Success Stories: From the Office to the Classroom

classroomJason Ortiz was a success in corporate marketing for a decade, but his dream of being a teacher never waned. Patricia Anderson Connors worked in dead-end jobs for many years, yet she always wanted to teach. Both Jason and Patricia were motivated for different reasons to change careers in their 30s, but in order to be happy and satisfied in the workplace, they decided it was essential to "just do it."

"It always seemed pretty unrealistic until a couple of years ago, after my mother passed away. That made me realize you can't keep putting things off until tomorrow," says Jason, who teaches at Gertz-Ressler High School in downtown Los Angeles. "Once I made the actual decision to go for it, it took about two years before I started working as a teacher."

Patricia, who teaches elementary school in the South Bay area of the Los Angeles Unified School District, says: "I wanted to be a teacher since I was a tot, but then I found out I had to go to college and thought: never mind, let's party! When my mom died, I decided to go for it (life is short, and all)."

The general public hears a lot about teacher layoffs and low salary. That hasn't been Patricia's experience, but she adds that the hours are longer than most so-called day-jobs. "As far as the salary, I don't think $60K is bad for a fourth-year teacher. But yes, the job is never done, and I often take work home and have very long hours."

Teaching is "definitely something of a calling," Jason says. "I don't think anyone goes into it because it seems like an easy, well-paying gig. On the other hand, it's also not as bad as most people imagine. Plus, when you're doing something that you enjoy, then it compensates for the negatives. You just have to ask yourself: how much is loving what you do for a living worth to you?"

Depending on previously held degrees (Jason already had a degree in English), it takes two to five years of schooling (which can be done while you're working at another job), followed by a quarter of (unpaid) student teaching in which one is evaluated by an outside observer.

Getting the job itself can be accomplished through recommendations. "The school where I did my student teaching had several openings and offered one to me based on the recommendation of my master teacher. It's a very scary job market for educators right now, and it was even worse a year ago," says Jason. Or, you can simply apply. "You apply just like anywhere else: walk in and fill out an application through the district of your choice," says Patricia. "In my case, I was called for a sit-down interview with principal and VP, then asked to come back to teach a lesson that they could observe. They told the HR rep at the district office they liked me, and I got the call."

Their advice?

"If it's really what you want to do, go for it: enjoy the subbing experience, steal great ideas from veteran teachers, keep an open mind, never think you know everything," Patricia says. "And -- I can't stress this enough: Classroom management is EVERYTHING. No learning takes place without it. Also, if you're only going into teaching because you think it's easy and you want summers off, you're in for a world of hurt."

Jason says you should dip your toe in the waters first. "If you do feel like it's something you want to do, consider reaching out to a local school and talking to some teachers in the subject area and grade level you're interested in teaching. Most people don't realize you probably spend 50 percent or more of your time getting ready to teach as opposed to actually teaching. It's not like in the movies or TV, where teachers just breeze into class when the bell rings and start changing lives. I'm sure there are some naturally gifted and brilliant teachers who can do that consistently and be successful, but most of us spend a lot of time preparing for every lesson way before class starts."

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