Category Archives: Life after teaching; Skills

The world keeps turning…

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

Discipline

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A new kind of summer…

This is a very new kind of summer.

On the last day of school, while my colleagues worked purposefully tidying their work spaces and packing their resources for a summer of planning and preparation, I was visiting my favourite spots on campus – saying goodbye to the conker trees, to the wild bluebells below the sports field, to my classroom, the coffee machine, the library, old friends.

My work space wasn’t tidy – it was clear. This was not a temporary goodbye, but permanent closure on the last eighteen years of my professional life. I felt sad to be saying goodbye, of course; but not unhappy.

Now I feel the impact of leaving teaching for the first time. The exam results come in mid – August and though I am confident about my department’s performance, I know at least one student taught by a colleague will drop a grade and compromise their next steps. I will feel for both student and colleague. But I won’t be the one facing sleepless nights as I try to analyse (sometimes unsuccessfully) what didn’t go quite right. Sometimes students drop a grade. That’s life.

I won’t be taking out established schemes of work and re-evaluating the delivery of a text I have taught many times to engage this year’s cohort – and myself. Exams boards don’t keep things lively.

I brought back years of collected resources – books, papers, notes, folders, DVDs – and stored them in plastic boxes and placed them in the loft. I won’t need them for a while. Instead I laid out a pile of 23 books I have wanted to read this year. I’m already on Number Two.

Pink Floyd’s lyrics come to mind…

Every year is getting shorter; never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone…

Except time has not gone. This time has just begun. Now I look at the summer as a clear space for creativity and critical thinking and realise how lucky I am.

How Colleagues Can Help

It’s thirteen years since I applied for a job. I haven’t been unemployed for the last thirteen years, but my last application was for a classroom teacher role (in 2002) since when I have been promoted internally four times; although I had to apply for the four promotions I am fairly confident that I was given the job based on my performance – a ‘devil you know’ scenario. Bringing in someone new is always a risk; I’ve appointed staff regularly during the last thirteen years and twice I have mis-appointed, making a rod for my own back, so I can appreciate the fall-back position of trusting an already established employee.

Now I find that, not only am I going to be applying for jobs again, but they will be jobs outside teaching. To help me prepare, I’ve registered on a MOOC provided by Coursera and the University of London entitled ‘Enhancing My Employability’.

What attracted me was the title. Employment has changed beyond all recognition since I last applied for anything other than teaching, and schools are all I know. Initial reservations have been quickly quashed; the resources are excellent and class discussion forums a welcome distraction when working in isolation.

This week I had to approach five colleagues and five friends and ask them to identify my top five skills (please note, not strengths), describe a time when I demonstrated them, and offer an anecdote of when I was at my best. I’m always wary of asking busy colleagues for a favour because – well – they are busy. Asking them to get personal – even though it is for professional purposes – is sensitive, requires careful consideration and can’t be done quickly. I expected at least some to refuse, but no one did.

It has been an eye-opener. I have been deeply touched by the diligence with which my colleagues approached the task, surprised by their clear appreciation of my abilities, found their observations on where to improve insightful and humbled by their generous professional judgements. Their responses have encouraged me to pay more attention; they have crystallised my own understanding of my strengths and weaknesses and shown me my value in the organisation. I was momentarily, almost, sad to be leaving. It’s a great feeling – I recommend you try it for yourself.