Those Who Can, Teach:

Transitioning Through Education


by Nancy Barno Reynolds
Education Editor

I tell people I’ve been teaching for 30 years and deep down, I feel that’s my truth: summer camp art teacher as a teen, writing tutor during college years, permanent substitute teacher in graduate school, then straight on to full-time public school teacher for the next ten years. Eventually I became a professor of education in three state universities and one private college. When I had babies, I learned to “teach” at home too:  “This is how you spell your name” and “What book do you want to read together?” or “Don’t touch that! It’s hot and will burn your skin” and “This is what happens when you eat dirt.” In all cases, I transitioned through teaching: unskilled instructor to Associate Professor; child to adult.

The fact is, I’ve left teaching – twice now – for a career in the Arts: first, as the founder and director of The Art School™ when my kids were little (yes, I opened a “school” – we didn’t have many offerings for learning outside the public schools); second, as the executive director of a county arts council, where I am now (hence Ragazine’s transition to a new Education Editor beginning with the May issue!). At age 51, my professional identity is complex enough that I have to stop before I answer the question, “What do you do for a living?” For me, the transitions between these two worlds, art and education, are comfortingly similar: when I’m teaching in the traditional sense, I find ways to incorporate art. When I’m working in the arts, I find ways to teach.

But I’m a middle-aged woman.  I can’t speak to the transitions happening for young people who enter the teaching profession, full of hope (still) and idealism to make the world better through teaching. Their energy is reaffirming: teaching is a worthy job. And yet…some are leaving and some are staying. I have found, though, that all have done the hard work of transitioning to reach their current resting point. Below are conversations with four former students of undergraduate teacher prep programs who have transitioned out of teaching, into new lives. No matter the direction they took out, or the reasons for leaving teaching, all – remarkably, perhaps – have plans for incorporating teaching into their current and/or future careers. That, beyond any takeaway, is the good news. Here’s why:  those who should teach, will teach, no matter what.

 Four Case Studies: Teachers in Transition

Rusty: Fulltime Student, Senior/final semester, former Education Major, now Social Science major and Education minor

After (my) program was discontinued I changed my major to Social Science.  At that point, I wasn’t confident about education being the right profession for me. I researched the career options a person with a BS in Social Science would have and decided that I will enter law – specializing in Education Law.  I am actually quite happy that I changed my major when I did — it is allowing me to graduate sooner than I would have as an Education student. It also provided me with a little extra time to figure out exactly what kind of profession is right for me.  It has taken me longer than the average student to get where I am, but I would not change a thing. Everything I have learned and experienced thus far will pay off at one point or another.

Transitioning into Education Law allows me to connect two things I’m really interested in.

Gordon: age 22, former Education student, now EMT Basic in a large city:

Well, I was going to be a teacher in New York, but the opportunity became difficult when my program got nixed.  I had a choice to self-study and work with adjuncts, or leave the profession. Instead of starting over in a new major, I decided to go back to what I did before I left the Navy, and that was going back into emergency medicine. I was pretty nervous to make the transition from full time student to going back to the workforce. At the time, I didn’t know if I was ready or if that was what I wanted, really. It was just the path of least resistance. I’m happy with life now. I’m curious about what could’ve happened if I stuck with education. I miss it! But I’m happy now. I’m going to put in to be a Field Training Officer actually, though – so now I can teach the new hires!

I think change is integral to learning about yourself, going outside yourself.  It was daunting at first, but I just enjoy what I’m doing now, and I’ll still get to teach.  Now there’s this new and exciting opportunity that I’d never thought of.

Marie: former Education major, now English major, Spanish minor at a large urban university

I wanted something more diverse with more opportunities than the college had.  Then my major was cut and that gave me the push to go for it and apply. I was already an English Ed major, so I just switched to English. I think, at the time, that the disappointment of  teaching in mostly white schools negatively impacted my decision to teach at all, and I needed a change.

At the time, I underestimated how much of a life change it would be.  I was excited about it.  I thought it would be an easy transition.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I kept an open mind.  Now, it’s definitely hard to transition from such a small school to a city.  But, there are amazing things, too.  It was a good change. Here, though, my professors don’t know me – they used to be a big part of my life.  It’s a roller-coaster of up and down.  Sometimes you’re really glad, sometimes I get scared. I’m very happy that I transferred, but it’s easy to second guess yourself when you feel uncomfortable or lost, when you’re missing your connections.  Eventually, this will become my new normal.  I think change is so vital to learning about yourself.  Always do it!  Step out of your comfort zone, because it’s always worth it in the end.

When I was at my old school, I had doubts about wanting to teach.  The program shutting down really confused what I wanted to do with my life. Now, I think I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.  I don’t need to go somewhere else for my life to start. I’m looking forward to graduating next Spring, moving here, working, and then eventually going to grad school and becoming a teacher. I know I want to work with underserved children and I think I am better at connecting with smaller children from my work last summer at the SCORE camp, a state-sponsored summer program for underserved kids. I love that I feel like I’m constantly learning now, whether in class or out – culturally.  Whether it’s race, class, sexuality, identity, religion, I’m always meeting new people, learning new things.  It’s reaffirmed that I want to teach, actually, but in marginalized communities. I’m right in the middle of this community – its right in my face!!  I’m committed to teaching in Urban Education.

Pearl, former Education major, now Psychology Major, Education minor

Originally, I was an English Education major with a Psych minor.  When the Education program shut down, I had two options:  to leave the school or switch majors.  Since I was on the Equestrian team, I didn’t want to leave the school, so I switched to a Psych major in order to graduate on time.  I was definitely nervous about it, especially since a lot of Education majors decided to leave.  I lost friends and didn’t know the students in my new major or the professors.  Now it’s fine.  I know people and the professors are nice, but I also know I’m not going to stay in this field forever.  After I graduate in May, I plan to go to graduate school and become an educator…. As much as it was inconvenient that they shut down the Education program in English, I now know that I’m going to go to school for  Special Ed and Health Ed.

When I was an English Ed major, it was definitely a busy schedule.  Having to work the field hours into my schedule was difficult.  But those of us in the major really had a tight dynamic.  We really looked out for each other.  We all made sure we had rides for placements, if we had class work we didn’t understand, we’d help each other out.  If we missed notes, we made sure we each got them. The transition was tough, but now I look at transitioning as a new starting point, a fresh slate – a change in perspective.  I think it forced me to look at myself.  When I was going through the transition, I think I had to look at what I wanted. Re-evaluate and “live in the now.” I feel like, the decisions I make now, I have the ability to change them.  I’m not stuck with my decisions for the rest of my life.

Honestly, my biggest plans are to graduate from (where I am now), and go to grad school and become a teacher.  Hopefully after that, I’ll get a job in Special Ed or Health Education.  I think, looking at the fact that my programs shut down, there may be fewer programs for Education….but that means there’s gonna be a greater need for teachers.


The End As A New Beginning

The stories of teachers in transition are wide and varied. Many of my colleagues in education are switching careers within and outside of the profession, including working in assessment or administration instead of teaching, teaching part time instead of full time (and vice versa), or experimenting with new careers which are unabashedly creative: flipping houses, playing in a band, starting blogs.  In all cases, the transition has taught us something: teachers are complex, multifaceted and curious people at their core. In our case, those who could, taught  until they no longer could.

For the younger generation of teachers, the focus seems to be on weeding through a labyrinth of diverse teaching options, preserving their desire to teach, but tailoring teaching to a preferred  lifestyle – thinking outside the box. Though change and transition can be liberating or scary, focusing or confusing, it is evident that the participants interviewed here desire to create full, personalized identities where teaching, and the wish to make a difference, is not sacrificed on the altar of happiness. Bravo, Millennials, for reaffirming that those who can teach, will teach.



About the author:

Nancy Barno Reynolds is a former teacher, artist, business owner, professor, and Education Editor at  She is currently the Executive Director of the Broome County Arts Council in New York and enjoys hanging out in theaters and galleries with creative people who teach her new things.  She is  excited to announce that Dr. Meredith Sinclair, of Southern Connecticut State University, will be transitioning into Education Editor in May 2018!