I quit UX to become an Art Teacher

An unexpected change leads towards a more fulfilling career path

Man-Ping Wu
5 min readFeb 22, 2022

In May 2020, I graduated from my masters in design technology, specializing in User Experience (UX) and I took drastic measures to change my career path. It’s a scary thought, since I had invested time and money with the hopes to enter the ‘shiny’ tech industry. However, it was an awakening moment through the course load and my part-time IT job that made me realize– I am depressed, I don’t enjoy it, and I am in a creative slump. It also didn’t help when it was during the peak of the pandemic.

I was fortunately given a rare opportunity interning at House of van Schneider (yes they designed the identity of NASA MARS 2020 Rover Mission), which gave me a taste of content creation and actual creative freedom. However I didn’t want to resort to freelancing as a UX designer or illustrator, as I was still finding my creative voice.

Grade 4 students’ artwork — Portuguese Roosters/Chickens, Laurel Burch Suns & Food Illustration.

On a rare blue moon, reconnecting with my high school art teacher, Ms Rodriguez, she suggested becoming an art teacher. Among my peers, teaching art is often viewed as the last resort for its low pay and high demands. On the other hand, witnessing how Ms Rodriguez is living her best life by nurturing young talent and being creative as an art teacher at international schools, sounds exciting.

I left New York and went back to South Africa, with the change to study an online one-year PGCE program. The course was packed with many hours of studying, reading and writing, while teaching 14 hours per week of practical.

I didn’t have high expectations when it comes to building student-teacher relationships, as my role is primarily assisting and teaching on a short-basis. Students were keen and curious by asking questions as I don’t appear to be their idea of a conventional teacher. Dressing rather youthful, speaking with a mixed accent and making internet references without the cringe.

Grade 5 students’ artwork — Ndebele Dolls and Beetle Printing

The dive into this profession entails many heavy responsibilities, as little moments can easily impact a child’s development. For that reason, I developed my three key strategies to make effective lessons fun, which consequently gave me a confidence boost.

1. Always think strategically and creatively

UX and teaching are similar when it comes to strategic and creative thinking. A lesson plan is similar to an app’s user flow, figuring out how students learn the content while being enjoyable. The types of students are also an important equation whether it will be successful. Through trial and error, it is expected lecture styles do not work for any students. If university students cannot instill lecture styles, it is a guarantee that they do not work well with 9 year olds.

Grade 7 students’ artwork — Fruit still life

2. Lessons should always be fun

If students are bored, they are less likely to remember anything. Think about it: how come kids remember their favorite video game’s characters’ names and backstories? Take the opposite approach by making lessons fun, they are more engaged and are willing to participate. By giving the opportunity to solve problems themselves, they will create their own learning without being too dependent on the teacher. I always check myself by asking– would I have enjoyed the lessons, if I was taught this way?

3. Every lesson is a confidence exercise

Kids can smell fear and will take any opportunities to be disruptive. Once I found my school, my preconceived thoughts reminded me of my lack of child-care experience and my quiet introverted personality being my disadvantages. In reality, I surprised myself as a natural by being calm and assertive. When moments of fear slowly bubbles up, I usually take a deep breath and switch my mindset. I defaulted into being a more confident individual and more-adult with the responsibilities at hand.

Grade 6 students’ work — Keith Haring and Optical Illusions

At the end of my practical, I gained many gifts and experiences as an art teacher. The students ignited the passion I thought I once lost. It inspired me to continue my practice and learning, which brought me closer to finding my artistic voice. They will have their days when mercury is in retrograde, but gaining the students’ trust and noticing the impact I made is extremely fulfilling. My instinct was right to change my career path, but my unique expertise and experiences is what makes me stand out.

Officially qualified

As of February 22nd 2022, I am happy to announce I am now a certificated teacher and received my DHL mail ✌✌✌︎