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Teaching Nearly Killed Me; Instructional Design Saved Me

career change corporatejob education idolcourses instructional design instructionaldesignjobs learninganddevelopment new career teachers teaching Jan 30, 2020

 I was a middle school teacher for almost 10 years and loved almost every second of it. My favorite parts about teaching were building fun and engaging lessons (ones that I just knew the kids were going to love), bringing the lessons to life and connecting with my students. My classroom was fun. My reputation and my team's reputation preceded me within the school district. I was asked many times over to help with one initiative after another, especially when it came to technology in the classroom. I would also present to my colleagues at workshops and district conferences. I used to think to myself, I found my calling. I was quite content and had no plans to be anything else except a teacher until I couldn't do it anymore. It wasn't until year eight of my career that I began to notice it; the tightness in my chest, rapid heartbeat, and frequent headaches. The symptoms came on more frequently this particular year as the group of students was more difficult to manage than previous years. I was spending a lot more time on discipline and classroom management than I was teaching. Stress was an ongoing feeling that I could not seem to manage. I visited the school nurse on several occasions to check my blood pressure. One particular time, she had me call my mom to pick me up and directed me to go straight to urgent care. My blood pressure reading was at stroke level! After that scare, I reluctantly began looking for a change. But what? I had no clue what I wanted outside of teaching nor where to begin to look. Perhaps a change in schools and grade levels may help.

 I accepted a fourth-grade teaching position at a new school. This was it! Year nine was going to be a turning point. Fourth-grade has to be easier than middle school. Right? Not exactly. The kids were out of control. I didn't teach a complete lesson in the whole first semester. My days were consumed with discipline and classroom management. The students at this school were coming in with emotional and behavioral issues that teachers are not trained nor equipped to handle. However, we were expected to deal with it. I was cussed at multiple times a week without much support from administration or parents by NINE-year-old children. The stress of it all had me crying almost every day since moving to this new school. Some days I even managed to make it home to cry. The symptoms of chest pains, rapid heart rate, and headaches were ever-increasing. I was in and out of the doctor's office more in 3 months than I think I was in my whole life. I had developed a laundry list of health issues all created and exacerbated by stress.  It was clear that I would have to give up my calling for the sake of my health. So, I began looking for something else; anything else. I started blindly applying for jobs I thought I could do based on the job descriptions. Then, out of the blue, a childhood friend contacted me about an opening at her office for which she thought I would be a good fit. Fast forward a few weeks later and I was giving my notice to the school. I was not returning after Winter Break because I accepted a corporate job as a Travel Coordinator and was leaving teaching.

 My transition into the corporate world was scary and exciting all at once. I could finally pee when I needed to and could have a proper lunch break with adults. Admittedly, I still scarfed down my lunch in 15 minutes and wondered what to do with the other 45 minutes for the first week or so, but quickly adapted to my new time table. I enjoyed my new role. However, after the first year, I was missing the things that I loved about teaching. I also realized there was no career path for the Travel Coordinator at this company. I began to search for something where my talents and experiences as a teacher could be used.

I discovered this role called, Instructional Designer (ID). I read the description. It was almost identical to the role of an educator! This was it. This is what I have been looking for. I have experience in all the things listed: Designing engaging instruction, Learning Management System experience, Ability to design instruction for different types of learners, understand and apply learning theory and methodologies, etc. I applied for all the jobs with Instructional Designer in the title; even Lead or Senior Instructional Designer. Cast a wide net. Leave no stone unturned. I am sure to land at least one interview. Once I get the interview, they will love me and have to hire me. Crickets…. I heard crickets. Not even a preliminary phone interview. What was I doing wrong? This began a three-year odyssey of researching, networking, studying adult learning theory and methodology, gaining more knowledge of instructional models such as ADDIE, personal and professional development, applying for and even landing another job that was a little closer to what I was looking for but not the title of Instructional Designer.

Luckily, a person I connected with through Facebook groups and LinkedIn networking had been feverishly working on her own goal creating courses to help professionals become Instructional Designers. Dr. Robin Sargent announced the launching of her IDOL Academy. I did not hesitate to sign-up to become a founding IDOL. I submerged myself in the courses; learning more about adult learning theories and methodology, building out better work samples for my portfolio, how to brand myself, and refining my answers to interview questions. Participating in the IDOL Academy was like hitting fast forward on the odyssey I had been on. Within three months of starting the courses of IDOL Academy, I was hired as an Instructional Designer for one of the top communications companies in the United States. I couldn’t believe how quickly it happened. IDOL Academy helped to fill in the knowledge gaps I had between public education and corporate learning and development. It also provided a community of support through the other IDOL members who are like minded and want to pay it forward. They are eager to encourage and help just as much as our IDOL mentor Dr. Robin Sargent.

Now that I am in the role of Instructional Designer, I feel as though I found my new calling. Being an ID allows me to utilize all the strengths I possessed as a teacher while keeping me challenged and virtually stress-free. I get to be creative and continue to help others learn. At the end of the day, that is why I got into teaching in the first place; I love learning and helping others to learn.



Here are the take-aways during my journey from teacher to Instructional Designer:

1)      Kick self-doubt to the curb. I had my moments of self-doubt during those three years it took me to reach my professional goal.  I had to remind myself that because of my teaching experience I already have a very strong foundation for Instructional Design.Much of our skills as teachers are transferable to the ID world. We just have to fill in a few gaps with adult learning theory and methodology. IDOL Academy helped me with that aspect as well. 


2)      Change the verbiage of your resume. The wording in my resume did not mirror the wording in the job descriptions even though they meant the same thing. I was using verbiage synonymous with public education while the job descriptions were using verbiage synonymous with corporate learning and development. The algorithms that cull out the not so relevant resumes against the desired resumes were, in all likelihood, tossing me out. I went to work on my resume. For example, every place that mentioned “creates curriculum” or “lesson planning” was replaced with “designs instruction”.  “Leads workshops for colleagues…” was replaced with “develops and implements training”. I listed all the skills I possess, software and tools I am proficient in at the top of my resume. Additionally, I added keywords throughout the body of my resume that I saw repeated in the job descriptions. This would ensure that my resume was picked up as a prospective candidate by any recruiter who skimmed it or by any algorithm sorting through hundreds of applicants. 


3)      Network! Applying for jobs via the internet can get stressful and discouraging because it can take a very long time to get the smallest bite on your application. Every job I have landed has been because I knew someone on the inside who was able to get my resume in front of the hiring manager. I started networking by joining Facebook groups for Instructional Designers, connecting with anyone who had the title Instructional Designer on their LinkedIn Profile, and joining the Association for Talent Development (ATD). Don’t just join ATD. Attend the meetings for your local chapter. It was at a local chapter meeting where I met Kristy Rynk who went to the meeting in hopes of meeting viable candidates for the open ID position on her team. She and I are now teammates and I am officially an ID.


4)      Build a portfolio. All professionals should have a portfolio regardless if you plan to stay where you are or not. You never know what the future holds. It’s best to be prepared. My biggest regret after leaving teaching was that I did not even consider curating my work in a portfolio while I was teaching. I had no plans to leave teaching so why make a portfolio? When I realized I should have a portfolio of my work, it was too late. I no longer had access to the school district’s LMS or network after leaving teaching. I had to start mine almost from scratch. If you are in that same situation, it is ok. You can begin building work samples for your portfolio without being an ID yet. Make the topics of your work related to Instructional Design or generic professional information such as soft skills and tips for project management. The IDOL Academy is ideal for helping members build their professional portfolio through assignments and even work-experience projects. 


5)      Learn the tools of the industry. Many companies are producing more and more e-learning for employee training and moving away from instructor-led training. It is important to learn tools such as Articulate 360, Adobe Captivate, Photoshop, InDesign, and Camtasia just to name a few. All of these offer a free trial period. For the authoring tools Articulate 360 and Adobe Captivate, I suggest creating a video of your lesson working for your portfolio because once the free trial ends you can no longer use what you build unless you purchase the software.

6)      Update your LinkedIn profile. This was a game-changer for me. I thought my profile was already pretty good, to begin with, but then I took IDOL Academy's course, "LinkedIn Profile: Get Noticed." The traffic to my profile increased exponentially and the recruiters were blowing up my email and LinkedIn Messenger almost instantly. Stay active with LinkedIn too. I use it as much as I do Facebook or Instagram. It truly does make a difference. This is how professionals are engaging and networking with other professionals nowadays.


7)      Don’t be afraid to say, “Show me the money,” (figuratively of course).  Teachers are severely underpaid. We put in extremely long hours and put up with far more than we should. I was blown away with the salary jump from teaching to ID. Glassdoor has the salary range for entry-level ID in NC at $60K - $82K. Nearly double any teacher's salary. It will vary across the nation but you get the idea. When you enter into discussions with recruiters or hiring managers about pay, don't sell yourself short and don't be afraid to ask for way more than you were making as a teacher. Chances are that they will not even bat an eyelash at your number.  Research the median salary for ID in your area and begin negotiations there. Please don't low-ball your price because you are scared to ask for more. That will begin to decrease IDs' value in the marketplace. I, personally, do not want that to happen because it was a long road to get here and have a salary reflect the hard work I do.


8)      Know your worth.  You bring so much to the table. As a teacher, you have a lot to offer the corporate world of learning and development through your experience in the classroom that they don’t realize they need. Teachers have to be creative and deliver instruction to a captive audience day in and day out. Most of whom would rather be doing anything else. Yet somehow, you manage to instill knowledge to the most reluctant. Corporate America needs more people with that specialized skill-set. You are valuable and they need you. 


If you are looking for a way out of teaching, there is a career path through Instructional Design. I never expected to be anything else but a teacher when I grew up. No matter how much you feel called to do something when it begins to take a toll on your health, you have to make a change. I am so grateful to have found Instructional Design as my new career. It has saved my life.


By: Gretchen Johanson

Gretchen is an Instructional Designer and former public educator. Combined, she has over a decade of experience in learning and development. She considers herself a life-long learner and is always looking for opportunities to grow and develop her skills.Work-life balance is important to her. She enjoys kick-boxing, traveling and family time when she is not working.  

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