According to an October 2018 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is estimated that over 270,000 teachers are projected to leave classrooms across the United States each year from 2016–2026. While some are retiring or staying home with children, over half of them are leaving for new careers.


The most common answer from teachers themselves is burnout. They cope with stressful student–teacher ratios, standardized testing, lack of resources, student behavior, ineffective administrations, and more. Teachers feel like they’re not making a difference. Teachers are tired.

For educators feeling stuck in a stressful career they no longer enjoy, the next questions are, “What else can I do?” and “How?” Some may still have student loans to pay off and are afraid of leaving a stable paycheck or losing benefits. Many just don’t know how to redirect the skills they already have. Transitioning out of an established career into something else can be daunting, but for K–12 teachers suffering burnout or seeking to make a bigger impact, it may have gotten just a little less intimidating. Kari Knisely, a self-described lifelong learner, has successfully made that transition and has a desire to share with other teachers how she gained that freedom. In a telephone interview in April 2019, Knisely said, “I’ve heard from a lot of teachers. This is a hot topic. I feel like I need to do something about it.”

After settling into teaching as a career, Knisely found that there were some things she liked about teaching—such as relationships she developed with some students—and some that she did not. “It takes a special person to be a teacher,” Knisely stated. “I fell in love with teaching. It was amazing, but it was really hard and challenging.”

Stress + Pointlessness = Burnout

A stressful job that feels pointless can wear a person out quickly. Many of the staff had grown apathetic, most likely due to the stress of high expectations and little ability to make changes in the system. It had begun to alter her own perceptions. She did not like how it was changing her or the way the stress was affecting her physically.

Knisely decided to leave. She sought out resources and new training. Those methods successfully landed her in the field of instructional design.

Refreshing Work

“So, I had somewhat of a plan.” She continued, “I completed my masters in educational technology in 2012 and had also taken a course in instructional design. The professors would talk about getting involved in a professional organization, which is how I connected with ATD. It was the best professional decision I ever made.” For many people, a career change can be the cure for burnout. Purpose is important, and so is work–life integration, and many teachers are finding them in a freeance lifestyle.

Along her journey from the classroom to freelance instructional design consultant, Knisely discovered a passion for helping other teachers switch career paths as she did. Her partnership with the Association for Talent Development (ATD) includes a webinar on the topic, where she is able to guide them in matching up their skills to opportunities available in the instructional design and talent development industries. Knisely adds, “With ATD, I learned more, became confident in my abilities, and learned to transfer my skills into other areas—and I have much less stress in my life now. That’s what I want to help other teachers do.”

With the increased popularity of the gig economy and freelancing, many side hustles are turning into full-fledged careers. While the idea of being self-employed is definitely nothing new, the internet, advancing app technology, and social media platforms have combined to drastically widen the net for potential shifts.

Forbes shares the story of former teacher Anna DiGilio, who built her side gig into a million-dollar business. According to Knisely, “With instructional design, there are so many possibilities. I think it is a great growing career opportunity, and instructional design is really only one of the options available in talent development.”

A Healthy Shift

Stressed out and burned out teachers are looking for careers that are better for their mental and physical health. According to ADT, the talent development profession is on track to see a steady and consistent growth year after year. They also share from their 2017 ATD Salary Report that, “The average talent development professional makes between $80,000 and $89,000. And teachers are skilled in many of the same areas in which trainers, talent development managers, and instructional designers are skilled.”

Looking for more inspiration? Knisely shares many other success stories on her website,

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