Transitioning from K12 to Instructional Design?

I was recently asked how I transitioned to becoming an instructional designer after teaching in K-12.  Actually, I’m not officially an instructional designer.  My current job title is Senior Instructional Technologist – which translates into supporting faculty with the integration of technology.  I am currently a PhD candidate in an instructional design program which will open some opportunities for me, but I’m still not sure I like the model of the Subject Matter Expert handing over all the content for the Instructional Designer to create the instruction.

I must say that transitioning out of K12, when all your recent experience is in K12 is extremely difficult.  My decision to leave K12 was difficult for me emotionally.  Add the credulous looks during job interviews and it made me truly question if I had done anything that society saw as worthwhile.  Once I finally did get a job, through a temp agency, I found secret delight in the fact that I was the only one in the office that could successfully fix the copy machine.  At least that was one skill I gained in all that K12 experience.

But back to the question, which I think is a good one – how did I transition from K12 to instructional design.  I began my career as a French teacher.  I had always told myself that I would look at getting a MA degree, if life permitted, after a few years of teaching.  So during my second year of teaching I began looking a programs.  I loved teaching French, but an advanced degree in French was not that enticing.  I looked at MBA programs and did a bunch of searching for programs in teaching, instruction, technology.  It came down to an MBA in organizational behavior or education/instructional technology.  The Educational Technology degree won out.

At the end of my program I looked at my school and realized – as I discovered is often the case – that the teacher who was really into integrating technology in the classroom and had been the technology guru for years was an institutional icon.  I was not going to progress or use my degree in that school.  (And those institutional icons also tend to be men who think that women can’t do technology – at least all the ones I encountered.)

I applied to all sorts of jobs.  There was one job in particular that is very similar to my current job – supporting faculty at a University with technology – that I really wanted.  The rejection letter that I received was kind and offered some insight that changed my job seeking practices.  While this job was what I wanted to do, I needed to get some more experience before I could be considered for a job like that one.  I came up with a list of three things that I needed – 1) more experience with technology, 2) more experience with different age groups and 3) experience with a more diverse population.  (My first job was in a high school with an extremely homogeneous population.)  So then I started looking for jobs that would give me those experiences.  The job I ended up with was as a Site Technology Coordinator at a K-8 school where the number one language spoken at home was Farsi.  Not exactly what I wanted – but it provided me with the 3 needed areas of experience.

Fast forward to my current place of employment, I actually started at the University through the temp agency as an office specialist.  It was a job, I could do it and I was working at the University.  (More experience in higher education was on my current list of experiences needed.) I basically opened the mail and answered phones (and fixed the copy machine).  I would periodically watch the employment opportunities to see if there was anything.  I happened upon the instructional technologist position, applied and got one of the openings!

I was finally working at a University supporting faculty with integrating technology!  But still not an instructional designer, in fact most of the faculty saw me as simply the Moodle technician – some still do. (Moodle is the learning management system we are using.)  Patiently, I have attempted to convey the experience I have, both as an instructor and as an online student.  I have moved up in the department and have had some wonderful opportunities to learn an grow.

So, in reality I’m not an instructional designer – I’m currently not sure I want to be.  But rather than jumping straight from K12 into instructional design I had to build my resume so I had the skills to match the job.  I know that any good teacher can easily transition to instructional design.  The problem is convincing the people who are doing the hiring that you have the skills – not only to do the job, but to work in an office.  (In one interview, the interviewer expressed concern about me being able to function in an office setting.  I’m not sure what she meant by that, but I think a functional teacher could more easily transition to an office than an office worker could transition to the classroom!)

I am grateful to the kind rejection letter that helped me see what experience I needed.  I have continued to use that framework – it might not be my ideal job, but does it give me skills and experience that lead me in the direction I’d like to go.

So this is where I would sum up my advice from my experience…

  • One thing I have learned is that building bridges is important.  You never know who will be that connection that will get you in the door.
  • Ask the interviewers what skills and experiences you are missing that would make you their ideal candidate.  This is the one thing that really helped me find the best job right after my MA degree.
  • Continually learn – whether it is a degree, community education classes or simply playing with the free versions of instructional tools available, keep learning.  And document that learning by building a portfolio or website.

Here is some additional advice from watching a friend.

  • Look for opportunities to use your skills and talents outside of the K12 classroom.

I have a friend, also in the instructional design program, with a background in deaf education.  She was introduced to a parent’s group who were looking to create instructional materials to support young children who are deaf.  This simple introduction led her to become an educational consultant on their current project.  This resulted in an amazing project for one of our classes, as well as something to add to her resume.

Good luck with your searching!  There are opportunities out there.

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