I’m 27 and in the middle of a career change. I want to be a teacher.
Let me tell you a little bit more about myself.
Six years ago I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Fine Art from a private university. Since then, I have had a wonderful and fulfilling artist’s career: I’ve had the pleasure of teaching art in various private settings (museums, small businesses, workshops) with students ages 5 through adult for the past 6 years. I’ve successfully written grants, painted murals, founded galleries, given lectures, and had my work published multiple times.
I was the first sibling within my nuclear family to attend college. I was also a very young student- graduating from high school at 17 and, growing up in poverty, not willing to wait another second in order to reach that next level of education and (in my naivety) pay grade. As a result, I was enrolled as a college freshman weeks after my eighteenth birthday. Fast forward four wonderful, academically-stimulating years and I was graduating with a degree weeks after my 22nd birthday.
Like many university students, I worked in the Service Industry as a means to an end. I could pay my tuition, rent, healthcare, and every other Adult Responsibility, still attend school, and survive at the most basic level. Working in the service industry is one of the few jobs where you can pull down a high wage with a non-traditional schedule, which is simply necessary to maintain the responsibilities of everyday life, as well as any additional free time to pursue professional development within your chosen field or (if you’re lucky) hobbies and relationships outside of work.
Fast forward 5 years.
Something wasn’t quite adding up. I loved teaching. I realized that not only did I love teaching art, but i had a talent for teaching all subjects. My students connected with me, and that means a lot (more on that later). After identifying as solely an artist for my entire life, it was hard to come to grips with the fact that I may have another Life Love. There was something inside of me that thrived off of igniting the curiosity, creativity, and tenaciousness that comes with educating and sharing education; to connect on the level that my educators connected with me, as well as inspire others to learn and drive their own learning. The thing is, is that 6 years later- I was still working 4 jobs. It was time to make a change.
I started researching the Education industry. Certifications, pay grades, benefits, as well as where my own qualifications set me within that context. Was it attainable? I realized something: I want to do this.
So, to cram about 6 months in a nutshell: I moved. I moved to a state that would allow me to pursue an Alternative Education License which in summary, allows you to take the degree you already have, combined with the certification required of all teachers (you pass a content-area test for this), and allows you to be hired as a “Teacher In Training”. You work as a teacher under the mentor-ship of other education professionals within your school, and return to university to make up for those Education classes you never got the chance to take with your original college degree. Most employers are nice enough to take your tuition out of your teaching paycheck, removing the financial hurdle one may consider when returning to University in the first place. 1-2 years after you successfully complete your “Teacher In Training”, you are granted a full teaching license. Upon further research, I realized that programs such as this are coming about because there is a national teacher shortage.
Wait, a national teacher shortage? How could this be?
I would soon find out.
Google “National Teacher Shortage” and it won’t take you long to be alarmed at the tone of articles being published about this subject. It is a very real problem.
I was hired with two different school districts as a guest teacher the day I moved to our new home. We hadn’t even signed our lease yet. I currently am employed by three different school districts.
I had moved towards the end of the previous school year, when job openings were plentiful. Within my first month of guest teaching, I had already been asked multiple times if I was certified and actively looking for a job. Realizing Art Education openings were rare, I studied for my Elementary Education certification, and I currently await approval from the state to pursue that route.
In guest-teaching, I encounter all kinds of different people, students, backgrounds, and situations. I’ve worked in schools with widely varying class sizes, and resources. I make wonderful educational connections in the classroom with students that always exceed your expectations. Those moments are beautiful, yet fleeting, because unlike your classroom teacher, I do not come back tomorrow.
I do notice things, however. I notice the high teacher turnover. I notice the class sizes that are twice the size of when I was growing up, sometimes more. I notice the budget-stretching and fundraising. I notice your exhaustion and relief when the day has been covered. I notice the gifted students that need to be pushed harder, but aren’t. I notice the students that could become more gifted, with the proper resources which may or may not be available.
I definitely notice the response I get from the majority of people that have something to say about my chosen career change, and it goes something like this:
“Wow, TEACHING huh? You’re brave!”
Now let me tell you a little bit more about myself. When I was in fifth grade, my father went to prison. In my young and seemingly hopeless despair, my fifth grade teacher reached out to me and helped me process the heartbreak that no child should have to figure out how to process alone.
When I was in a high school, I carried on as your stereotypical “troubled teen”. I was helping my mother raise 3 other siblings on her own, with no resources for any extra curricular activities. My art teacher would give me money out of his own pocket to buy art supplies that our classroom did not have.
When I was in college, and the government shut down for a short time halting all financial assistance that I so heavily depended on to receive my education, my mentor and professor literally marched into the Dean of Financial Aid’s office and demanded that they make it work. And they did.
These acts of bravery may have been the difference in two very different kinds of lives for me.
Teaching is brave.
And I accept this challenge.