I had grown accustomed to my freedom by September 2015 only to find it taken away from me suddenly and unexpectedly by staff sickness. Now, having completed my two term contract, I’m free again. I woke on that first morning with a feeling of deja-vu. I’ve been here before, I thought to myself. But it’s amazing how different it feels this time. School, on two days a week, isn’t the ‘toad that squats’ on my life (Ted Hughes if you’re wondering) as it had been at times in the past few years. Instead, it was a time in the week that I looked forward to and enjoyed. This temporary part-time position has shown me that leaving slowly and deliberately is a much more effective way of transitioning out of teaching, just one of several things I’ve learned.
- Don’t go cold turkey. Teachers work too hard and too fast for it to be an effective strategy. If you want to leave, find a way to go part-time for at least a year. Your mind, spirit and brain need time to adjust.
- Have a plan: this may seem obvious but when I say have a plan, I mean a detailed and structured plan for at least the first three months. I knew that not working might be strange but I did not anticipate the extent of my disorientation; I also thought I had a plan but really, I had some voluntary work lined up and some vague ideas about what I might like to pursue. Not the same at all.
- Definitely book in some voluntary work. Pick charities that work in fields which interest you and go see them; charity work takes a while to set up. They need to wait for a volunteer slot to appear, and then they have to do the background checks and induction into the values of the organisation, orientation and training. I had not considered any of these things – I had a vision that I would simply turn up and do good. No.
- Start meeting people; networking is key. In a previous post I documented how the world of work has changed. The concept of selling myself was totally alien and indeed uncomfortable but networking put me in a position where I was meeting new people on a regular basis and while making new contacts was great, watching professional women network has been inspiring. I’ve learnt something from everyone I’ve met.
- Focus on your transferrable skills. Teachers have loads but they need to be packaged in the right way. This takes practise so expect to make at least eight to ten job applications before you start to get things right. Covering letters offer the same challenges. But that first interview will feel like a gold medal.
- Take every single opportunity simply because you have no idea where it will lead. Although I have not yet got myself a job (four applications, one interview) I am busy working on two projects for the Women’s Equality Party and working for The Girls’ Network. Both have offered me the chance to talk on panels, one at the Brighton Fringe Festival and the other at a conference, and that feels great. I’m excited; I will get a chance to network some more and to talk about some things that matter – gender inequality in schools and raising girls’ aspirations.
- Think about what you really want to do next. Because the challenge is to persuade an employer that you’re serious about a career change – I suspect many employers look at ex-teachers as lightweights who simply can’t cut it anymore. Even my job coach spoke that frightening thought aloud. I’ve been running three projects for the WEP and these, along with some of my school experiences, have shown that my strengths and interests lie in delivering projects from start to finish. And I’m going to keep applying for Project Officer roles until I get one. It’s good to have a clear focus.
- Do some training. The Enhancing My Employability course was a great start but now I have time to complete the Prince 2 Foundation course; this gives structure to my days (as does job hunting) and requires me to stay disciplined. And discipline is simply another word for motivation and commitment.
- Don’t be scared. A life lived in fear is a life half-lived. Teaching is a secure and comfortable profession but if you’re ready to do something new, teaching can quickly feel stale and repetitive. With the right planning and preparation, the journey becomes exhilarating and exciting and nerve wracking, a journey of self-discovery. And that’s been the best part of all.