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No second thoughts about teaching

By Marjorie CoeymanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 17, 1999



NEW YORK

One year ago, the Monitor interviewed several professionals in the middle of a major career shift. All had decided to leave their previous pursuits -as attorney, marketing executive, professor of law -to become elementary school teachers.

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As students at New York's Bank Street College Graduate School of Education, all had to work throughout the year as teachers' aides in various New York City classrooms.

For most of the group, teaching was very exciting but also highly challenging. That may explain in part why some now feel drawn to careers at private schools, where resources are often better and classes smaller. Here are their thoughts, one year later, as two prepare for their first full-time teaching positions, and two continue their studies.

Jonathan Mintz

FORMER LAW PROFESSOR

Jonathan Mintz says the biggest surprise for him about his new career was the degree to which it challenged him intellectually. "So much had never been asked of me before," he says of his year as a teacher's aide in a New York City public elementary school. "For me, this was the most rewarding, most demanding thing I had ever done."

Notwithstanding the exigencies of his previous work as a law school professor, Mr. Mintz says he found teaching small children - he worked with both first- and fifth-graders - much more challenging. "It's the complexity of a child's developmental process," he says. "Different children learn in different ways. You're constantly thinking of new ways to convey information."

The second-biggest surprise for Mintz was determining that he preferred working with first-graders rather than older students. "I had assumed I'd want the older kids," he says. "They're beginning to grasp abstract ideas and you can have interesting discussions with them."

But with the younger children, he found, "I was more engaged by where they were in the learning pro- cess." And emotionally, he adds, "They're the ones who just break your heart - in a really good way."

Of course, he acknowledges that some transitions were tough. For one thing, he says, his new work is physically taxing. "It's 3 o'clock and you're beat," he says. "You've just hugged 15 children and six were crying. You're giving a lot all the time."

Also, he admits, some of the perks of his past work have disappeared. "There's no assistant to do photocopying for me," he says. "I do it myself." In his first weeks, he remembers, "Once in a while I'd find myself washing a paintbrush and thinking, 'Wow, this is different from my past professional experiences.'"

Next month Mintz begins full-time work as a second-grade teacher at The Little Red School House in Greenwich Village. He was attracted to the private school, he says, by its tradition of progressive education, but says to some extent he regrets leaving the public system. "I was very happy in the public school," he says, "but I had to go where I felt I could accomplish the most as a teacher."

Lisa Gross

FORMER LAWYER

Once in a while, Lisa Gross admits, she gets a pang when she tells a new acquaintance she's an elementary school teacher and gets a negative response. "You can tell they think it's not an impressive job," she says, and that's not a reaction she ever got when she practiced law. "But the more I like teaching the further away that world gets and it stops mattering."

Ms. Gross spent this past year working as a teacher's aide at two public elementary schools in New York City, in addition to taking classes at Bank Street. This September, she'll take charge of a classroom of her own as she begins work as a fifth-grade teacher at New York's private Dalton School.