From Teaching to Landscape Architecture: Katherine Pears

"Don’t be afraid to give it due consideration because most of us will spend a huge part of our lives working. I really would recommend coaching to help lead, clarify and support your thinking"

From Teaching to Landscape Architecture: Katherine Pears

What work were you doing before your career change?

I had done a wide variety different jobs, including making chocolate and working as a buyer for an organic food company, before eventually applying to Teach First and becoming a primary school teacher. I definitely had an interest in teaching but, like a lot of people, I also appreciated the structure and skill development that came with doing such a programme. I was in my third year of teaching in a large primary school in inner city London. I really enjoyed my work but I also couldn’t see myself doing it for the rest of my career.

What made you reach out for coaching in the first place?

I felt very stuck and really didn’t know how to change things. I had applied for a range of new jobs in the education sector, but outside teaching, and hadn’t been successful. Looking back I wasn’t approaching this job search with any clear direction and was relying on default options rather than seeking a role I really wanted.

Describe your experience of coaching. (What results, insights or learnings did you get from the coaching?)

Coaching was a hugely positive experience for me. At the beginning I really felt like ‘I just didn’t know’ what I wanted to do, but Chlöe helped me realise that actually I had been holding myself back from pursuing my real interests for fear of failing. She also taught me that there isn’t necessarily one ‘right’ career as there are many options that might fit, including carving out a new direction within your existing career. Working out my values (my top three are community, variety and creativity) was an important moment, because they are something I still use as a benchmark for what is a good fit for me. Chlöe gave me loads of practical ways to build a clear picture of me as a person and how to find a career that matched. She also held me accountable to moving my thought process onwards and to make decisions. This included reaching out to lots of different people to gather information, for example I talked to a friend from school’s parents who had both had arts-based careers.

What new path did you choose and why did you choose it?

I chose to make a total change in career path and become a Landscape Architect. I worked out that I wanted a more creative career, in particular something that was design based and involved thinking visually and spatially. I also had a strong interest in protecting the environment and thought that project based work would suit me. I had an extremely long starting list of careers that might meet this criteria but eventually happened across Landscape Architecture. Before this point I had never heard of Landscape Architecture. Like many I knew that architects design buildings but didn’t know that Landscape Architects design everything else. Think parks, gardens, high streets, schools, outdoor gyms, riversides etc. Very quickly I felt this could be an excellent fit for me.

How did you actually make the change? What was the process?

Deciding to make the change was painful but actually making the change was a simple process because the only option was to go back to University. I believe there is now an apprenticeship route to become a Landscape Architect but back then this did not exist. For me it was a two-year conversion masters course, aimed at those who already have an undergraduate degree. I was fortunate as I made a very late application to Sheffield University and was accepted to start, all within a couple of months of doing coaching. My fear during coaching was not coming to any firm conclusions on my career, but once I had reached the decision to become a Landscape Architect I felt very motivated to make it happen.

What were the best and most challenging parts of your career change?

One of the best parts was starting to explore my creativity again, something I had loved during school and then pretty much abandoned. I loved thinking about the story of a design and how to create a space where people feel welcomed and included. An unexpected benefit was that I moved from London to Sheffield for the course, a city that has allowed me to spend far more time outdoors. I met lots of wonderful people studying who have become great friends and I have since decided to continue living in Sheffield. The most challenging part for me was that the pandemic started halfway through my first year of study, and the rest of the course was all online. Studying a creative, practical course in this way was very difficult and I really struggled. I also know how lucky I was to be safe and secure during this time so I say this only to describe my experience.

How is your new path going?

I am now a qualified Landscape Architect working for a firm in Sheffield and I’m working towards my Chartership. I’m currently involved with a lot of school projects which feels like a nice circularity to my career. It has been so exciting to work on real schemes for the first time and realise the impact my contribution will have. I love analysing a site and letting the landscape lead you to the best design solution based on the client brief. At times I still grapple with the contrast between the artistic, imaginative focus of a Landscape Architecture degree and the practicality of real working life but coaching helped me understand that I have autonomy in my career and I have plenty of time to work out this balance. If I was to go back to my values of community, creativity and variety I know that my career gives me those. Most importantly, for me, I work with a really wonderful group of people and I feel settled and rooted in this industry.

What advice would you give someone who is also thinking of changing careers?

I would say that if you are thinking about it, then it is a clear sign you need to create change in your working life. It may not necessarily need to be an entire career change but it is seriously worth taking the time to assess what you want from work. Don’t be afraid to give it due consideration because most of us will spend a huge part of our lives working. I really would recommend coaching to help lead, clarify and support your thinking.