A simple Google search brought Gabbie Stroud’s story to my attention. She made a decision to quit teaching, wrote an essay for the Griffith Review, then posted an innocent paragraph on Facebook. That went viral. Newspaper and radio interest soon followed. It was this piece on the ABC website that showed up in my Google search. Gabbie’s recent decision to leave the classroom and the highs and lows that go with it are well captured in her responses to the ten question interview. This post is part of a series of posts profiling careers after teaching.
What are your qualifications and experience in classroom teaching?
I have a Bachelor of Education (Primary) from the Australian Catholic University (1998) and a Masters of Education (Children’s Literature and Literacy) from the University of Wollongong (2010). I began teaching in London, UK in 1999 and continued in Australia until 2004 when I went on exchange to Toronto, Canada. From 2004 until 2014 I continued to teach with a few gaps owing to ‘maternity leave’ and study. I’ve taught Kindergarten through to Year 8 and always actively resisted any promotion because I wanted to be ‘a teacher’. I also teach pre-service teachers through the University of Wollongong.
How do you explain what you currently do to make a living?
I’ve only recently resigned from teaching and so I’ve fallen back on our family business: managing holiday apartments on the Far South Coast of NSW. So – for now – I’m a cleaner mainly! However…
I am also a writer (I had a novel published in 2009) and after doing a few online courses, I’ve been able to approach some magazines for publication. I now write regularly for a glossy magazine distributed along the NSW coast. I want to build up that aspect of my writing as well as publishing more of my creative stuff.
I also have a bigger plan in place that brings together my teaching and my writing. I have created a blog where parents can ask questions of me as a teacher. I’m often told that they tried asking their child’s classroom teacher this question but they received a vague answer or a rushed response. So, I’m using my writing skills and teaching expertise to provide parents with the information they want. I hope that in time I can grow this ‘blog’ into something of an experience that people ‘subscribe’ to and pay for.
Can you give some background about how you decided to leave the classroom?
I suffered burn out – I was sitting at my desk at around 2:30pm on a Thursday afternoon trying to do a million (unimportant) things at once, while my class was becoming unruly. My heart was hurting in my chest, I was sweating and my hands were shaking. I knew at that moment I couldn’t do it anymore.
How long did it take you to make the transition?
I didn’t want to simply quit teaching and throw away my permanent position. I needed some time to recover from the burnout, to collect my thoughts and to make some decisions. I asked for 12 months Leave Without Pay but the Education Office I worked for weren’t keen, they told me to resign! After some coaxing from my Principal, who understood what I was experiencing, the Office eventually agreed to grant me 12 months unpaid leave.
During those twelve months, I spent plenty of time thinking about teaching and if it was truly what I had hoped and dreamed it would be all those years ago when I was young and gorgeous and studying at uni.
I started seeking other employment opportunities, just to see if I could gain work doing other things, and it suddenly seemed like a whole new world was opening up. On the day I finally handed in my resignation, I interviewed Collette Dinnigan for a magazine piece I had been commissioned to write. I felt pretty secure that I would be okay without being a full-time teacher.
What are the top three things someone should know or do in order to successfully change careers?
1. Buy yourself some time, any way you can. Use your long service leave, take leave without pay or – if you are suffering stress – take sick leave. Use this time to think about what you want and what you need. Explore other opportunities that interest you and see if there is potential for a future there. You can’t think clearly when you are on the crazy teaching treadmill – so jump off for a bit before you change careers.
2. Be open to opportunity. My mum often says beggars can’t be choosers and when you first leave teaching it feels a bit like you’ve become a ‘beggar’ simply because you have suddenly lost so much security and that ever important regular income. If you are too picky about what you will do next, you’ll end up back in the classroom because you’ve let the opportunities pass you by. I accepted every offer that came my way to ensure there was money coming in and to see where things could lead.
3. Make sure you can afford to transition out of teaching. My psychologist talked to me about this and explained it this way: No matter how stressed you feel now as a teacher, it will be 100 times worse if you quit and then can’t feed your family.
Fortunately, I had that time up my sleeve to see if we could cope financially. I think financial stress would always trump work stress, so make sure you’ve got that angle covered before you make any dramatic exits!
What is the best way to get started?
Ask me again in twelve months. I’m just getting started now!
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to do what you have done?
Know and understand that as a teacher you have a broad range of skills, attributes, qualities and talents that make you very appealing to a broad variety of industries and employers. Don’t doubt yourself!
Spend as long as you need thinking, talking and workshopping your potential career change. Don’t make a hasty decision.
But also remember – life is there to be enjoyed. If you’re miserable teaching, then make an escape plan.
What were some of the problems you faced?
I faced internal demons of doubt and anxiety.
I faced pressure from my colleagues and the school community. There were a lot of heartstrings being tugged at with comments like:
You’re such a good teacher.
But what will you do?
You wouldn’t leave us!
I faced burnout which wasn’t fun. Recovering from that kind of exhaustion takes time and energy.
I faced the weird sensation of not knowing how to describe myself. For so long I’d been ‘a teacher’ – I didn’t know what to write on forms or how to describe my dreams for the future.
My family faced a dramatic loss of income and the associated security. But they could see the alternative was me losing my health and mental clarity, so they were supportive and understanding.
Which teaching skills have proved to be most valuable?
Public speaking – definitely. Being able to speak well and with confidence sets us apart from most other people.
All those PD days on giving ‘I messages’ and setting SMART goals and doing Y Charts are being put to good use too.
Being organised and able to manage groups of people always comes in handy.
If you had one secret to give about changing careers what would it be?
Once a teacher, always a teacher. Just because you’re not in the classroom, doesn’t mean you’re not a teacher. I’m still a teacher – it’s just that now I work for myself… and let me tell you, there’s a whole other world out here just waiting for you!