#96 – From Educator to Consultant: Navigating the Transition into a New Career Path
Written by Taylor James, Associate, Strategic Implementation
My name is Taylor James—originally from Boston, MA, a graduate of Agnes Scott College, a proud alumna of Teach For America (class of 2019), and someone who found themselves at a crossroads after leaving the teaching profession. Transitioning away from the classroom left me uncertain about my next steps, prompting me to reflect deeply on this journey. In this blog post, I hope I can offer guidance and uplifting words for anyone navigating a similar transition, hoping to provide encouragement and support during this pivotal moment in your life.
The period after college graduation can be one of the most nerve-racking periods. Personally, my job search unfolded quite smoothly. While studying abroad in South Africa during the spring semester of 2018, my housemates and I celebrated my acceptance into Teach For America, a role I wouldn’t commence until the summer of 2019.
As an AmeriCorps member with Teach For America, I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina immediately after graduation to teach 7th grade Science in a Title I Charter school. However, on the day of teacher orientation, I found out I would be teaching 6th grade World History — a core subject with no established curriculum. The sixth-grade cohort had the most enrolled students in middle school — 120 students split into four different sections. Many of my students had various learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, and a large demographic of the students lived in underserved communities who faced a myriad of challenges outside of school that impacted their learning outcomes. I would have the most challenging year of my life.
The year following my two-year commitment with TFA posed significant challenges. Typically, the two years after the teaching commitment lead to law school or graduate school. However, the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic introduced a realm of uncertainty. As a result, I decided to continue teaching for a third year, unaware that it would be a period of substantial personal growth. During this time, I became the youngest lead teacher in my grade level, and my classroom management skills flourished.
Teaching pushed me to limits I didn’t know was possible. As a young black girl, I had a scarcity of black teachers and found myself constantly having to prove my existence and advocate for myself in predominately white spaces. I shifted my priority to focus on being the teacher I wish I’d had — one who advocated for and encouraged students of color to excel. My classroom became a space of affirmation, where students could be their authentic selves and have the tools and support to thrive in an academic environment. I quickly saw how their dispositions and attitudes toward learning shifted when they realized I was a dependable adult who acknowledged their identity and worth in my classroom.
I faced one of the second most daunting moments of my life when I chose not to return to the 6th-grade classroom. Although it wasn’t an easy decision, and one that many feel is difficult to transition from. I applied and was accepted into a fellowship with Urban Leaders Fellowship Nashville and completed a summer internship engaging in education policy, where I went through immersive leadership training and workshops remotely, to enhance my skills in policy-making, community engagement, and advocacy. The fellowship equipped me to drive positive change by connecting me with mentors, fostering networking opportunities, and honing my abilities in navigating complex education policies. This fellowship would then lead me to SchermCo.
With my decision to leave the classroom and work for SchermCo, I became confident my experiences as a teacher equipped me with the drive, discipline, and passion to optimize my role as the Associate of Strategic Implementation. Teaching taught me a great deal about Charlotte’s education system, the disparity in resources in underserved communities, and the policies that can negatively impact youth of color.
Transitioning from my role as a classroom teacher to working with non-profit organizations that collaborate closely with schools and students has been an invigorating shift in my career. This new role enables me to draw on my teaching background while also broadening my perspective to address systemic challenges and implement innovative solutions. Now, I have the opportunity to influence and assist educational programs on a larger scale, working hand-in-hand with non-profits, some who are dedicated to enhancing the learning experience for students. I find immense fulfillment in knowing that my contributions are making a meaningful impact not only in individual classrooms but across entire educational communities.
Shifting careers can seem scary, mainly, not knowing the unknown. However, it’s crucial to realize that this transition is not only possible but also an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Especially as a person of color, navigating career shifts may amplify feelings of imposter syndrome. However, recognizing that your unique background and experiences bring invaluable perspectives can be empowering amidst change. Embracing your multifaceted strengths not only dispels imposter syndrome but also celebrates the diverse richness you bring to any new role or industry. My previous teaching role refined my organizational and communication skills, deepened my understanding of the educational landscape, barriers to educational opportunities, cultivated adaptability, fervor for learning, and self-motivation. Often, we are far more equipped and prepared for this change than you might believe. Your existing skills, experiences, and even the challenges you’ve faced along your previous career path have honed a new skill set, making you more adaptable and resilient than you might realize. Acknowledging these strengths can provide the confidence needed to embrace “the new” and thrive in a new professional area.
The New Year-2024
As I step into 2024, I am set on embracing fresh opportunities. I’m hopeful for the chance to welcome new clients to SchermCo, offering them the support and expertise they need. This year, I’m yearning for substantial professional growth, finding ways to expand my skills and expertise further. Moreover, I’m excited to connect further with vibrant individuals in Charlotte, developing meaningful relationships that enrich both my personal and professional life.