“I was existing, not living.”

Image of Jayne Leversidge
From Teaching to Local Government

Jayne was already feeling jaded in her profession when she also suddenly found herself having to navigate a long-term health issue. Here's how a walk with a friend brought into sharp focus her changed reality, and how her new role brings her a sense of relief in more ways than one.

What work were you doing previously?

I'd been a primary school teacher for nearly 20 years.

During that time I held many roles. I moved from primary to Special Educational Needs teaching for the last six years of my career.

What are you doing now?

My current role is working for the SEND department at the local council.

I prepare the statutory paperwork, rather than teaching from it.

How did you feel in your work before you decided to make the change?

I became jaded with the constant pressure that the profession is under.

We are never good enough and the workload never lessens. I was existing, not living. I felt older than I actually was and my job satisfaction was diminishing.

Don't get me wrong, SEND teaching is highly rewarding and it's the children that make it a vocation rather than a job, but the never-ending to-do list removes the sparkle from it.

I began to feel resentful of how my life was dictated by my career.

Why did you change?

Unfortunately for me, my career change journey was hastened by the pandemic.

I contracted Covid last year in my school, and have Long Covid.

I didn’t go back to work – I couldn't: my body was ravaged by overwhelming fatigue and brain fog leading to reduced physical, mental and emotional resilience. Not a good mix for a SEND teacher to have.

However, after some months I had to return to work. I was / still am the major wage earner and have responsibility for my son's university education as well as my mother who is disabled and lives with us.

I'm in no way 100% recovered, but I'm able to engage more effectively now with work practices. Luckily for me, a role appeared that had my name on it, and my skill set fitted.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

Last summer, I was walking with a friend in the woods at the top of the street where I live.

She was shocked at how debilitated I'd become from contracting Covid earlier that year. We'd been laughing about my poor state when suddenly my knees buckled, I couldn't stand, my heart was pounding. I knew it wasn't a heart attack but my body reacting to our short walk. It was a scary moment.

After that I realised I wasn't at all fit to return to my job at the start of the school year in September. 

How did you choose your new career?

I'm not driven by profit so I looked into roles within the charity sector.

I began by volunteering at a national charity based where I live, on the phone helpline. I knew I was a good communicator and this was my start. I really enjoyed it, I felt I had purpose and saw a way to move my life forward.

During this time I looked at all economic scenarios for salaries as I knew I was going to have to take a pay cut, possibly one of up to 60% if necessary.

Are you happy with the change?

I'm really pleased with my new role.

I've gained my evenings and weekends, and have a life I now live rather than the existence I was enduring.

I find the role interesting; no two documents I work on are the same.

What I love the most about my new job is that it's quiet, and my body is not on heightened alert for eight hours a day, five days a week. I'm supported by lovely colleagues.

Life is good at this point. I know that I'm more skilled and could probably do the next-grade-up job, but due to my current rehabilitation living with ‘Rona’, I'm happy to plod along and serve in a new way.

What do you miss and what don't you miss?

In short, I will miss the children and their families, but not the paperwork.

Working with children, there were moments of every day I worked as a teacher where I would have had an ‘ahh’ moment and those are special.

But it was to the detriment to my own life.

I won't miss teaching for that reason. I will look back upon it as part of my life's journey, a path that I needed to take to allow me to have the school holidays for childcare for my own children.

How did you go about making the shift?

I was methodical.

As someone prone to random thoughts and not being overly organised, I decided that if I was going to change careers I needed to be strategic.

It took a few months to get the goal – a new job out of teaching – but I can wholeheartedly say I was well prepared for saying yes to the job when it was offered.

I kept my employer up to date with my decisions, as at this stage I was being managed by HR due to being off on long-term sick leave.

After sending the application in, over two weeks I fully prepared for the role and did lots of online courses to get to know myself as an interviewee, what I needed to showcase and what I needed to improve upon. I was not going to let the opportunity pass me by.

I moved roles using the Disability Confident section of applications. I've not hidden my long-term health condition, but while it doesn't define me, I need people to realise it's a part of me and it has created the need for my career move.

How did you develop (or transfer) the skills you needed for your new role?

I had lots to offer – my SEND knowledge base and interpersonal skills were key to me being offered the role.

I'm learning new things all the time.

What didn't go well? What wrong turns did you take?

Battling my ill health has been an uphill struggle.

The transition from being off on long-term sick to a new role has been a tough phased return. I've come a long way – I've returned to the workplace after being off for eleven months through no fault of my own, and I'm rebuilding my life.

How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?

By really looking at what we had, what we needed, and how low I could go.

You can always move up a pay scale .

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

When I realised I could no longer teach, I was scared of admitting to my Head Teacher that I was going to have to let them down.

I had to admit to myself that I was poorlier than I believed I was. It was a hard truth to face.

In terms of finding a new role, the most difficult thing was not applying for things in a knee-jerk way.

I had to find what appealed and why. Then I had to do the due diligence, and not be afraid of rejection.

What have you learnt in the process?

That I am worth it.

I have skills that others can use.

I deserve to live and enjoy my work life with a good work-life balance.

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

Don't be afraid to do it.

You'll learn a lot about yourself along the way.

Persevere and be organised. Don't expect a quick result. What you put into it is important; you have to dedicate time to it and see it as investing in yourself.

Volunteer, if you can.

You deserve it – to live life, not just exist.

What lessons could you take from Jayne's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at [email protected]. and you could win a £25 / $35 voucher in our monthly draw.