The other day I received an email from a reader by the name of Robert who is planning to leave a successful management position, complete his M.A. in history and eventually secure a position as a high school history teacher. Robert has a number of concerns and questions: "So my question is this – Am I crazy? I am not concerned about money, advancement, etc. My concern is that when I am done with my studies, I will be 40 years old. Will anyone take me seriously as an entry-level teacher at 40 with two advanced degrees? What advice do you have about this or anything else I need to know before starting on this exciting, challenging path." Since I have a brother who is in a very similar position and has already begun the transition I asked him to respond to Robert’s questions. What follows is my brother’s response along with a few thoughts of my own.
Hello Robert, No you are not crazy. My name is David Levin, I am Kevin’s brother. You and I have two things in common. We both want to become history teachers and we both have already had very successful careers. I was an Executive Chef for over 10 years working for some of the biggest hotel companies in the world, like Hilton, Marriott, Four Seasons and Doubletree hotels. I worked all over the country from Los Angeles, to D.C, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Atlantic City and Houston. As a chef I was very successful and moved my way up the corporate ladder very fast. I was in charge of my first hotel kitchen in Washington D.C by the time I turned 24. Being a chef was something that I was very passionate about. Unfortunately after 17 years in the restaurant/hotel industry I became burned out from all of it. Too many hours, too many missed holidays and too much corporate you know what.
The big question was what could I possibly do for the next 30 years as a career since being a chef was all that I knew how to do. Now going back to my younger days, I always loved history. I always enjoyed learning about World War II, the Civil War and I have always followed current world events. When I was a chef, people used to ask me, if you were not a chef what would you like to do? I always said if I had the opportunity I would love to be a high school history teacher. I always said this thinking that it never would happen. I was a chef, and that is what I did.
Well long story short, two years ago I was the Executive Chef at the Sheraton-Meadowlands Hotel in northern New Jersey. Eight months into the job a new company came in and bought the hotel. From there they told all of the managers, including myself, that they no longer needed our services. They said that they were bringing in their own managers. That is when it hit me. I didn’t want to be a chef anymore. It was like one of those pivotal life changing moments. I decided that I was going to go back to school and get my bachelors degree in history and become a teacher.
Two years later I am half way there with a 3.85 GPA Not only that but I realize that I have a real passion for history. I can’t stop reading beyond what I am supposed to read for class. I am currently taking a summer course on the Vietnam War, but at the same time I am reading books on President Andrew Jackson, The Mexican American War, Rise to Globalism, War of 1812, as much as I can.
If I can offer any words of wisdom for what you are doing it would be that you will be very impressive to any school district once you start interviewing for a teaching position. I believe that school districts would love nothing more than to hire individuals who already have had a successful career. I currently go to school with kids that are 13-16 years younger than me. No disrespect intended to my fellow students, but I put forth more of an effort in studying, and my experiences in management, training, hiring, motivating, etc will give me a big advantage in the interview process as well as classroom management. Remember it has to be very difficult for a 24 year old college graduate to be placed in a situation where he or she has to get in front of 25-30 kids and teach them, control them and motivate them, all within months after they were themselves sitting in a classroom. Also keep in mind, and this is just my own opinion based off of my college experience so far. Out of lets say 50 history majors, maybe 10 really have a passion for it. The rest may like history or simply didn’t know what else to major in. Point being, with your experience an age, you will be able to talk about history, your individual goals as a teacher as well as personal philosophies on motivation better than someone younger with less experiences compared with you and I. Your background will enable you to sell yourself to a principal or school board in a way that your competition will not be able to match.
A school district will take you very seriously and they will definitely be impressed with your background. As far as other things to keep in mind: If you already have a bachelors degree, most states have an alternate route program where you can get a job right away and work on your certification while teaching. Also any kind of background or a minor in language or special education could give you an advantage given the need in this area. Don’t worry about your age. I wont be teaching until I am 38 or so. 40 is fine. You work 25 years and you can retire at 65 with a pension. I wish I had made this move years ago. I have re-discovered my competitive drive and passion as a result of going back to school. I can’t wait to become a teacher!
Good Luck Robert Dave
Well, there isn’t much that I can add beyond what my brother has already mentioned. I should say that I do indeed believe that both you and my brother are "crazy" given the rarity of these kinds of decisions. It’s always much easier to continue down the comfortable path even if it brings little happiness or personal satisfaction. After all, it is what is familiar to us. I am struck by the number of people in my life who are unhappy with their choice of careers. Some of them can voice their frustration, but most just continue on automatic pilot in exchange for financial security and sense of self-importance.
Part of the problem is that we don’t ask young adults to think critically enough about their passions and interests. I see this with my own students who tend to look at me askance whenever I raise the issue. First, they believe that they must have everything figured out by their mid-20s, including marriage, career, and children of their own. It’s as if they truly believe that there is a road map out there that must be followed or a game that must be played. You’ve actually crossed the biggest hurdle on your way to a new career and that is the realization that a life can be recreated at any time.
Of course, I can’t tell you whether teaching is the right move for you, and unfortunately you can’t answer that question as yet. That uncertainty comes with the territory and you will have to accept it. For now, however, it’s enough that you are thinking along the lines expressed in your letter. It’s your attitude and willingness to take a chance that will get you to where you need to go. That said, in reading through your letter I saw a bit of myself in your words and this leads me to believe that it is at least worth a shot. I’ve been teaching in some capacity for 10 years and have loved every minute of it. Teaching is not a job, but a lifestyle. It has given me the opportunity of structuring my life around my deep interest in the study of history. In a sense my time in the classroom is an extension of other manifestations of this interest, including writing, speaking, and now blogging. In the end I get to spend my days talking about a subject I care deeply about with young adults. I hopefully teach them as much as they teach me.
Good luck with your decision and keep us up-to-date.