Life Outside of the Classroom Part 2

For those of you who frequent CodeMonkey’s Blog, you may have read about what life is like after leaving the classroom. For those who are new, Leena’s story on switching sides tells a first-hand account on the difficulties she faced throughout her teaching experience as it became clear that many schools were stuck in outdated teaching methods.

After teaching for so many years, have you ever wondered what life can be like after leaving the classroom? What steps do you take to begin the next part of your journey? What are you risking? What lies ahead? Read on to hear about the rest of Leena’s journey and get a better idea.

Last Article I discussed what brought me to the decision to leave the classroom. This week I want to focus on what I needed to do to make my idea of leaving the classroom into a reality.

Moving from Colorado and finding myself here in Austin, Texas, I quickly realized that I had no network, no true professional support system. All of the teachers and thought leaders that I worked with were not around. Although I wasn’t truly alone, I [felt that I] was. No one knew me here and even more so, no one understood my vision.

A really great friend of mine was also new to Austin. But his business was completely different from the world of education. But the thought process was the same. In order to grow on a professional level, you had to do two things: 1-Get connected and 2-Build capacity. Those two things seemed insignificant to many others around me. My friends could not understand what I was doing or why. What it did in fact mean was that I had a lot of hard work and many hours of solitude ahead of me. That meant no friend time, no exploring the city. It meant hours of learning, conducting research, and any free time that I had was given to networking.

About two years ago, I knew what I had to do. I had been attending a local Meet-up in Austin that I loved. I knew I wanted to be a part of it in some way. So, I went on LinkedIn and I found the organizer of the event. I emailed him and I took a chance. I knew he was a key figure in the EdTech scene in Austin. In that email I asked him if I could meet him for coffee and that I wanted some insights on how it was possible to get connected, and ideally leave the classroom. At first, he didn’t answer. I am sure that he was getting requests all the time from others. But I was persistent.

Finally, after a few months, we connected. I sat down in that meeting and found out that we were in the same boat. He was a teacher previously and made the jump a few years before. He had been a thought leader in his school, organizing STEM when it wasn’t even a thing. The main difference between him and I was that he was much better at selling his dream and what students are capable of. Something I can openly admit is not a strength of mine; one I continuously have to improve upon. We sat and talked. It was short and sweet only about 30 minutes from start to finish. But that was the first time in many, many years that I knew I was on the right track. Honestly it was the most open and honest conversation I have had with someone understanding the education system, the future, and MY future.

After the summation of the meeting, he emailed me. He asked if I wanted to be a part of the Meet-up and to help organize. I was ecstatic that not only was I going to be part of a scene that is constantly changing and growing, but one that was trying to inspire change. The same change I have consistently fought for in those four small walls within my classroom. I quickly became a co-organizer and would spend hours helping to plan. I then started to help arrange many other events like the Student startup crawl. I became a Regional director for nonprofit. All because one person took a chance and let me be a part of the Edtech scene. I will forever be thankful for that.

My family would ask me regularly “Leena, why are you doing all this work for free?” Everything I was doing was volunteer-based. I should clarify that the opportunities that I took on myself, I did not do it for the glory or pay but to build my network and skillset. Mind you, I also enjoy it. It makes me happy. It allows me to connect with others outside of my transitional world. Outside of my walls. I can meet people that are innovating, creating and cultivating. Not only did these volunteer opportunities allow me to build my network but they were allowing me to build capacity. My capacity.

What you quickly realize when you start to make the leap from the classroom to the business world is that the 100’s of hats that you wear everyday inside the classroom don’t provide much in the way of skills in the business world. I had to go back to the drawing board. In the middle of that board is the goal of transitioning out of the classroom. Making the change. I needed skills that others could see value in – Unlike education, where we hold the lives of 30 kids at a time in our hands plus the expectation of succeeding at a high level. This time I was not taking kids’ lives into my hands, but the risk of hiring me was one of money. Not just lives. Money. Money directly relates to how you will provide the company with an increase of value.

I spent all of winter, spring and summer break teaching myself how to do many things. I learned how to front end web develop and took social media courses. I also began to take courses on any skill that I saw recurring on job applications. As I was working, I quickly realized that I was building breadth and not depth. I had to decide on what my focus was going to be. I had to sit down, (trust me this process was tear-filled) and map out what my goal was. I would make list after list until finally I had one that I felt like I could choose a direction in. I knew a lot about education, and a lot about how to teach others, as well as how to teach about technology. I made a decision. I was going to try to transition into a company that was education-based and related to my skills that I already had (and recently acquired).

I began applying for anything and everything that was EdTech… Something I want to note is at no point during this journey did I think was easy. It was one of the most challenging things I had ever done. I wanted to turn back a hundred times and run back to what I knew. What was comfortable. I missed so much of my social life. My friends were constantly posting pictures of the fun weekend they had at the winery or awesome concert that they had gone to that week or the romantic dinner they attend that evening. It was tough. While everyone was enjoying life, I was building mine. I had to take a risk and invest in myself. The same thing I constantly preach to my students daily. That they can do anything they put their minds to. That they are capable of anything but it takes failure, grit and determination. It was in those moments of failure that actually drove me further.

Stay tuned for the next article in the series…. Did I get the job? How did I survive the application process???

–Leena Saleh, Former STEM Teacher; Professional Development Manager at CodeMonkey; Leena is passionate about STEM and preparing our students for the world we live in and beyond.

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