For the last four years, I have been out of the classroom and exploring other career paths, professional opportunities, and ways in which I can still find reward from the daily grind. When I was looking to leave my role in teaching, I felt pretty much out on my own, muddling through a professional landscape that was incredibly intimidating and alien to me. There were no services to help teachers make the transition into any other sector – the exodus was certainly something that was happening, but it was at that time a fairly open secret, with no networks or support services in place.
I wrote this post to try and crystallise the things I’ve learnt in the past few years and which might give some guidance to those who are thinking of making a journey similar to my own. I’ve tried my best to be as up-front as possible about my experiences, warts, 5am starts, lost weekends, and all.
It’s also important for me to say that this post isn’t intended to discredit the value of dedicated teachers who are devoted to the profession; mine is only one story among many and it’s by no means the typical or recommended pattern.
Without further ado:
1. I hadn’t truly registered the mental drain my lifestyle and working patterns were having upon me
There is workaholism, and there is teachers’ workaholism. Being sucked into the world of the classroom, especially straight out of university, you end up thinking the patterns of working, the ludicrously early starts and the night-time finishes, the isolation you feel and the pure strangeness of dealing with pre-pubescent human beings, are the norm. I went to bed every day thinking about my job and it popped up again and again in my dreams. I spent a long time trying to reconfigure my brain from this way of thinking and this way of functioning when I left teaching – I wouldn’t say I’m entirely there yet, but progress is being made.
2. I hadn’t realised that explaining my transferrable skills was going to be really hard work, and that professional rejection is a tough but natural part of professional development
I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir, but teachers are some of the most employable people out there, and I have first-hand experience of working alongside and managing teachers who are rapid to pick up and apply new knowledge, holding multiple priorities in their heads and their working days all at once, and dealing with stakeholders of all backgrounds, from parents, to local authorities, to examining bodies and welfare services.
And I have first-hand experience of the fact that these capabilities are amongst the everyday skills required for thousands of other non-teaching roles out there. However, there is a stark reality in the fact that ‘Teacher’ can stick out like a lighthouse beacon at the top of every prospective leaver’s CV, and the plethora of abilities that come underneath risk become a readily ignorable blur to recruiters.
3. I needed more preparation, better knowledge, and a more strategic plan
I had been planning to leave teaching for what had felt like quite a long time up until the day I handed in my notice – but the planning I put into the mechanics and aftermath of this decision was actually quite lacking. Looking back, I approached the situation with a lot of naivety; I didn’t seek advice from enough people, my research was scant and my optimism was fairly entrenched.
Around a hundred applications and an exhausting carousel of interviews later, I was in the door at my first non-classroom job delivering an education programme for a social mobility charity. I was extremely fortunate that this role actually exposed me to a lot of commercial awareness that has proved extremely useful in my ongoing career, but it was all knowledge that I really should have amassed in advance to mitigate how much I was being ‘typecast’ in my job-hunting phase.
4. It would be possible to find numerous rewarding and challenging work and volunteer opportunities in education as a non-teacher
I didn’t leave teaching because my interest in education and working with young people had vanished, and I found many ways to engage with schools and apply my knowledge of different education systems. I am a school governor, I do some tuition and freelance education work in my spare time, and I am trying to write more about education. These pursuits keep my knowledge up to date and allow me to engage in important debates about education that I feel I can still contribute to and which I feel teachers (past and present) have the capacity to be part of.
The COVID-19 pandemic, whilst filling me with dread at how the powers that be have handled national and global crises, gives me some hope for the future when it comes to the professional recognition and job satisfaction that teachers deserve – hopefully we can come out the other side to see education professionals acknowledged as some of the ‘most key’ of key workers.
But if this doesn’t happen and if you are still considering leaving your teaching career for whatever reason, I hope that my story can give you some confidence that a move to a satisfying career that offers a better balance is entirely possible. Make connections, ask the questions that need to be asked, and use the resilience that you apply every day, and your prospects will increase exponentially.
To follow up with Joel, the best way to reach him is via LinkedIn.
Joel’s views are personal and do not represent those of his employer or other organisations with which he is affiliated.