After six years working in finance for a multinational conglomerate, I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted to do for the next twenty years of my life. While my position had it all from the outside – the title, salary, and gravitas that comes with many STEM jobs – I craved something which would allow me to use my skills to help directly empower people and communities. I considered switching careers, but wasn’t sure how. I even set a date on my calendar for when I would quit my job. As that date approached, I grew increasingly nervous.
It’s not uncommon for mid-career professionals to hold apprehensions about transitioning careers, particularly when making a jump from the for-profit sector to non-profit work.
I was one of these radical career changers. I had been volunteering with youth as a coach for about ten years, and valued the relationships I had with my players. I thought teaching might be a good way to extend that impact. And while my head was in the clouds as I dreamed about entering a classroom, the realities of all that a job switch entailed always brought me back down to earth.
Considering how much I had invested in my career – 4 years as an undergrad and 6 in the workforce - I worried that my skills wouldn’t transfer to another context. I had spent all of my adult life focused on one narrow segment. Was I qualified to do anything else?
The answer was a resounding yes. The vast majority of experiences from the STEM private sector transfer into classroom leadership. Be they an accountant introducing decimal placements, an engineer leading an after-school robotics club, or a doctor teaching the classic frog dissection – STEM professionals have transferrable skills in spades.
Teaching is essential to the future of STEM. Educators hold our collective future as inventors and innovators in their hands, as they work to instill the next generation with the passion and skills to keep the STEM field moving forward.
Perhaps the most exciting thing is that being a teacher doesn’t mean giving up the opportunity to innovate. In addition to helping students navigate ambiguity, think analytically, and act strategically, they’re pioneering cutting-edge education methods themselves. Irene Hsieh (Metro DC ‘11) is helping create a healthy living curriculum that has kids as young as six planting community gardens, mapping nutrition access in their city, and writing letters to their representatives in Congress.
STEM teachers are taking the societal challenges they’ve encountered while teaching and tackling them head on. For STEM enthusiasts who want to change the world through innovation, there couldn’t be a better place to start than the classroom.
There are many wonderful paths into education out there. For me, Teach For America was the right fit. The training and transition into the classroom fit into my full life and provided a safe career transition – and the ongoing professional development meant I was thoroughly supported in my new venture. The guidance of mentor teachers, continuous learning opportunities, and robust network of alumni all helped me be my best for my students.
When considering the impact a single teacher can have, I realize calculable academic gains are only one part of the equation – personal relationships, while impossible to measure, have a dramatic impact on students’ life outcomes. As a high school math educator with prior professional experience, I was able to show my students real-world application of their math skills, helping guide them toward future careers and academic pursuits. More than that, the bonds we forged were predicated on responsibility, respect, teamwork and creativity – mindsets that will stay with students as they continue on in their journey.
As Teach For America’s final February 20 deadline approaches, I encourage you to learn more here
. Click here
to apply for the 2014-15 teaching corps.