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Career Change: Part 3 ~ Time to look back and look forward

First published on LinkedIn, 2nd February 2020

The second part of this 3-part series was all the way back in February 2019. You might thank that suggests I'm not exactly a prolific 'online content innovator' (or writer or photographer as most normal people call them). That is true, of course, but I could argue that I wanted to give myself some time to put things into perspective. Plus, the new year is often a time when people look to change their circumstances so perhaps the timing is apt.

First up, a recap of the previous two posts. Reading them does not help you to understand this post; it's not a boxed set.

  1. Why I knew I had to get out of the media,

  2. Why I knew teaching was the right move for me, and,

  3. Why a career change is not something to be afraid of, which is this one but with a different title... I'm fickle; deal with it.

I've now been in the teaching game for 2 years and 10 months and I have recently started at my second school. What I found most surprising was the difference in recruitment from education and 'the real world', so I wanted to include a little about that first, before going on to some practical advice to help those of you considering a career change.

Perhaps due to the dearth of teachers in the UK - or the profligacy of 'normal' people - the recruitment process was surprisingly easy and, also, bizarre.

What do you think would have happened had I explained to my Head of Department that I wanted to attend an interview at another employer in media? I know, because I've experienced it or seen it happen. Castigation. Pleading. Negotiation. Derision. Being given the cold shoulder for the remainder of your time employed at that company is the most likely outcome. Compare that to teaching where the first response was congratulations followed quickly by a discussion about how to support my interview as well as preparing cover for the necessary lessons.

The cynical amongst you might be thinking why they wanted me out of the school so readily but, again, due to the lack of teachers and, in my case, male English teachers, that line of thinking doesn't stack up.

In education, I've found that there is a wealth of ways in which you can be supported, in contrast to more competitive working environments. In one way, the materials you use to do your job is often provided by someone who has seen and done this all before; for example, in my role as a tutor, I was given a box of useful forms by a Senior Tutor and, in my role as a classroom teacher, I was given a box of stationery items by the Reprographics Manager. Within the English department, team members have created detailed schemes of work to follow for each term and year group so I can, theoretically, plan what I'll be teaching for the next 12 weeks.

I'm not simply going to write an article encouraging you to quit your job and become a teacher. The purpose of this final part of the trilogy is to help those of you thinking of changing careers to think ahead and to not be unnecessarily concerned. I mean, for one thing, there's no money in teaching! I knew that going into it but it really does start to take a toll... So, here's the key pieces of advice to prepare for considering to think about perhaps making a career chance, possibly, in the future;

1. Know your strengths - what are the things you are good at or love doing? There's no point trying to move into an industry where you won't enjoy it or aren't any good at it. I can't finish my triptych of articles without mentioning the Japanese concept of ikigai - imagine the sweet spot between what you love doing, what you're good at, what can make you money, and what the world needs. It's amazing, interesting, and useful and there's, of course, a lovely TED Talk about it. If you don't know what these are yet, that's not a problem. If you can identify the other aspects of ikigai then you will be able to narrow things down.

I've had discussions with friends and family explaining - sometimes to their disbelief - that, until I was probably 27 or so, I didn't know a single thing about the banking industry, insurance, stock market traders, etc. Had I known, would that have been an interesting career for me? Probably not but had I known what they earn, I might have looked into it more. If I could, I would send the younger me this book - I read something similar in Foyle's, before the refurbishment, and I was blown away that there was actually a directory of different career ideas! If you've read my earlier posts, you'll know my first ambitions were all from the beginning of the dictionary so a book like this would have blown my mind.

2. Remember what your motivation is - this is either a Pull or a Push. What is drawing you towards a particular career; is there something particularly alluring or exciting or challenging that makes you want to jump right in and go for it? Or is there something compelling you to make a change, that makes it hard to get out of bed in the morning, or fills you with dread on Sunday night? Be clear about your motivation. For me, it was two-fold - the Push was to find an industry where I'm not constantly worried about losing my job, regardless of how good or bad I am at it, whilst the Pulls were a deep-seated desire to be spending my time doing something 'good', something that benefits other people, and a desire to have a career that could be developed and practised anywhere across the globe. Your motivation should be at the forefront of your mind when you take your next step...

3. Making a plan - this seems simple but don't confuse a list with a plan. Your plan has to start with a clear vision of the end result. What is your life going to be like in 1, 3, or 10 years' time? Your plan is then the chronological prioritisation of steps required to get you from where you are now, to where you want to be. I've read via Twitter that Arnold Schwarzenegger makes an annual list of a handful of things he wants to achieve that coming year and crosses them off as he does them. That's all well and good but he has the money and influence to make the small steps between now and then irrelevant. That's not true for many of us and I made a 3 year plan that looked a bit like this; 2017 - Apply for education jobs (e.g. TeachFirst); Read three books about teaching; Budget for a reduced income - Goal: First teaching job (ACHIEVED IN FULL) 2018 - Pass trainee year; Complete PGCE; Score 70% on graded essays (ACHIEVED IN FULL) 2019 - Pass NQT year; Apply for new jobs closer to home; Increase pay by 10-15% (PART ACHIEVED)

Your plan should be like a good cookbook; the alluring photograph is your idealised vision for your future. The ingredients are the skills, experiences, knowledge, and personal attributes that will make that possible - but the recipe is your plan of how to learn and practice those ingredients, in what order to add them, and how to prioritise them to make your future your reality.

4. Get started!! - The simplest instruction but the hardest to accomplish. You actually need to do something. This might be utilising your existing network - do you know anyone in the industry you want to get in to? Do you have anyone that you look up to, who you could contact or emulate? This might be going to a recruitment fair and there are loads out there. Even if you're not a recent grad looking for a first job, making time to go to one could yield several great people to learn from or speak to.

For me, this was exploring different ways to get into teaching. Doing a University-based PGCE would not work for me as I had bills to pay and needed to be studying whilst working. I read a little and often to get a clearer picture of the requirements and then arranged to go to shadow a teacher in a school; I followed the PE department, which may have been a waste of time in hindsight, but chose them because it was the soonest I could schedule an appointment.

5. Reflect - Now, again, I never knew what 'reflection' meant until I became a teacher so, in my career at least, I think I often just ploughed on doing what had worked before or what other people suggested to me. Obviously, if things went really wrong in a pitch, for instance, I'd worry or think about what to do next time but I never self-critiqued decisions, processes, or successes. There are innumerable models for reflection and, as a trainee teacher, I learned a lot about different strategies. Really though, the most practical one, is to think about a particular situation as precisely as you can (i.e. what moment / event, when and where did it happen). Write those down... Come on, this is the internet so we do interactive here... Now, write down what went well - try to get just 3 things in your WWWs. Now, think about 3 things that went badly - even if it was a calamity, focus on 3 things that you could control. The last step is to consider what you could do in the same situation to avoid, prevent, or prepare for those 3 SNAFUs. The critical point of reflection is to make a behavioural change.

To be even-handed here, as a teacher, I often criticise this navel-gazing nonsense. I often cite the Greek philosopher Heraclitus' quote in relation to lessons, students, classrooms, etc;

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.

However, whilst that might be true for teaching, it may not be for you and your circumstances. And it is worth trying a few times, just to see if it has a positive impact on you. In the context of a career change, opportunities for reflection come up every time you encounter a barrier or fail in some way - that could be in an application for a course, a networking opportunity missed, or some form of rejection.


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