A corporate couple, drawn by school bells

By , Special correspondent of The Christian ScienceMonitor

When one person switches careers, it takes work. When two people in the same household switch careers, it takes coordination.

And that's exactly what the Kings have done.

For years, both had dreamed of leaving their corporate jobs and becoming teachers.

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For Karen King, a former sales manager, that dream became a reality this fall when she stepped into her own fifth-grade classroom.

It's a move that took more than two years, a new degree, and plenty of patience - not to mention a major pay cut.

And she couldn't be happier.

"I enjoy being surrounded by children," she says. "I'm alive and always learning. It feels like it was meant to be."

Now her husband, Thomas King, after spending 23 years at an international moving company, has decided to make a move of his own. In August, he too will head back to school to pursue a teaching degree in high school history.

He's already taken perhaps the biggest step: submitting his resignation as company vice president, effective in June. "Hopefully I won't get cold feet," he says with a bit of a laugh.

No doubt he's had a good role model.

For Karen, the idea of teaching had always been appealing - but she never had the grades in college to major in education. "I was totally average or below average," she says.

Her career really took off four years after college when she landed a job at health-insurance giant Kaiser Permanente as a sales representative.

Her boss mentored her along the way and she quickly excelled. During her 12-year stay at the company, she climbed to sales manager, overseeing a department of 10 people. While she enjoyed her work, it quickly became all-consuming. "It was my life," she concedes. "It was what I did all the time."

Eventually she started wondering if there wasn't "something else" she should be doing.

First, some volunteering

Since Karen and husband had no children of their own, she was looking for a way to be around children.

So she started volunteering at a facility for children who were not successful in foster care.

She spent every Monday night in the girls dorm leading an activity. She liked it so much, her stint as a volunteer lasted seven years.

"This became one of the highlights of my week," she says.

In the meantime, Karen decided to see a career counselor and started pulling names from the local phone book. It took visits to three different counselors to find someone she liked.

The counselor encouraged her to consider a career change. But for Karen, going back to school wasn't an option - at least that's what she originally thought. "As soon as she mentioned school, I said: 'No way. I wasn't any good at school.' "

Karen took a series of diagnostic tests - everything seemed to point to sales or teaching.

So she decided to start slow and work up to a career move, giving herself every opportunity along the way to back out.

She began investigating graduate schools for education. To see if she was even able "to do school," she also enrolled in an education class one night a week. She ended up loving it.

In addition, she took three vacation days and spent the time sitting in on her tennis partner's second-grade class.

By this point, she was hooked on teaching. So she applied to the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. The school's one-year master's in education program allows students to assist in public schools during the day and go to class at night.

The school rejected her over the phone because of her grades in college. So she put on an interview suit and pleaded with the administration to let her in. She was accepted.

In July 1997, she left Kaiser and in August she started the master's program. "I thought, 'If I hate this and I've made a mistake, I'll know quickly,' " she says. But she loved it.

She earned her master's in spring 1998, completed her student teaching in the fall, and landed a permanent substitute position for the rest of the year.

Then in September, she made her official debut in her new career. She now leads a class of 23 fifth-graders and teaches all subjects: math, social studies, science, reading, writing, spelling, and health.

Her days are long. Nights are reserved for correcting homework. "You can't do it in a little way," Karen says. "There is always something I could be doing better or reading."

It's been tough, she concedes, being a new teacher - there are volumes to learn.

"In my old job, I was the expert and I was the one people came to with questions.... Now it is the opposite."

'A considerable lifestyle change'

If all goes as planned, her husband will be writing his name on the blackboard two years from now. He too has taken several education courses at night and has spent a couple of days visiting high school classrooms.

No doubt their finances will change considerably. They've tried to pad their savings in recent years. Still they know their budget will have to change considerably. But they seem plenty willing.

"It will be a considerable lifestyle change, but it doesn't bother us," Thomas says. "Now it will be much more important to have a job where, at the end of the day, we can accomplish something that we feel proud of ... and that we like going to work."

Dream Job: An occasional feature on people who change course to pursue the career they really want.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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