Three Reasons Teaching is More Satisfying for Career Changers

Luis PentonTeacher shortage and high teacher turnover rate are two of the most challenging realities that the public school system in the United States faces today.

Low morale among teachers, lack of respect and appreciation, excessive paperwork, and continuous funding cuts continue to be the most profound reasons as to why many professionals in the teaching field decide to switch careers and have a fresh start. These eye-opening statistics for teacher desertion and shortage continue to be the focus on the news. However, little attention is paid to a lesser-known group of individuals who are successful professionals in other fields and, knowing the challenges the American public education system faces today, decide to become teaching professionals.

For this article I interviewed three professionals–a former dentist, a former lawyer, and a former political science major student–who switched careers to become educators. The purpose of these interviews was to better understand the reasons behind their choices of becoming schoolteachers and how the feel about their decision. From these interviews, there were three main reasons that seemed to be prevalent in these professionals’ decision on becoming educators and in how they feel today about the choice they made many years ago. These reasons are:

  1. Calling. Some would say that teaching is an art and a science, and only those who understand the balance between these two can truly educate. This statement is very relatable to the three teachers interviewed, as they believe they always knew teaching was their vocation. They were aware of all the challenges and extra hours of work the teaching field required prior to switching to education, but that did not stop them. As a calling, they feel fulfilled in front of the classroom and they state, that above all, teaching is the driving force for them personally and professionally.
  2. Impacting students’ lives. Impacting the younger generations is of upmost importance for most individuals in the teaching field. All interviewees agreed that they decided to move from their original field of study because they could not directly impact lives in a way that was personally meaningful to them as individuals. Particularly, one educator stated that when he became a teacher, he experienced that the relationship with his students was symbiotic and he felt fulfilled by affecting the learning and growth of his students while his students seemed to truly benefit from his instruction.
  3. Their children’s education. Having children is a powerful reason for wanting to be involved and learn more about the public education system. For our interviewees, becoming an educator was just an innate part of being a parent. One of the interviewees stated that the main reason why she became a teacher was because she did not like how her children were being taught and the information they were being taught. For this reason, she became a schoolteacher, with a hope of better understanding the information their children were being exposed to and with a vision of bettering the public education system from the inside out.

When we think about educators, we think about individuals who value, above all, the impact they have in their students’ present and future lives. For the career switchers interviewed in this article, their students are the number one priority and teaching has become an opportunity for them to become more actively involved within their community and help shape the new generation of thinkers. Even though there are some aspects of public education that they do not agree with, such as excessive standardized testing, teacher disempowerment, low pay, and lack of appreciation, they have found that teaching is where they belong and they do not plan to leave any time soon.

These seasoned professionals have found that staying humble and focusing on their students have been the most important lessons learned throughout their lives as educators and they would not change that for the world.

Currently, KDP is spending time collecting (and will soon be sharing) stories from around the globe about how teachers are making a difference and changing the world. Share yours today!

Luis J. Pentón Herrera is an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at Prince George County Public Schools in Maryland. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Leadership: Reading, Language, and Literacy at Concordia University Chicago. His research interests include language acquisition, bilingual education, teacher education, and immigrant education.

Why I Decided to Become a Teacher

Heggan 2“The word of an admired teacher carries more weight than anyone can imagine.” My sister Tracy (who is a Physical Education teacher at Eugene A. Tighe Middle School in Margate, New Jersey) said those words to me prior to my acceptance into the MST Program at Rowan University in 2014, and they have stuck with me ever since. Although I knew prior to 2014 that I wanted to change careers and become a teacher, those words cemented the feeling I already had in my heart:

I wanted to make a difference in the lives my students.

From 2005 to 2012, I worked at Adams, Rehmann and Heggan, a leader in the fields of surveying, engineering, GPS, and GIS services. Although I enjoyed my time there and loved working in the family business, it was time for a change. That change came for me when I accepted a job at the Hammonton Middle School as a paraprofessional aide for an autistic boy. Being back in the school setting was very surreal, but I felt like I was in the right place. I will forever be grateful for the then-Principal, Gene Miller, for giving me a chance. If he had given the job to someone else, I do not think I would be in the position I am today. I worked in the Middle School for a year and a half and absolutely loved my time there. The administration and staff there are exceptional and I believe they are one of the top middle schools in the area.

While working full-time, I was also taking classes at Atlantic Cape Community College and Camden County College. These classes were required for acceptance into the MST Program at Rowan University. I knew that if I could get through working full time, taking classes at night, and having a 2-year-old child at home, I could get through anything life would throw at me.

In 2014, I was accepted into the MST program where I was part of a cohort in which everyone was assiduous (means diligent) in accomplishing their goals of becoming successful teachers. From action research to edTPA to classes to no income to student teaching, every single person in that program deserves the award of student teacher of the year.

From that science and paraprofessional aide background, I knew then that I wanted to become a middle school science teacher. I wanted to teach my students about the wonders of the world and our universe. Carl Sagan once said that “We are all made of star stuff,” and if you ask any of my students, they could all tell you what that means. I felt back in 2013 and feel currently in 2015 that I am required as a teacher to inspire my students to use science to become whatever they want to be in this world. This has been my running goal since before leaving Adams, Rehmann and Heggan. If I could, as a teacher, motivate my students into falling in love with science and our universe (because I believe that venturing into space is our destiny), then my job as a teacher will be complete. Becoming a teacher was one of the only ways I could accomplish those goals.

Everyone is filled with experiences and those experiences are what make us who we are today. What led you to this profession? Share your experiences!

Rick Heggan is a 6th and 8th Grade Science Teacher in Medford Lakes, New Jersey and was named the 2015 KDP/ATE Student Teacher of the Year.

If you need a job for next fall, you need to attend the Job Search Summit (starting TOMORROW, Thursday, March 3, 2016) to learn about résumés, cover letters, finding a job, and interviewing.