When a new college graduate presents his credentials as a teacher, he shows a bright diploma still wet from the presses. His mind is full of education theory, teaching methodologies, and student teaching experience. All very good credentials. When a career-changer presents her diploma, it’s wrinkled and a bit faded – hard to tell what the study track was. Her experience is not in front of the classroom, but may be in front of corporate leaders, media representatives, work crews, or customers. She may not have been “in front of” anyone at all, but may have worked at home coordinating a team around the world through a networked computer, or writing freelance stories. She may have been the salesman, the professional, the reliable worker with a degree which turned out to be in a field she didn’t really want to be in.
Well, that’s kind of my story. I am a career changer – coming from several other careers – including public relations, childcare, construction management, sales. I’ve been a parent, read thousands of newspapers and books, talked to lots of people, tried a lot of new activities, asked a lot of questions, and gained a lot of experience. Useful experience. Valuable experience.
My school valued that experience highly, and welcomed me warmly as a new teacher last year. I’m sure there were some concerns. I remember my interview, when I was asked to explain my ideas about assessment for special education students, and my answer was, “are you referring to tests or homeowner taxes?” But I was hired, so I must have shown something.
Through the Resident Teacher Certification program, I receive a great deal of support and instruction. I began my teaching career with great humility, acknowledging how much I needed to learn about teenagers and educational theory, and teaching methods, and school policies. But I refused to act as if I didn’t have any valuable experience, or pertinent knowledge, or strength. And I will continue to advocate for career changers.
I believe our schools need career changers. We will especially need people who are retiring from other careers, with intact retirement programs, who won’t mind working for so little money. Unfortunately, that’s not my case, I need the income – and I would not be able to live on my salary were I not married. We’ll need teachers to serve as mentors to our children, as leaders of our school system, as change brokers. We’ll need teachers who are there because they believe they have a calling, and have thought about it a lot. We’ll need teachers who already know how to learn something, how to analyze knowledge and apply it elsewhere, and who are not afraid to try something new because they know the joy of fresh experience. We’ll need more career changers.
I believe we need to create support systems for ourselves, so that when one school system is not supportive, you can find out which ones are, and move. We don’t have time to continue where we’re not appreciated. We’re needed too badly. Every village needs its elders. Don’t let your school forget it.