Teaching Tips From the Trenches
Deven Black has served martinis as a bartender, press releases as a publicist, sound bites as a newscaster and customers as a restaurant manager. Then, at age 50, he decided to serve children as a teacher.
Finding inspiration while volunteering at his son's elementary school, Black entered the credentialing program at Fordham University in New York. He has taught social studies for six years at a middle school in the Bronx, where he grew up. "Of all my careers, teaching is the most difficult, lowest paying and most rewarding," he says.
Black, who blogs about his classroom experiences, offers these insights to potential career changers mulling over teaching.
• Test the waters: "My son's principal suggested I try substitute teaching to figure out what I wanted to do. On my second day of subbing, I had fourth-graders role-play the French and Indian War. I was hooked."
• Find a credentialing school that suits your schedule and your personality: "There are so many programs available. I asked teachers for recommendations. I liked the philosophy of Fordham University, so that's where I ended up."
• Just because you're older and wiser doesn't mean you know everything: "Because of my age and my bearing, people think I've been teaching a long time. It was odd how in my first year the other first-year teachers in my school would come to me for advice, as if I had any clearer idea of what we were doing than they had. Sometimes I have difficulty getting help because people assume I don't need it."
• When interviewing for jobs, emphasize (however counter-intuitively) that you are new at teaching: "When districts look to hire teachers, they want to hire teachers who are less expensive. When someone my age walks in the door, they think I have years of experience and an arm-load of degrees, all of which add up to extra dollars in their eyes."
• Age discrimination is not a given: "My school has many career changers among the teachers, and our principal appreciates and tries to utilize our various outside abilities. A good administrator recognizes that there can be more to teaching than classroom experiences."
• Teaching can be physically draining: "A disadvantage to becoming a teacher in my 50s is that I don't have the energy and endurance I had when I was younger."
• Cherish the fact that you're a greenhorn teacher who wasn't born yesterday: "I am older than two of the six teachers retiring at my school. They started teaching in their early 20s right out of college; it is all they've ever done. That would be far too limiting for me. I've enjoyed trying different careers and having a variety of experiences."
• Love it or leave it: "I enjoy going to work almost every day, although there are many days that I wish would end more quickly than they do. And while I appreciate summer vacation, I am already looking forward to next fall. I enjoy the challenge of teaching, of trying to figure out how to reach this kid or that one. The mental stimulation is a tonic for me. I don't even think about ever retiring."