Finding Your Niche: Teach100 Mentors Talk Transitions

Most teachers have asked their students at one point, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" But do they ever ask themselves the same question?
 

The reality for most of those working in education is that finding your niche--your subject, grade level, specialty, etc--is a gradual process. That's probably why most of our Teach100 mentors (58% of those who took our most recent survey) reported having worked four or more jobs in education. Sometimes it takes some trial and error to discover what you like, what you're good at, and what type of environment you want to do your job in.

Teach100 Mentors

With that in mind, we asked our Teach100 Mentors how they found their way to their current jobs, and what advice they might have for anyone hoping to follow that path. Here's what they had to say.

How did you find your niche in education?
Teach100 Mentor Finding Your Niche

Focus Area:

I am a full-time fourth grade teacher at school and a professional development provider outside of school hours.

What was your previous occupation? Why did you change jobs?

I was a travel agent, then an executive assistant. I changed jobs because I needed to find work closer to home and the timing was right to start college. Once I started taking education courses, I was instantly hooked.

What skills, experience, or education did your current occupation require that your previous occupation did not, and how did you acquire them?

Classroom management was the one skill my previous occupations did not prepare me for. We are not just trying to "control" children, we are trying to motivate their behavior towards learning. That takes exhaustive effort that cannot be taught outside the profession of teaching.


  • Sharon Davison, Kindergartenlife Teach100 Mentor Finding Your Niche

    Focus area:

    I am a kindergarten teacher in Vermont, an online facilitator for the NEA GPS Network and an America Achieves Fellow where I am creating and sharing opportunities of how we, as educators can engage the families we have the pleasure of knowing and working alongside of.

    What advice would you offer a teacher interested in transitioning into your current field and/or position?

    Connect! Find ways to share your voice and just do it! Through your ability to be transparent and take a risk, others will connect with you and collaborations will appear.


     
  • Michael Fricano II, EdTechnocation
Teach100 Mentor Finding Your Niche

Focus Area:

Educational Technology Integration

What skills, experience, or education did your current occupation require that your previous occupation did not, and how did you acquire them?

My new position required that I be able to provide quality professional development for faculty & staff, teach technology skills to students in grades K -- 12, and assist teachers with classroom projects that integrate technology. I wasn't provided any formal training on these skills so I had to learn them on my own through experience, successes, and failures.

What advice would you offer a teacher interested in transitioning into your current field and/or position?

Find a position or field that you enjoy! It's not always about the pay or the increase/decrease in workload. If it's your passion and you enjoy it from day to day, find a way to be a part of it!


  • Lisa Friedman, Removing the Stumbling Block Teach100 Mentor Finding Your Niche

    Focus area:

    PreK-12 Jewish Education: “I run the school for all of these grades and oversee inclusion for the school and synagogue.

    What was your previous occupation, and why did you change jobs?

    Middle School (secular) special education. I changed jobs 15 years ago when my first child was born. I wanted to stay home, so I went back to teach religious school part-time. I was hired to start a special needs program within the religious school and it grew by leaps and bounds!


     
  • Jennifer Gonzalez, Cult of Pedagogy
Teach100 Mentor Finding Your Niche

Focus Area:

Blogger, Educational Consultant, and Educational Materials Designer

What was your previous occupation? Why did you change jobs?

I was a middle school language arts teacher, but once my three young children came along, I wasn't able to keep up with the time demands of full-time teaching. After working part-time for four years teaching pre-service teachers, I felt a strong calling to help teachers do their work better, and with blogging, I was able to impact far more teachers than I could at a single university.

What skills, experience, or education did your current occupation require that your previous occupation did not, and how did you acquire them?

I needed to learn the technology to put my work onto a public platform and the networking and social media skills to help my work reach a wider audience.


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Focus Area:

I currently work in higher education, teaching preservice teachers about best practice methods for integrating technology.

What was your previous occupation? Why did you change jobs?

I taught high school biology, elementary science, and middle and high school computer science. I changed jobs because I went abroad to teach and wanted to experience new countries and adventures.

What skills, experience, or education did your current occupation require that your previous occupation did not, and how did you acquire them?

My current job required a masters degree in the field of education as well as experience with technology. I acquired them by taking night classes and taking every opportunity I could to lead professional development activities and work with teachers on their technology integration ideas and lessons.

What advice would you offer a teacher interested in transitioning into your current field and/or position?

Speak with as many people in the field as possible to learn about the variety of experiences that people have had. Education is an incredibly diverse field and there are so many different ways that each particular position can be approached.


  • Mike Lerchenfeldt, The Light Bulb

Teach100 Mentor Finding Your Niche

Focus Area:

Teaching 7th grade science.

What was your previous occupation? Why did you change jobs?

My previous occupation was a soccer referee. I changed jobs because there were many educators that had a positive influence on my life. They encouraged me to explore my curiosities, supported me with my struggles, and celebrated my successes. They cared about me, my learning, my life, and he wanted me to find happiness within myself in order for me to be capable of helping others. They inspired me and pushed me to be my best in the classroom and on the athletic fields. I am now trying to pay this positive influence forward to my students.

What skills, experience, or education did your current occupation require that your previous occupation did not, and how did you acquire them?

There's a career for every passion. The education field is not always what I envisioned when I was in college. However, I am still motivated to get up each morning and serve students in our nation's schools. Being a role model and teaching students the skills they need beyond the classroom is extremely inspiring. It is an excellent time to be a teacher. You have to love what you do in order to be successful. This gives us courage to meet our goals. Today's teachers need perseverance, passion, and hope. I pray that my teaching has a positive influence on my students and school.

The math, reading, and writing skills I developed as a student has allowed me to become a successful teacher. Playing sports and being involved in student government taught me valuable life lessons on teamwork, time management, and responsibility. Teachers helped me get to where I am today by providing me with an exceptional education.


Finding Your Niche

Focus Area:

Technology Director and Teacher of ICT. I work from K13 as a technology leader, coordinating technical and tech coaching staff across two campuses. In addition, I teach Y7-9 ICT at one of the campuses. I also run an open source school platform called Gibbon (https://gibbonedu.org)

Focus Area:

My training is in computer science, but I spent a few years running sports programmes in my early 20s. This led to running my own ICT business, which lead to working in schools on the technical side...and then I decided to retrain as a teacher.

What was your previous occupation? Why did you change jobs?

Technology Director and Teacher of ICT. I work from K13 as a technology leader, coordinating technical and tech coaching staff across two campuses. In addition, I teach Y7-9 ICT at one of the campuses. I also run an open source school platform called Gibbon (https://gibbonedu.org)

What skills, experience, or education did your current occupation require that your previous occupation did not, and how did you acquire them?

The work is much more emotionally intense, and requires a better blend of inter-personal and technical skills. Also, understanding how ICT is changing education, and the pressures that education and teaching are under. Leadership is essential in encouraging others to grow and change, be they students or teachers.


Finding Your niche

Focus Area:

I teach 9th grade English 40% of my day, help teachers with tech integration 20%, teach preservice teachers 20%, and work on my book about 1:1 teaching and learning 20%. (That's just the professional parts of my life.)

What was your previous occupation? Why did you change jobs?

I went to teaching right out of college, taught full time for about six years until my first son was born. Then I went back part time. As my kids have gotten older I haven't increased my core teaching load, but I have been able to add other projects like teaching preservice teachers, and working on a book to help other teachers learning to use technology with their students.

What advice would you offer a teacher interested in transitioning into your current field and/or position?

Since I currently hold multiple positions (and love the variety) I'd suggest that every teacher get a master's degree. With that extra education I earn more from my district and it allows me to teach pre-service teachers as well. Getting my MA has made lots of other options possible.


Teach100 Mentor Finding Your Niche

Focus Area:

High School English and Journalism -- teacher mainly. Since I work in a small school, I'm also on the Professional Development committee and help the staff with technology integration as well. But primarily, I'm a high school teacher.

What was your previous occupation? Why did you change jobs?

I worked in IT before I was a teacher. I didn't feel stimulated working in a cubicle -- it wasn't my calling. Teaching definitely is.

What advice would you offer a teacher interested in transitioning into your current field and/or position?

Find something that matters to you in education and then do your research. After that take some risks. Find a person who does your job and observe. Ask lots of questions and don't be afraid to do it wrong at first. Just keep practicing.


Teach100 Mentor Finding Your Niche

Focus Area:

Education consultant specialising in learning outdoors

What was your previous occupation? Why did you change jobs?

Head teacher--school principal. I changed owing to long-term work related stress in 2007.

What advice would you offer a teacher interested in transitioning into your current field and/or position?

Think about what you can offer that is unique and different to anyone else but which has a clear benefit for students.


Teach100 Mentor Finding Your Niche

Focus Area:

Higher Ed -- faculty and k12 -- curriculum developer

What was your previous occupation? Why did you change jobs?

Academic researcher--I wanted to have a more direct impact

What advice would you offer a teacher interested in transitioning into your current field and/or position?

Complete a project that allows you to leave a legacy in your current position.


Finding Your Niche

Focus Area:

I am an educational writer.

What was your previous occupation? Why did you change jobs?

I was a Special Education teacher after being a general education teacher, I switched to Special Education for job security, plus i liked the challenge. I'm now retired fro district teaching.

What advice would you offer a teacher interested in transitioning into your current field and/or position?

Create an online voice and research our topics. Don't be afraid to get out there.


Finding Your niche

Focus Area:

Online Education -- instructor, instructional designer, blogger/writer

What was your previous occupation?

Career specialist/advisor

What advice would you offer a teacher interested in transitioning into your current field and/or position?

Gain as much experience as you can, working with other teachers and groups that are creating new resources and class materials, and testing new technologies for teaching and learning. Dive in and experiment with new technologies -- take an online class, work through online tutorials, set up your own website as a professional portfolio.


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