it hard to question a person’s decisions. His or her actions are open for everyone to see and you can rest assured that he or she will use good judg[e]ment”.
In tight, collaborative spaces, colleagues of such hires will quickly see them as dependable and accountable for their actions, which is a laser path to developing team trust.
“Hiring people with integrity also addresses the leadership void. A person who walks-the-walk of integrity eventually becomes a role model who commands respect and exercises great influence. These are the type of leaders that people desire and whom you want to promote to management roles.”
Against Schwantes’ framing of Buffett’s thoughts, integrity is also the key value driver in teacher education programmes the world over. In fact, Dr Colleen Thatcher, Dean of the Faculty of Education at the Embury Institute for Higher Education, says that her institution considers ‘integrity’ an organisation-wide value and it is in fact a strategic imperative of her Rector’s office.
If there’s one descriptor that epitomises the lay perception of a teacher, it would have to be ‘dedication’. Teaching in South Africa requires study over 4 years towards a qualification like a Bachelor of Education degree. The degree also incorporates months and months of integrated training in live classrooms where students perfect their craft long before they’re given carte blanche to manage a classroom of some 30-strong 10-year-olds.
Teachers then spend hours and hours each evening preparing for the next day’s lessons, marking homework from the previous day’s efforts and still finding time to spend with their own priorities and loved ones.
In dedicating themselves to their task, teachers shape the leaders of tomorrow. They do this by training these young minds to solve problems, inspire them to become the best version of themselves and, most importantly, equip them to become future entrepreneurs with the core thinking skills requisite for careers that have yet to be invented.
‘Dedication’, then, is the pivot on which the career decision to become a teacher swings and is the key value driver that sustains teachers throughout their lives, even when they opt to change professions.
There’s probably no more than a handful of professions that train for ‘caring’. Much like their counterparts in the health profession and, of course, across most service-oriented industries, teachers are trained to carry-out their daily tasks with care as a natural and organic part of service delivery.
In a recent Forbes.com article about value drivers and employee perceptions, David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom state that the highest levels of employee engagement and, consequently, productivity, are found in teams where employees know intrinsically that their leaders care about them. Engaged and productive teams drive growth and, ultimately, business success.
The Post-Matric Study Decision
With matric finals just months away, and a post-matric study decision to follow soon after, students have more options than ever before. A teaching qualification, although geared towards a respected and value-driven profession, opens many other doors as the skills learned are easily transferable across sector. In fact, many teaching graduates go on to successful careers in both the entrepreneurial and corporate spaces. Some choose to position themselves in corporate training, communications and skills development project work, while others choose to use their youth travelling and to use their teaching qualification much like an international visa to secure short-term work during their journey.
Most importantly, the hidden value of a teaching qualification is the way in which it creates leaders who then go on to shape other leaders.
Few other qualifications pay it forward like a teaching qualification does.