Leaving the law for the classroom

For Andrew Coblentz, of San Francisco, the big bucks and high-tech hype of Silicon Valley were not what lured him from the law.

Rather, it was a group of inner-city high school kids he'd taught while volunteering in the early '90s.

It took another three years after that experience, but after consulting with family, friends, and career counselors, he finally mustered enough courage to leave a lucrative 10-year career in corporate law to teach full time.

He spent a year as a substitute teacher while earning his credentials, then started a full-time job teaching sixth-graders math, science, English, social studies, computers, and even the occasional art class.

"I enjoy being a jack of all trades," says Mr. Coblentz, arriving home from work at 4 p.m.

As a lawyer, Coblentz spent most of his time structuring business deals. "I wasn't doing much but moving assets around," he recalls. "What pushed me over the edge was doing more of the same."

Although he took a major pay cut (he won't specify the amount), his wife, an engineer, has been supportive, and he's found teaching far more fulfilling. "Every day you feel like you're making an impact."

He also has more time to spend with his two small children.

Like many lawyers, Coblentz jumped from one law job to another in search of satisfaction. He started in tax law, because as an undergraduate science major, he thought he'd like the numbers.

He left that to handle corporate transactions, thinking maybe his unhappiness stemmed from feeling isolated. Eventually he landed at a small, congenial law office. "You couldn't have asked for a better situation," he says.

If you liked the law, that is.

But it just wasn't for him. "There's something about law. The drafting of documents, tending to minutiae, the adversary process. Even if you're not a trial lawyer, there's an adversary aspect to it. You have your client's interest at heart."

Now, as a teacher, the students are his focus. Coblentz is intent on refuting the stereotype of the unqualified public-school teacher. His legal background gives him the confidence he needs. "I feel I'm very well qualified, and I'm doing a very good job," he says.

And he's seeing the fruits of his labor. "I'm getting positive feedback all the time," he says. "That's certainly not the case when you're practicing law."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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