Students from all majors are trained to solve different kinds of problems, and every kind of problem they’re trained to solve has a parallel in education.
Teaching is a valid and rewarding career option for graduates from every major who are looking for different ways to apply their content knowledge and skills – like I was 28 years ago.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in geology and a master’s in hydrogeology, I went to work in an entry level position for a county agency in Tucson. The time came to move on and while weighing my options, I started doing some volunteer work in the schools – and started thinking about teaching. I had always liked learning but didn’t want to earn doctorate. Being a teacher seemed pretty close to being a student, so I entered the profession.
Part of my mind said I was short-changing my education, but most of it said I was doing something valuable and original.
Teaching was hard but fun, frustrating but rewarding. Moreover, teaching allowed me to experiment, create, and exercise much more autonomy much earlier than I would have had as a practicing hydrogeologist. Plus, I discovered I was surrounded by the kind of colleague I wanted to spend my career with.
(Granted, I rarely had a chance to teach specific content from my specialty, but I was always learning and teaching new STEM content that was close enough and to this day am completely satisfied with classroom work.)
As my teaching came under control, I started contributing more to discussions about my school’s policies and started having some original ideas. Some, like a discipline system and some school-wide community-building activities were adopted.
Just when it began to seem like there was a long time before I retired, I earned my National Board Certificate and was selected to the ArizonaTeacherSolutions Team. That connected me with national networks of teacher leaders that I think are our best hope for remaking teaching and education in America. Now the end of my career seems to be coming much too fast.
Much of teacher leadership work requires doing exactly the kind of thinking I was trained as a hydrogeologist to do: thinking about and finding solutions to practical problems, like getting water from there to here. Colleagues often comment that I think and see things differently. But although that’s pleasing to hear, it’s not true. Just spend some time with others who also have a similar background in science, math, and engineering and you’ll see that my kind of thinking is really not that exceptional. It only seems rare because not many people with my training enter teaching.
And that’s too bad because I think many engineer-science types would find that teaching provides an opportunity to grow internally and contribute externally, and that they, like me, would be able to say, throughout their career – this is what I was trained for.
The argument extends to all majors. Artists, historians, writers, political science majors, and so forth, know how to solve different kinds of problems. And every kind of problem they are trained to solve has a parallel in education.
But when are new graduates, from all majors, told of the unique opportunities that teaching provides to use their specialized skill set: first by teaching it in the classroom and then practicing it as a teacher leader?
My career is winding down and as l look back I sometimes wonder if I made the right choice. I conclude that nothing else could provide such rewarding work and career long growth. And therefore think we should suggest that more graduates make the decision I did in 1987. Not just because we need them in education, but also so that they could learn first-hand, that:
“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” (Theodore Roosevelt)