Many professionals work hard, put in years of education and went to Harvard or got the best online business degree and for their effort, they enjoy a high standard of living… and yet find that something vital is missing from their lives. After the soul searching begins, their focus shifts from how to climb the corporate ladder to how to create a meaningful life. For many, that may mean taking their extensive knowledge and professional certifications and teaching those skills to others.
Forest the Quant
The experience of Forest, a former Wall Street quant, is prime example. He had what some would call a dream job, creating algorithms for large trading firms. It was work that he loved. But when his wife died after an extended illness, suddenly the dream job, the hefty salary, the pleasures and perks, none of it seemed to matter anymore. He wanted to connect with people, to do something worthwhile and meaningful in the long term. So he applied for a job as a math teacher at a private boarding school in the far flung deserts of Arizona.
No longer filled with the corporate rush and demands of Wall Street, Forest’s days were filled with students trying to grasp the elements of a rigorous calculus program. He frequently met with students as early as 7:00 a.m., discussing calculus over breakfast. His late night study sessions were legendary, lasting sometimes into the wee hours. His students excelled.
Was he happy he made the change? As he weighed backpacks, preparing to lead students on a week long trip into the Grand Canyon, he laughed and answered, “It’s the best thing I ever did. I am shaping the future, I am teaching. And it matters.”
Kurtis the Lawyer
Kurtis was a high level attorney, successful enough to retire early. But he found retirement just didn’t offer him enough stimulation. So he started an after-school debate club at the local junior high. Needing other schools to debate with, he expanded the program district-wide. Eventually, he found that he loved being at the school, loved sharing knowledge with the kids, and was invited to become a history teacher. Because he lacked the teaching credentials required for public school, he was fast tracked through a special state program, earning a temporary credential while completing a one-year online certification course.
Professionals who are the most successful making the transition into a new vocation seem to have one thing in common: they turn to teaching as if it were a calling. They are willing to accept pay reductions in exchange for a career that offers them a deeper sense of meaning and satisfaction. Ultimately, they find that success and fulfillment have less to do with one’s professional calling than with a desire to share knowledge with others.
Teaching as a Second Career
In the past, it was difficult for professionals to enter education as a second career, particularly in K-12 schools which required teaching degrees. Recognizing that a tremendous resource was being overlooked, many states have enacted programs to make it easier for professionals to transition into the classroom.
According to Encore.org, an online resource for second careers, “community colleges are creating new and more flexible pathways to becoming second-career teachers.” Math, science, law and business professionals now may be granted interim licenses to teach, while taking accelerated credential courses. At the four-year college level, the transition is somewhat easier, generally requiring a degree in the subject field, which many applicants already possess.
Teaching offers many professionals a second career choice. As any teacher can affirm, it isn’t necessarily easier, the hours may be just as long, the schedule just as grueling, but in the end it seems well worth it — an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of students, to share valuable knowledge gained in one’s profession. And, in the end, help to create a better world.
(Note: AARP and Emmy Award-winning journalist Jane Pauley have teamed up to produce a series of TV and online segments featuring people age 50+ who are reinventing themselves in new and different ways.)