Today marks the fourth anniversary of handing in my resignation, leaving a secure and financially stable teaching job to head out on my own and start again.
Like the thousands of teachers who leave the profession every year, I couldn’t cope with the workload and pressure and it was affecting my physical and mental health.
My reasons behind the decision to walk away are no different to the hundreds of teachers that have contacted me since I published that post – workload, expectations, behaviour, health concerns – and they have all shared their own personal horror stories about the things they have experienced within their careers that have made them realise that they need to leave.
Of all the questions I am asked, by far the most frequent is simply this:
How do I leave teaching?
The Barriers to Leaving
Despite the fact that many of those who want to leave the profession have acknowledged that they need to get out, the biggest issue seems to be that nobody really knows what to do instead. Once you’re ‘in,’ you’re seemingly in for life. Anyone who has worked in an educational institution for more than a few years will know what I mean by this – the lengthy process of qualifying, establishing yourself within a school and becoming part of a community often gives the sense of ‘this is it,’ with the only job opportunities being at other schools within the area. It’s a rather incestuous profession – after a few years you’ll find that everyone knows everyone else across the same networks and have undoubtedly worked with each other at some point.
There are other contributing factors (aside from the feeling of being unqualified for anything else) that create a barrier for making that big leap into the unknown:
Financial responsibilities. Family, children, mortgages, debts, even lifestyle are all things that create an enormous sense of fear when making a massive change. When you’re responsible for the well-being of a family, the risk becomes far greater than if the only life you have to be concerned with is your own.
A drop in salary. Despite the fact that many teachers earn less than minimum wage when calculating their salary against the hours they work, an experienced teacher can earn a reasonable salary after a number of years, particularly if they have extra responsibilities added to their job role.
The holidays. While it’s enormous source of contention for those outside the profession who have the misconception that teaching and support staff are allowed the same amount of holidays as the students, there are very few professions which have the same level of flexibility during holiday periods.
A sense of failure. Many feel like the years of work and self-sacrifice given to developing a career is wasted if it were to be walked away from. ‘I’m not a quitter’ is something I have repeatedly been told. I can’t help but feel confused about this – misery, stress and mental health doesn’t matter as long as you’re not seen as being a ‘quitter?’
Making the Decision
I have had the same conversation multiple times with teachers who are seemingly desperate to leave. It generally goes like this:
Them: I hate it. I really want to get out.
Me: What do you want to do instead?
Them: I don’t know, that’s the problem.
Me: What would be the ideal?
What inevitably follows is a lengthy discussion about potential jobs, existing skillsets and available opportunities, which inevitably results in fear overriding any ambitions to take the next step.
The truth is that in order to make a start, a clear decision has to be made – to either start building a realistic exit strategy to leave, or to stay and find coping mechanisms. Of course, this isn’t as completely black and white as this statement suggests, but the clarity of a final decision to leave teaching means that mentally, a goal is set. Goals are always good.
Teachers develop an enormous skillset that can be applied to numerous jobs and career paths.
Verbal, Written and Listening Communication skills – working with and building relationships with students, other teachers, support staff, admin staff, site staff, canteen staff, parents or carers, staff from outside agencies, writing feedback and reports, meetings, parents evenings, open events.
Working with Others and Being a Team Player – see above.
Planning, Problem Solving and Critical Thinking – schemes of work, lessons, adapting lessons to suit individual students learning needs, answering questions, the ability to adapt to an unexpected situation at a moments notice.
Organisation and Time Management – teaching to set times, marking to a schedule, deadlines, extra curricular, duties during break times – every aspect of teaching needs to be organised effectively to get through the day and beyond.
Data Analysis – trackers and spreadsheets, IT skills, an understanding of the ability of individuals, writing data reports complete with actionable points to ensure progress, maintaining records
Understanding and Use of Technology – depending on the subject taught, different software is used that can be added to a skillset. Office and registration software, software for composition (I was a music teacher), software for the Virtual Learning Environment and software for tracking data across the shared school network. IT teachers use web design and coding.
Confidence, Leadership and Enthusiasm – lessons, inspiring and empowering others to want to achieve, fostering a love of learning, being a role model.
Patience. Endless patience – establishing consistent expectations, remaining calm in lessons and beyond, explaining the same things multiple times in multiple ways, biting your lip when sworn at (I’m including this because it happens more regularly than many acknowledge), being able to move on each day after a confrontation.
Others to consider:
- The ability to work in high-pressure situations.
- The ability to analyse and self-assess.
- Imaginative ideas.
Can It Be Done?
Is it actually possible to leave teaching? Believe it or not, several of my former colleagues started new careers in the last few years. I asked two of of them to send me their own story of how they left their teaching jobs.
Example 1: My Own Story
After I resigned I was offered the opportunity to do some supply teaching, and with that I took on some extra curricular groups at an hourly rate and exam invigilation while I was building up my Blog and Social Media Management business. I didn’t sign up with an agency and this worked well for me – the daily pay was actually much better than agency supply (and was even more money than teaching full-time), with the only negative aspect being that if I didn’t work, I didn’t get paid. There was no marking or planning, I arrived at 8.30am and left at 3.30pm, I could choose my working days and devote the rest of the time to building the business and networking.
After about 18 months, the money that I was earning from blogging and social media work meant that I financially didn’t need to continue with supply, and haven’t been in a school (as a teacher anyway – although I’ve given workshops at local schools about social media over the last year) since June 2017. I use a whole bunch of transferable skills that I developed during my teaching career – data analysis and trackers, technology, creating individualised plans and actions for bloggers, deadlines… and I love every minute of it. Of course, my yearly earnings are nowhere near what it was as a teacher (yet) and I have to fill out my Self-Assesmment tax returns every year (which isn’t actually as bad as I thought), but I get to decide my own working days and who I work with, and it’s incredible. Hard-work, tiring and long hours, but incredible.
Example 2: J
I worked as a IT technician in secondary schools for about 6 years before retraining to become a Computer Science Teacher. I made the decision to leave teaching relatively early on in my teaching career (4 years in total) so my skills where relatively in date still. I was initially looking for roles in IT Training, as I thought this would utilise the two skill sets. I made my CV look a bit more snazzy and posted it to all the major job web sites. The one I found most success with was indeed.co.uk, where my CV got picked up by a recruiter working on behalf of a university. (Note: you will get calls constantly from recruiters who have “excellent opportunities at a lovely school in *insert name of place miles away from your house*”, I still get these today!). I had planned on spending the summer holidays (2016 I think..) learning some new it skills in App Development to give myself more chance of landing something, but as it turned out this wasn’t needed.
I’m now a Software Engineer at a university. I work mainly with Learning Systems (specifically Moodle, but other E-Learning Applications as well) developing content, running long term projects and supporting end users.
I would say, even if you have been teaching for a long time, do not feel like you cannot leave. Teaching gives you a fantastic skill set that is applicable to many different careers. It has certainly helped me in this current role.
Example 3: M
I thoroughly enjoyed first 6 years of teaching, even in really challenging school. A change in management brought different strategies and pressures that I felt unreasonable, and despite attempts to mediate I knew that this was not a situation that I could work effectively in. Before I became a teacher I had a successful career in surveying (a redundancy from this job became the catalyst to move into teaching). I made some enquiries about getting back into surveying, called the most reputable agency I know in the industry and sent in my newly updated CV. They sent me three different specifications for jobs that they thought I would be interested in and I went for an interview. From that I managed to negotiate a starting salary that was slightly more than the one I was currently earning in my teaching job and would allow me to start after I had fulfilled my contractual teaching resignation period.
Since being in my new role as Development Consultant, I’ve been able to combine the organisation and planning skills that I developed during my teaching career with my previous experience as a surveyor. I’m trusted with important clients, I manage my own projects and workload, I get the opportunity to shadow senior colleagues in new areas of work, my professional fees are paid and I reinstated my RICS. I’ve also gone on to become a Registered Valuer and at my last review was promoted to Senior Development Consultant. I also am trusted to work from home where I need to if I need to juggle childcare issues. Life after teaching does certainly exist!
Hints and Tips for Leaving the Teaching Profession
Speak to the people that your decision will directly have an impact on at home. The Bloke, while nervous (particularly in the fact that his salary could not solely cover all of our monthly bills) was supportive of my decision.
Actually make the decision that you are going to leave, and give yourself a VERY realistic deadline. I decided in December 2014 that this was going to be my last year, handed in my resignation in March 2015 and my contract ended at the end of August of the same year. A friend of mine has just spent two years building her exit strategy. It is not going to be an overnight thing
Be prepared to take a drop in pay. Work out your finances, and from that, start working out a budget and open a savings account. As soon as I knew that I was going to leave, I cut back on everything and saved as much as I possibly could. Here are some great ideas on how to save money that I used when preparing to leave teaching.
Work out your skillset – strengths, weaknesses, things you actually enjoy. You’ll surprise yourself at how much you’re capable of doing.
Start looking through job descriptions and specs in your local area. You don’t know what is out there until you do some research.
Update your CV. I know someone who has three different CV’s that are adapted to three different professions that focus on different skillsets.
Speak to friends outside of teaching. They may be able to point you in the direction of places that they know have vacancies, put you in touch with new contacts or give some helpful ideas and suggestions.
Contact respected agencies in your local area, who may help with ideas of what may be available and forward vacancies as they appear.
Consider the idea of a phased exit. Cutting down the days that you work to .8, .6 etc could potentially give you extra time to build up a business, retrain, take courses or network.
Look into side-hustle ideas. I developed my hobby into a career, and I’ve seen others start utilising their interests and hobbies and turning them into money-making projects – crafts, books, photograpy – there’s a whole bunch of creative opportunities waiting if you’re willing to put yourself out there.
DO NOT speak to anyone within your workplace until you have made a clear plan. This was a mistake I made – my headteacher (who I had known for years and admired enormously) rather embarrassingly heard about my decision to leave before I had the chance to speak to her myself. She was incredibly supportive, but I would have rather given her the respect she deserved of talking to her first.
While it’s an incredibly daunting prospect, there IS life after teaching – you just have to go out and find it!
What about you guys? Have you walked away from your job and started a new career?
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