L&D Specialist & Former Teacher Leah

62 – L&D Specialist & Former Teacher Leah Sarsfield


In this episode, I interview Leah Sarsfield. Leah is a former teacher who taught elementary for 6 years before transitioning into her new role as a Learning and Development (L&D) Program Specialist after support from The Teacher Career Coach Course. Listen in as we talk all about the emotional transition process and her new role.

Listen to the episode in the podcast player below, or find it on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

From Teacher to L&D Specialist

Daphne Gomez:
Hello, Leah. Thank you so much for being here today.

Leah Sarsfield:
Thank you for having me. I’m so excited.

Daphne Gomez:
Leah, I wanted to start with you the way that we start with basically all of the other teachers that we’ve had on the show, and just ask you a little bit to share your story of what got you into teaching. What made you want to become a teacher?

What made you want to become a teacher?

Leah Sarsfield:
So I was not one of those kids that grew up thinking, “Oh, I want to be a teacher when I grow up.” I really didn’t have a desire to become a teacher by any means at all. I was a first generation college student, so career tracks were never even talked about in my family. It was really just, “Okay, I’m going to college now, but I don’t know what this means.”

So I ended up choosing marketing as my major initially, simply because I had been in a marketing competition for a club in high school and I got second place and I was like, “Oh, okay, I must be good at this. I should major in marketing.”

Then I’d say like a couple months into starting with that chosen path, I ended up switching to education. I really don’t know why I made the switch – I don’t have a moment where I thought, “Oh, I’m going to be a teacher.” But I just made the switch into the education program, and I felt like from the start that it was something I was good at. I had a lot of time in my program where I spent in the classroom and it just felt like it was a good place for me to be and I felt like it clicked with me, I knew what I was doing. So I kind of just continued on that path.

My First Year Teaching

Then my first year teaching, I taught at a charter school and I was like, “Okay, this is not for me.” Ended up moving into another district and taught at another charter school. And again, I was like, “I don’t think charter is for me.” So switched back to my original district, but went to public school. I felt like at first that that was the right switch. I felt like there were so many things that I appreciated about public school so much more. And for the first year, I was really happy.

Then I started to kind of re-see those trends again that I saw originally in my first two years where I thought like, I don’t know, there’s just so many parts to this that I don’t love. I loved teaching the kids, I loved lesson planning, I loved getting creative with lessons and being with the kids. But there were always those parts, like the politics and the behind the scenes things that I just knew were going to take a toll on me in the long term.

So I started kind of thinking like, is there something else I could do? You know, I did the typical, like Google careers for teachers or careers that you can do with an education background. I never really went forward with anything because it all just seemed so overwhelming.

Teaching During the Pandemic

Leah Sarsfield:
Fast forward right before COVID, I was telling myself, okay, I’ve got to get out. I’ve got to find something else to do. But then when the pandemic hit, I felt super trapped and I thought, well, I need job stability. I don’t know what the world is doing right now. We don’t know what this looks like for the future.

So I just stayed because it felt like the most secure thing to do through all of the things that were going on the world. And COVID taught me so much about teaching and what the future of teaching looks like, because the amount of things that were put on us and the lack of respect and support.

I just felt like, wow, it was like an eye opener to me. And through that time is when I really started to gravitate towards wanting to find a way out. But again, I felt like for a year and a half, like, okay, this is where I have to be because it’s job security and the world is going crazy right now.

Deciding to Transition Out of Teaching

So as things kind of started to fizzle out with COVID and it got a little bit better through the second year, I discovered your Instagram and was like, “Okay, what’s this all about?” So started listening to the podcast and I would listen to it on my way to school every day.

And then I’d get to school and I’d park my car and I would just sit in my car and think like, “What am I doing? Why am I not one of these former teachers who found their way to something else that they enjoy so much more?”

So I signed up for your course. It was a little slow. I did it in pieces because I was still working full time. Once I finished it, I was like, “Okay, I’m ready now.” Like, I’m ready to start applying.

A Lengthy Application Process

So I started applying for jobs in last April, and I thought just like most teachers probably do, that I would have a job by the end of summer, and I wouldn’t have to return in August. That was not how it went at all.

I put in over 80 applications. I have an ongoing document that I still refer back to. It’s a reminder of where I came from. But I applied to over 80 positions. I did all the cold networking and the warm networking. And I did the elevator pitches and all the things, and had very few interviews. So I felt very defeated, very overwhelmed. I felt like, “Well, I’m going to just have to return in August because I’m not getting a job.”

It got closer and closer to August and the start of the school year and I was just like, I cannot go back. Like, I just don’t know how I can do it. The biggest factor for me, I think was that if I did go back, I was not going to leave in the middle of the school year, just because for me personally, that was my decision that I wouldn’t do it.

A lot of that was because I had coworkers that picked where their kids go. And this particular school year, I had five teacher kids in my class. And I wouldn’t want to be the teacher that leaves after they just picked me to have their children in my class. Then just like my partner teacher and all the logistics of it. So I knew I wouldn’t leave in the middle of the year, which would then put me back in the same cycle again at the end of the next school year

Making Alternative Plans

I had talked to a former teacher through my networking who gave me some advice and said, “If you can make it work, don’t return in August.”

And when she said that, I just kind of laughed. I was like, “Okay, like, just don’t have a job.”

And I was like, “Let’s try and swing that one by my husband and see how that one goes.”

As we got closer to August and the start of the school year, I started to kind of like have those with my husband and say, “I just don’t know if I can go back. We’ve got to think about other options.”

So through many, many conversations, the decision was made that I would just take a personal leave for the school year. That meant that I would still have my position at my school for the following year, if for some reason I did not get a job and I needed to return.

So that felt very safe to me, it felt like, okay, this is a good plan. And if by December I still didn’t have something, I could still find something in the district, it just may not be at my school. So that felt very like backup plan safe to me. And I was just going to nanny and I had just started selling cakes on the side as a cake business that I started over the summer. So I thought between that and nannying, we’ll make it work.

The Decision to Not Return to Teaching

Daphne Gomez:
I feel like it’s very interesting that you know yourself better than anyone else and that you knew if you went in another year, it would be another year where you were unhappy. But you were not able to walk away.

Even if like a dream job, reaches out to you and you’re in that teaching contract. You knew yourself better to just say, “This is a boundary I have to set. I have to walk away prior to signing this contract or else it’s going to, you know, walk me in.”

Not everybody’s in that same position where they can say that with confidence of what they would do. And I was just curious, how long did you know that that was where you were at with your heart? Were you always very confident with that or did you have to think about it a lot?

Leah Sarsfield:
I was always very confident with that. I always knew that that was something I wasn’t willing to do. Which was part of the reason why I stayed for so long. I knew that in order to get another job, it would have to be during this very small timeframe. And that’s limiting for a lot of reasons.

So I knew that, although that puts me in a rougher spot in regards to getting out of teaching, I just personally couldn’t do it because I don’t think I was at the point where a lot of teachers describe intrusive thoughts like, “I hope I can get into a car accident on the way to school so that I don’t have to work that day.” And things like that. And I wasn’t at that point, I wasn’t so unhappy to where I was miserable. I loved the kids, I loved the act of teaching, I loved my role. I didn’t love all the other stuff that I saw going in a very, very bad direction and not getting any better.

Surrounding myself in that environment felt more toxic to me, which is where I thought that’s not where I want my future to be. Although I love this job and I love teaching and I feel like it’s the core of who I am and it just came so naturally to me, my mental health and being in an environment that supports me was more important. So I knew because I did love my job, there was no way I’d leave in the middle of the year because I did love the kids so much and I felt so connected to every class I ever had.

How is the Pandemic Affecting the Decision to Leave?

Daphne Gomez:
Another interesting thing that I heard you say was that you had contemplated leaving. I mean, you did the thing that I talk about, switching districts, switching schools multiple times. But you had thought about leaving the profession prior to COVID, which is one of those factors that I tell teachers to think about when right now, so many teachers are leaving the classroom or thinking of leaving the classroom.

There’s a couple different reasons why I think that that’s the case because they’ve never seen an example of so many people leaving and being vocal that it’s okay to leave. This is the first time ever. But I think that being able to identify, I felt this prior to COVID. This is just the first time that there are all these resources available for me, or there are all these people I can talk to. Was that one of the reasons why you knew this was time for you to do it?

Leah Sarsfield:
Yeah. I did reflect back on that a lot thinking, this isn’t just COVID. This isn’t just me for feeling so defeated because of what the world is going through right now. This is how I felt for a long time and I kind of just pushed through thinking that it would get better or that there were so many factors to why I was feeling that way, that those factors may just disappear or change or whatever it may be.

But nothing was changing, everything was getting worse, and I knew that it wasn’t just the pandemic. The pandemic heightened everything and made everything come to light for a lot of teachers and the community, but it was not just COVID.

Talking to Colleagues about Leaving Teaching

Daphne Gomez:
It sounds like you had really close relationships with some of your colleagues. Did you ever tell any of them how you were feeling that you were or contemplating leaving altogether or was it a surprise to them?

Leah Sarsfield:
My partner teacher was really the only one who knew how I was really feeling. We had a lot of conversations around how I … There were some days where I just would feel so defeated and I would just tell her, like, “I don’t have anything left in me.”

We were two of the very few teachers in our school who last year had to do a hybrid model and do half day in-person, half day virtual. There were only a couple selected teachers to do that at our school and we were one of them. So we really confided in each other because we had to in order to survive.

So there were a lot of days where I would just tell her, like, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” And it’s not because of what we’re being put through right now. It’s because the lack of respect and support for what we’re doing. When it’s the hardest that it’s ever been proves to me that no matter what education goes through, we’re never going to have what we need to be successful because we’re never going to have that support, we’re never going to have the respect. If we don’t have it now, it’s not going to just magically appear.

She knew that I was really unhappy, but I don’t think she expected my decision to be so final. I think she thought in the next couple of years that it would happen. And that was a really difficult time for me of trying to approach that conversation with her once the decision was made. I remember just feeling so nervous to make the call and tell her. But once I did, she was like, “Oh yeah, I totally figured that’s where you were. I just figured it was coming. You know, I support you. I want you to be happy.”

But other than that, I didn’t express anything to anyone because I really didn’t know if I was going to be returning or not and I didn’t want to put that in anyone’s ear and make them think differently of me if I did have to return. So I didn’t tell anyone until the decision was final.

L&D Specialist & Former Teacher Leah

Differences between Leaving Teaching & Other Industries

Daphne Gomez:
And that is such a difficult conversation that I don’t feel like happens in other industries. Since I’ve left teaching, I have left two different positions, the instructional design position and also the position as an educational consultant. And both times when I reached out to my colleagues, they were sad. But it wasn’t as heartbreaking as what you go through when you tell people who are teachers, “I’m no longer going to be a teacher.”

That is a very challenging conversation to have where you’ve been doing something that feels bigger, but ultimately it is the same. I don’t want to say that teaching isn’t an important career. It’s an important career. But at the end of the day, it really is just a career.

And being able to hug the person and say, “I’m happy for your success. It’s okay for you to move on.” Should be happening a little bit easier than I think that it does. But it’s not to say that anybody who says, “Oh, you can’t leave, you’re such a good teacher,” or, “Please don’t leave me.” is a bad person. It’s just a different mindset. It’s a different world than any other career.

Targeting Specific Roles in Education: Leah’s Path to L&D

Daphne Gomez:
I wanted to touch on another thing and get into your new job and your job search. But it sounds like you put out quite a bit of applications. You said 80. Did you have specific roles that you were targeting or were you kind of going a little bit all over the place?

Leah Sarsfield:
So I did. I was really thinking that I was going to try and get into an educational technology company – I thought that that was the clearest path and would be a space that I would enjoy. I started off just researching companies that I had already worked with prior, especially through, because we had to basically turn everything into a digital platform.

So researching those platforms that I had already worked on, but then I started seeing other ones and really focusing on educational technology. And then when I realized that that wasn’t happening for me, I did start branching out and looking at other areas. And that’s where a lot of your resources came in hand because I would see, okay, outside of educational technology, what kind of roles should I be looking for?

Overcoming Rejection

I have to say it was very defeating. I would say over 50% of the roles that I applied for, I never even heard back from. And then every time I got one of those denial emails, it was like, “Oh, what am I doing?”

I got in contact with a couple of recruiters that I would be so hopeful going into the conversation and then I would hear things like, “Well, you might have to start at like a call center.” Or, “You might have to take a job doing this or doing that.” And I was like, “I have a degree. Like, I have skills. I don’t need to be dumbing down all of that.” Every time I had a conversation with a recruiter, that’s exactly how I felt. That I needed to dumb down who I am and the skills that I have in order to find a path.

Ultimately, I did not end up in educational technology and I think that that was the right space for me. It’s just not what I expected. I did think that that’s where I was going, but I’m still working in education to some degree, which makes me feel good.

Talking about Careers in EdTech

Daphne Gomez:
Yeah. Couple things to talk about there. Kudos to you for sticking with it. One of the reasons why Teacher Career Coach is so you unique is because we have a full time team and we’re constantly researching the trends. And even when everything started, prior to COVID, it was so much easier to get into educational technology.

For many of the roles that we’ve talked about, as you know, the year is progressing right now, the easiest roles to get into in educational technology: sales positions, like customer success positions, or you need to start doing those tech heavy, potentially software engineering, UX designer types of positions.

The Teacher Career Coach Course

Daphne Gomez:
Being pivotable,. You have to understand how to write your resume because you might go into it thinking, “I’m going to be an instructional designer.” And then the second that you realize, “Now, I’m actually going to go for a different one.” All of the strategies that I teach in the course are universal to help you make those types of changes and be able to do so with confidence. So if you just only focused on one career, it would be a little bit harder. Do you feel like the course set you up for success when it came to changing your transition path?

Leah Sarsfield:
For sure. Every time I talk about my transition, because as most former teachers know, once you’re out, you get flooded with questions on how you did it. But every time I talk about it, I just say, “I really truly don’t think I could have managed this transition without the course.”

Because I didn’t know that I needed a LinkedIn. I didn’t know that I needed to completely reformat my resume or even how to do that. So without the course, I really don’t think that I would have a job right now. I think I’d still be looking.

Just translating my skills and then taking job descriptions and using buzzwords from those job descriptions and incorporating them into my resume and then changing your resume for every job application and your cover letter for every job application. That felt so daunting and I wasn’t doing that in the beginning. And then I quickly realized that’s exactly what I needed to do, but I wouldn’t have known how to do that, or even to do that without the course.

Career Transition Advice

Daphne Gomez:
It’s time consuming. I have seen people, you know, there are some people who have transitioned into their new careers and their former teachers, and now they’re active on LinkedIn and they’re giving their best career advice. And I’ve seen them say things that are the exact opposite.

You know, “Oh, I just used one application and I sent it to 400 places and I got—” like, it was really quick and it was easy to do, but you know, out of those 400 places, was there 15 of them that would’ve been dream jobs for you that could tell that you were not enthusiastic about that specific position. That’s the risk that you’re taking.

If you are seeing a job that you’re interested in and you’re actually sending a resume to them, there’s a reason why you’re doing that. So you need to take the time and make it serious. This is a job that I’m interested in. If it’s a job that you’re like, “Mm, probably the salary’s going to be too low, or it might be a good interviewing experience, but I’m on the fence about it.” Yeah, you can send a generic resume. But if it’s something you are genuinely interested in, you definitely should be revamping it.

Working with Recruiting Agencies

Daphne Gomez:
Another thing that I heard you talk about was your experience working with recruiters. What you said about the types of roles that they were positioning to you is actually a very common grievance that teachers or former teachers, or just people working with recruiters in general experience. Because recruiting is a career. They are just trying to make quick matches. And if they’re just trying to make quick matches, it’s because the people are the product.

And that’s a yucky way to say it, but you getting in a position quicker is going to be the way that they earn money. Even if it’s a low-paying position, they can say, “Without a doubt, I could probably get her these easy, low-paying positions.” When I say entry level, I mean like that is a very, very entry level. Like what you are doing now is maybe a higher paying entry level position, but this is a entry-entry level position.

They just are looking for the revenue of getting someone in that position. What we wanted to do was create something, a model of still using recruiting, still being able to help match people, but with a heart-based mission of, we want to really listen to the people.

If they say that they have a salary requirement, we’re not going to push other things on them that are not a good fit for them. If they say, “I’m open to freaking anything, I’m open to that for-now career, I just need anything.” Then you’ll listen to it. But recruiters do have made a bad name for themselves because they’re just rapid fire trying to get as many people in as many positions, but without taking the people actually into consideration.

Leah Sarsfield:
Yeah, I definitely felt like I was just another conversation, a number essentially. I felt similar to how I felt in the district when I was teaching that I was just someone that they were trying to place and it didn’t matter the value of the role that they were trying to place me in. It was just, “Well, here’s this over here. And it may not be anything that you’re talking about, but it’s a good pathway.”

I think that because they’re so inexperienced with former teachers, because this is a new space. I think teachers have been leaving for a long time, but teachers aren’t talking about it. They weren’t talking about it the way we are now. And it’s more of a movement, I would say, that recruiters just don’t have the familiarity with that to be able to support us the way that we need support.

Defining what Roles You’re Looking For

Daphne Gomez:
I will say also, not to defend any recruiters, I hope I don’t get negative podcast reviews for this remark, but a lot of the former teachers that I’m seeing, or a lot of the teachers who are interested in transitioning that I’m seeing are starting to reach out to recruiters, are starting to be very vocal on LinkedIn. They don’t know what they want.

So going in and saying, “I’m a teacher looking to transition.” That’s not clear enough. Do you want to be an office manager? Or do you like public speaking? Do you do curriculum writing? Are you more interested in a software engineering type of position?

What are you really focused on? Because just saying I’m a teacher looking to transition is so broad and generic, that there’s not a lot of people that could help you, not even myself, unless you get into a little bit more specifics of what are you looking for, what are you interested in. And you, at this point, it is a highly saturated market. You are going to have to do a lot of that research on your own, whether it’s taking the Teacher Career Coach Course or starting to do those informational interviews yourself.

You don’t have to know with certainty, I matter of factly, want to be an instructional designer, but you do need to have one or two very clear directions of what you’re looking for and why you are looking for those specific roles.

I want to do sales because I love working with people. I am great at keeping detailed records and I’m just really motivated and competitive with myself and I know it would keep me excited.

Like you need to have those reasons in hand for recruiters to even want to spend some time to work with you, for the most part.

L&D: Learning and Development

Daphne Gomez:
But let’s get a little bit into your new position because we haven’t even gotten there yet. We’ve had so much to talk about. Tell me a little bit about where you ultimately landed.

Leah Sarsfield:
I am a specialist on a learning development team at a large consulting firm. What that means I’m essentially in charge of planning and executing learning programs. So we have learning programs designed for different roles in our company. Whether it’s a consultant, a senior consultant, a manager, a senior manager… There’s several different roles that we work with and we provide I training and leadership on those specific areas. I am in charge of planning and executing those learning programs.

Identifying and Defining Titles

Daphne Gomez:
That’s also something that I talk about a lot in the course is being able to identify the title. Because if I told someone that you were a specialist for a learning and development consulting firm, L&D team, you’re a specialist, they might not have any idea what that means. It sounds almost like you’re a corporate trainer.

Leah Sarsfield:
I guess you could say it’s pretty comparable to, and I’ve never been a corporate trainer so I really don’t know. I’ve only read the job descriptions. But yes, there’s a lot of training, but I’m not actually doing any of the training, I’m more behind the scenes and kind of … Right now, everything’s virtual.

So you have to think about it in that sense where we’re behind a screen. Managing all of the trainings and we have facilitators who actually provide the training, so the people who are speaking on the content. And there’s just so much behind-the-scenes that the learning and development (L&D) team takes care of in order for the trainings to be successful.

Networking & The Interview Process for L&D

Daphne Gomez:
Do you feel like you were able to leverage any of your marketing background for this specific role? I know that marketing and L&D isn’t like a clear crossover, but I’m curious if there was any sort of skills that you learned during your time in school for marketing that actually translated better into this position?

Leah Sarsfield:
I could see how they would, I just didn’t spend enough time in that space. Because I did make the change very early on to education. So I could see if I had learned a little bit more in marketing and taken more classes, I could definitely see how it would. I just wasn’t there long enough to really gain enough knowledge.

Daphne Gomez:
So they really just took your teaching experience and that was 100% what made you call for this role then?

Leah Sarsfield:
Yes and I have to say networking is where I was helped a lot here. I actually applied for this specific role, I think it was in July, and then the role was filled and then something happened with that situation to where they opened the role back up.

Not knowing that I had a connection to this company, my former partner teacher, who I was very scared to tell that I was leaving teaching, she had came over to my house one day to pick up a cake order and I was telling her, updating her on how the job search was going and explaining what kind of roles I was looking for.

And she said, “Well, actually my sister-in-law is hiring right now. Her company’s hiring for this role. I don’t really know anything about it. I don’t really know much. Let me get in contact and see if we can, you know, match you together.”

She ended up telling her that I was looking and then she sent the application to me to go ahead and apply for it. And then when I received the application, I thought, “I already applied here.” Like, “I already did this. This is something I already knew I wanted.” So it was kind of funny to see that all come full circle.

So I applied and of course, knowing someone in the company, was very helpful. I had a couple conversations with her just surrounding the role and if it seemed like it was a fit. Once we decided that it was, I went through the interview process.

Leah Sarsfield:
And there were three separate interviews, one with one person, the next day with two people. Then the next day, I think it was five people. By the following week, I had the offer. So in this case, it was pretty much who you know, which a lot of people will say, it is really about your networking. But I just happened to mention to my partner teacher who I never would have thought would have made the connection to a new role and ended up coming completely full circle. That’s how I landed the job.

Translating Skills for a Role in L&D

Leah Sarsfield:
I would say having a lot of experience with the digital platforms that I engaged with in teaching during COVID helped. Because I had a lot of experience just working in that space. Then the organization skills that teachers have and the ability to multitask and work through a lot of hard things and just stay focused on a project.

So there are a lot of skills that I would say I was able to leverage in my interviews. But I don’t know that my resume with teaching would have gotten me into the interview if I hadn’t have networked.

Daphne Gomez:
You sound like you are very, very confident speaking to your own ability, your transferable skills. Was that where you were at prior to purchasing the Teacher Career Coach Course? I just have to ask.

Leah Sarsfield:
Not at all. Not at all. If you had asked me seven months ago why I could be successful in a new role. I don’t know that I would have been able to say, you know, I would have said the generic things like, “Teachers can do this, and they’re organized and I can multitask.” And all the things.

But through the course is where I really dove deeper, and there’s a part where you’re literally writing down like, well, what are you good at? And what are things you enjoy? And really dissecting and taking the time to think about those things. Because teachers really do have a lot of skills, but if you don’t narrow down on which ones are most valuable to you and which ones you think that you are the best at, then you really don’t know because there’s just too many.

Getting Specific on Your Skills

Daphne Gomez:
And I feel like people who haven’t taken the time to sit down and go through those types of activities or look at that list of all the, this is how you translate it from classroom to corporate that I have in the course. All those types of activities, people are too generic. They say, “I’m a teacher and that means that I’m good at, you know, classroom management, curriculum writing.” Not everyone is that good at curriculum writing. I don’t want to make anyone mad, but not everyone’s even that good at facilitating. You may have been better at organizing data than you were at actually facilitating.

Everybody has their own unique strengths. Even in a role that has similarities, there are going to be people who are more inclined to go in one direction and people who are more inclined to go in another direction and you have to be able to confidently articulate why you are the right person to go in the direction that you’re headed. And what you are willing to learn in addition to what you already bring to the table.

Leah Sarsfield:
Right. There’s so many parts to teaching and not every teacher is amazing at all of the parts. So you really have to go self-evaluate on what parts you yourself—like on your evaluation and your principal coming in and watching you. What parts did you get the best scores on? And what parts did you get the most positive feedback on? And really thinking about those instead of like, “Well, I’m good at everything.” Because you’re not. We can’t be because there’s too much.

Work Life-Balance in a New L&D Role

Daphne Gomez:
I love that. Another thing that I heard you say but I wanted to hear a little bit more about: work-life balance culture. How are you finding yourself fitting in this new environment? Because a lot of teachers are afraid. Consulting firm sounds very, you know, that is corporate, that is corporate to a T. So how are you finding yourself fitting in in this environment?

Leah Sarsfield:
Yeah, that’s a really good question because there’s a couple different parts to it. And you’re right, it is a consulting firm, which is so intimidating. I thought, “Oh my goodness, there’s no way I can fit in at a consulting firm. Working with consultants and managers and CEOs. All these important people that I’ve never been exposed to.”

I would say work-life balance is amazing. I mean, everything’s worked from home right now. We will be switching to a hybrid model. And then when travel resumes, there will be a lot of travel involved.

But overall, in the second week I’d been working, I already had a dentist appointment scheduled. And I was so afraid to ask if I could go to my dentist appointment at 2:00 in the afternoon. That I called the dentist and I tried to reschedule it, but they couldn’t reschedule for another six months. So I was like, “Okay, I’m going to have to ask.”

And I was told, “Yeah, of course, go.” Like, “If you have to go to the dentist, go to the dentist.”

I think switching my mindset into, if there’s something I need to do, I can do it—was really hard.

Working in L&D: Training & Onboarding Period

Leah Sarsfield:
I did go into the office for a couple days for some training, some one on one training and we went to lunch and I was like, “Wait, I’m out in public in the middle of the day? I’m being fed real food in the middle of the day? What is happening?” I can go to the bathroom, I can answer my phone, I can take care of myself.

One of my favorite parts is with teaching, I had a 40-minute commute and I had to be there by 7:00 AM. So I left my house by 6:15 every day. That didn’t allow me to have the morning that I would’ve liked to have prior to going into such a chaotic day. Now, I can wake up and go to a workout and come home and make breakfast and take a shower and then get started with my day. And that for me has been instrumental for my mental health and just overall wellbeing, knowing that I’m taking care of myself before I take care of anything else for the day.

It’s very flexible. I mean, I’m told all the time, “We’re not doing brain surgery.” So everything is a learning curve. And with that, I’m getting the support that I need. The onboarding process was truly amazing. It’s really thought out and it sets you up for success in so many ways. And it doesn’t just end after the first week, there’s continuous support and I have a peer advisor and I have people I can ask questions to. All of those things are amazing. I have so much more than I could have imagined.

Overcoming Impostor Syndrome in a New Role

Leah Sarsfield:
On the flip side, there is a major part of impostor syndrome that comes along with switching into a new role just generally. But especially switching from public education to a corporate world. I expected to experience impostor syndrome, I expected to feel a lot of things.

I expected to feel down on myself and talk down to myself, but I didn’t expect it this deep. Think that stems from, I spent the last six years doing something that I loved and I was really, really good at and I’m now doing something every day that am having to learn and adjust the way I think and really adapt to a new environment. So that’s overwhelming at times.

There are some days where I’m like, “Okay, I’ve got this.” Like, I’m learning so much. And then there are days where I’m like, “Whoa, that conversation was a lot. That meeting made me feel very overwhelmed.” But at the end of the day, I’m still much happier where I am. And I feel like I have the tools to succeed and the career path is so much more broad than where I was in teaching.

That alone, and the flexibility, all of it just makes me feel like I made the right decision, even on the days where I question it. Because I think when teachers are so miserable that they just want to get out and take anything that they can, they have a different experience when they get into a new role. But for me, I really loved teaching – I still love it.

I went to Great American Teach-In last week for my niece’s kindergarten classroom and I was like, “Yes, I’m in my element. I got this.” Like, I had a whole lesson plan and I loved it. But I also felt this sense of heaviness as soon as I walked into the building. And it wasn’t even my school, it was another school I’d never been to. So just going through that made me feel like, yeah, I love it, I love teaching, but I don’t love the way it makes me feel. So keeping a reminder of that helps me work through that in impostor syndrome.

A New Feeling of Autonomy

Daphne Gomez:
I can definitely relate with the impostor syndrome. My very first year outside of the classroom, everybody laughs that knows me from that first year, because I was someone who was reaching out constantly. It was my role as an educational consultant. I was reaching out to a couple of my peers and saying, “Am I doing this right? Is this okay?”

I was just so unsure of myself. It was a role where I had complete autonomy. I had complete ownership of what I was doing. They said, “We want you to train on this. You figure out how you want to train on it.” And I was like not used to being able to do that. So I really was struggling with, can someone else tell me exactly how I’m supposed to train on it?

Leah Sarsfield:
Yeah. There’s a lot of that where I—and given the independence and the autonomy to learn and grow, which can feel very overwhelming, especially for a type-A personality who just loves direction and consistency in schedules. So it’s been a transition. But I think the challenge has been very good for me in a lot of different ways.

What Did you Learn About Yourself in this Process?

Daphne Gomez:
Well, I am so happy that you came on here and shared your story. I want to ask you one last question before we wrap up for today. What did you learn about yourself in this process?

Leah Sarsfield:
Oh my gosh, so much. I really didn’t think that I was going to make it through that process. Every day, I would wake up and I committed myself to job searching full time. I decided I wasn’t going back to the classroom and I fully expected to not have a job until at least December.

Every day I’d wake up thinking, “Oh my gosh, I don’t know how much longer I can go through this. I don’t know how many more emails I can receive where I’m not being asked to go on an interview.”

And it was so daunting. But pushing through all of that and reminding myself of my reason why I was doing it gave me a lot of confidence and strength that I didn’t know was there.

There were so many times where I was just thinking, “There’s no way I’m going to get through this. There’s no way someone’s going to find value in me and want to bring me onto their team.” Then when it actually happened, it was like, okay, all of that self doubt didn’t need to be there.

Addressing How we Think about Leaving Teaching

I will say, one of the things that I think we need to change as a whole is we describe leaving teaching as, how did you get out? What did you do to get out? And that implies that we’re stuck and that we’re in some type of prison. Like, we have to escape. I think that that’s a really dangerous way of putting it. Because it convinces teachers that they don’t have another option. So I think changing the way we say that. Like transitioning and moving into a different space. Feels a lot easier than: “I have to get out.”

That’s what I told myself for a long time is I just have to get out. I just have to get into something else. And once I got through the process, I thought, “Well, why did I ever say it like that?” Because it made it seem like I needed to escape, I needed to run away. Which is essentially what I was doing, but it sounds so much harder when you word it like that. So I think that we need to change the way we shift our thinking in leaving teaching.

Daphne Gomez:
I couldn’t agree more. There’s a mindset component of everybody makes it out to be an impossible thing. And that’s what makes people give up before they ever get the one single yes. They give up and they say, “Never mind, it’s impossible, it’s too hard to get out.”

But it’s actually a choice. If you’re making this decision, it’s not going to be a short term decision, it’s a big deal. I don’t need to tell you that. But once you’ve committed to making this your choice, there are options, there are roadmaps for you. You can start to make this happen. You have it within you. I’m just so happy that you took the path. And you seem like you found something that is a great fit. I’m so excited to keep in touch and just hear where you go in the future.

In Closing

Leah Sarsfield:
Yeah. Thank you so much for having me and giving me the opportunity to talk about it. Because there were so many days where I would listen to the podcast. And it would just rejuvenate my thoughts. And make me feel like, okay, I can be one of these former teachers. Regardless of how hard this feels right now. So it’s important to continue sharing.

Daphne Gomez:
Thank you so much and it was great to finally meet you.

Leah Sarsfield:
Yeah. Thank you, Daphne.

Mentioned in this podcast:

If you’re thinking of leaving teaching…

If you’re just beginning to think about leaving teaching, brainstorming other options is a great place to start. But if you’re like many others, teaching was your only plan – there never was a Plan B. You might feel at a loss when it comes to figuring out what alternatives are out there.

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One of the biggest mistakes that I see teachers make is that they try to navigate this process alone. Often, they put off “researching” until the very last minute. Which sets them up for a very stressful application season – trying to juggle teaching, figuring out a resume, researching jobs, and hoping to nail down some interviews before signing next year’s contract.

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