Sunday, March 16, 2014

Wanting to become a teacher - How I changed careers (Part 1 of a few?)

So I have been asked about becoming a teacher from another career (Engineering to math/science), what it takes, why I did it, am I happy, etc.  So this is the first post of a multi-part post in how I moved.  First, if you are moving for the number one joke -- "The 3 best reasons to teach - June, July & August"; DON'T do it.  Teaching takes a desire, it is hard work from September to June, and you spend plenty of time in July and August working on curriculum etc.  My hours per year are most likely surprising.

I worked less total hours in my 12 month, 50 hour per week engineer/manager job then the 9.5 months of teaching and summer curriculum.  But also don't let hours stop you from moving, changing to a teacher has been the single best career move of mine in the 20 years I have worked.  I am more than happy (though like every job there are hard moments).

And if you think you can just get in front of class and do it, and a lot of people think that, you are most likely sorely mistaken.  (I am sure someone can, but I know most cannot).  Though I am not sure education programs really get you 100% ready either -- depends on the program.  It is really a journey you must want to do -- a desire to be beyond mediocrity, when I came into teaching as a second career simply being a teacher for me was not enough.  I wanted to be excellent at the craft.

A little history, I was a young man who believed the cliche "Those that can do, those that can't teach."   So as I went to college at 17  and selected the the most well paid career in my fields of interest, math & science -- Mechanical Engineering.  I liked math and science and thought teaching was interesting but its salary was about 18K starting where engineering was about 42K starting.

So I took the money path, graduated and took a job in engineering within a manufacturing environment.  I liked the problem solving but every time the "new-ness" wore out I found myself looking for another challenge/opportunity.  I move thru 5 engineering/managing jobs in about a decade with 3 different companies -- I always moved up but I was always moving.  The reality of my life for me occurred after 9/11, as the small business I worked for struggled with lagging sales and eventually went into bankruptcy.  I worked my ass off trying to keep the business afloat, but after laying off over 100 people, having an ulcer and really soul searching I knew I wanted a change.

At this point, at about 33 years of age, I sat back and said what do I really want to do....  At any point in my career I felt I had been successful, I am a problem solver by training (and nature).  But when I thought about my accomplishments they were all general.  I knew that in any given year, month or day I was part of a team that fixed this widget or that widget. But when I tried to remember the actual widget - rarely could I describe it with any detail.  I was missing the human touch.  I was missing the feeling of having a truly lasting impact on the world.

So once I admitted that money was only as important as the need to be "comfortable" - I saw myself working with young adults.  But a family of five with three kids under 5 cannot live on a starting teacher's salary...  Anywhere...  So there would need to be planning.  So how do I get there from here. 

I had to get my teaching certificate in Wisconsin which required college courses, plan on how to student teach, and all the while support my family during the college portion but also save for the truly lean years of pay during the first few years of teaching.

My next post will weave how I looked at colleges, and what my thoughts were on student teaching.  It will be on my first steps of action.