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From Classroom to Corporate Office

Tuesday, July 9, 2019
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I began my six-year career in education as a special education teacher in 2011. I’d attended Saint Mary’s of College of California for my credential and master’s degree in education. I am licensed to teach all students from K-12, so I worked in an elementary school for a few years before transitioning into a middle school. Most of my profession was spent teaching grades six through eight academics and social skills to students on the autism spectrum. By my third year of teaching, I was able to transition a self-contained class into a fully supported push-out program. This meant that my job went from 80 percent delivery and 20 percent consultative support to the exact opposite. It was during that time when I realized that I loved helping adults learn and grow in their profession more than I loved working as a traditional teacher.

After hitting my fifth year of teaching and meeting the obligation of my TEACH grant program (which was to serve five years in a high-need population in exchange for partial loan forgiveness), I was ready to start looking for my next career. Unfortunately, I fell into the 99 percent of grantees who did something wrong and were ineligible for having their loans forgiven. I felt rejected, scared for my future, and horrified that my school loans were greater than my annual salary. This put me on the fast track to leaving teaching and finding my next career. I was driven to find a role that was worth my time. I didn't know, however, where to begin or what to do.

The Internet took me to a list of job options and responsibilities that I just couldn't understand. I’d worked only in education, and I didn't know how businesses ran or what a day in the life of a corporate employee entailed. I took some time to learn more about each role and heard about training and instructional design through a popular social platform—Reddit. I used that platform to network with instructional designers and reviewed threads created by teachers who had made the leap into training.

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One of the biggest hurdles for me was to translate my teaching experience to a new role and make it sound business-friendly. One of the contacts I met on Reddit encouraged me to check out a credential or certificate program. After a quick online search, I found Boise State and used LinkedIn to reach out to people who were once teachers and had gone through the Boise State Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning (OPWL) online master’s program. All the contacts I spoke with gave it raving reviews, so I quickly jumped on the phone and called the OPWL office to learn more.

I joined the OPWL program to earn my Workplace Instructional Design (WIDe) certificate (master’s-level), with the hope of landing my first corporate role. I was offered my first full-time employee position around the same time I started school with Boise State and was ecstatic but terrified to complete another master’s program and work in a new field. After starting my first course in instructional design, it was evident that a lot of my skills from the classroom would transfer over—my communication skills meant writing objectives and goals and developing curriculum activities were a breeze. I focused my time at OPWL on learning the skills that I considered gaps: instructional design techniques, e-learning course development, and techniques for drilling down into the real performance problems instead of just saying "yes" to every training request. As a result of my time at OPWL and the feedback I received from peers and professors, I landed a great job with a major tech company in the San Francisco Bay area. Since then, I've been promoted to sales effectiveness manager, where I work as an instructional designer for the sales team and create performance solutions for sales people.

The advice I give to teachers trying to move out of the industry is to research a role you're interested in and transition your experiences into that role. LinkedIn is a tool that many educators overlook, but it can be pivotal to finding a new job in corporate America. Build a profile on LinkedIn that fits your desired role and start thinking of yourself in that job rather than as a teacher. The mind shift is one of the hardest parts of the transition, but it builds credibility and makes people see you as an authority in that space rather than as an entry-level employee. If you need more input or guidance, use the search features on LinkedIn to find somebody who is in that role and who used to be a teacher. The filter options in LinkedIn are robust, and I've found that people are willing to talk about themselves and their past experiences, even to stranger. You don’t need to “fake it until you make it” because you’ve already done it. You just need to show your value to a new industry.

If you are a teacher looking to transition into the training field, please join our LinkedIn group, Teaching to Training.

About the Author

Matt Sustaita is a sales effectiveness manager for Workday, where he specializes in workforce performance improvement and creating learning solutions for the sales organization. He holds a B.S. from California State University, East Bay and a Master’s degree in Education from Saint Mary’s College of California, and an additional master’s level certificate in Workplace Instructional Design from Boise State University’s department of Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning.

Matt has worked in the Learning and Development space for the last decade. He has a proven track record of skilled instructional design, bringing passion and energy into the most complex projects. He engages participants of all age groups and backgrounds through experiential techniques and innovative learning activities. He develops engaging learning experiences by combining storytelling and technology.

Matt lives in Concord, California, and spends his spare time volunteering with local disability groups and mentoring youth.

5 Comments
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Matt, great article! I had a very similar "culture shock" moment when I decided to move from Emergency Medical Services to..well...anything else! I, too, had to do a lot of research and studying to understand the new world I was entering in to- less lights and sirens and more meetings and planning. You have a very relate-able story with great advice, thanks for sharing!
Thanks Shane! Yeah, the Imposter Syndrome is real but I think every body has that feeling at some point. I hope you are enjoying your new role or on your way to the next! Let me know if you need some more tips or help moving to a new industry!
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I really like how you focused on the mind shift switch being one of the hardest parts and I couldn’t agree more. I see that so many teachers, like myself at one point, are able to finally see and get it after embedding themself into the industry by networking which then allows them to realize their skills are comparable and transferable and realize “hey, I can do that.” Hearing these success stories like yours helps them see it is possible. Great article Matt and thank you for sharing!
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Hi, Matt. I enjoyed your article. Thank you for sharing your story with other performance improvement practitioners and those in transition!
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