Last year, Bank Street College Graduate School of Education hosted an open house for career changers interested in becoming teachers. "We expected about 20 people," says Ann Morgan, director of admissions for the New York City school. "We got 75."
Professionals from other fields are suddenly surging into teaching. At Bank Street, as many as a third of the applicants are older candidates looking for a second career.
And while once upon a time the career changers attracted to teaching came largely from the arts, these new teacher hopefuls are more likely to be switching from law, finance, or marketing. Ms. Morgan says she hopes their attraction to teaching may signal a shift in society's notions about success from the strictly monetary to the more idealistic.
"They're seeking careers that will be personally satisfying and will allow them to do meaningful work," she says. They talk about teaching almost as if "they're coming home."
Here are a handful of this year's older students at Bank Street who've opted for second careers as elementary school teachers:
Former law professor
Jonathan Mintz knew as a young child the profession he wanted to pursue.
But his parents had other plans. "They've been battling for years against my desire to be an elementary school teacher."
In college, Mr. Mintz says he, too, became convinced he should change career plans.
"I started thinking about what being an elementary teacher would mean in terms of status, salary, intellectual challenge. I guess I balked. I decided to try to pursue education in what I perceived as a more professional form."
So he earned a law degree at Cornell University, did a short stint at a law firm, and then taught law for six years.
But he found his desire to work in a helping profession was not being satisfied in law school.
He left the field and found another job with a foundation setting up after-school programs for inner-city children.
"But even that was pretty indirect," he recalls."I was giving money to other people to help kids. I wanted to be so much closer."
Looking back on it, Mintz now believes everything in his life was leading to teaching.
"I had always taught Sunday school, been a camp counselor," he says. "Really, it was the only thing that made sense."
Former marketing executive
Jamie Blatt says his wife was the first to become convinced he ought to be a teacher."When I finally saw it, she asked me, 'What took you so long to get here?' "
Mr. Blatt was raised in a family devoted to industry. "My whole family's in business," he says. "It was hard for me to break away."
Immediately out of college, Blatt got his MBA at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and took a marketing job with a plumbing manufacturer.
"That was a very unsatisfactory experience," he remembers.
He later shifted to a marketing position with Gund, the teddy-bear maker. There, he was happier, but he realized that the distant link with children was only making him hungry for more.
Finally he felt ready to take the plunge.
"I didn't want to spend the rest of my life thinking, 'I should have tried this, I would have been a good teacher,' " he says.
When he thinks back on his life, Blatt says he realizes, "The people with the greatest impact on me have been teachers. That's what I aspire to being - not a leader of industry."
Former marketing executive
Some people might have considered the jobs Keelin Gallagher held - marketing positions, first with Calvin Klein and then with Starbucks - glamorous.
"But I was never completely satisfied," she says. "I didn't feel I was making a difference... I wanted to do something I was really passionate about."
In addition, says Ms. Gallagher, "I wanted to make a contribution. I wanted to do something in my life that I was really getting something back from."
Gallagher says she was influenced by memories of a favorite teacher who had helped turn her into a better student. "Education is so important," she says. "How can we expect to be a great nation without it?"
Gallagher admits candidly that fears about a loss of income prevented her from making the change earlier. "But I recently got married. The second income will help a lot."
Growing up with two parents who were teachers, Dawn Mantrone says she felt certain it was the one profession she would never pursue. "There was an instinctive reflex not to do something my parents were involved with. I respected teaching but I saw that it was hard. And I wanted to make a niche for myself."
So Ms. Mantrone first managed a bookstore and then worked in different marketing and communications positions, eventually launching out on her own as a freelance business writer.
But as part of "a gradual process," Mantrone says she realized she was being more and more drawn to the idea of teaching. "Helping is part of my nature," she says, and she hopes work in the classroom will provide an outlet for her desire to serve. But, she adds, "I'm not naive. I know what's involved."
"I didn't raise you to be a teacher." That was Lisa Gross's father's reaction when she told him she was leaving her job as a litigator with a New York law firm and hoping to find a place in an elementary school classroom.
But when she broke the news to her law-firm colleagues, she got a different response. "So many of them said, 'I've always thought of doing that.' "
Ms. Gross says she thought from childhood that she wanted to be a lawyer, and she found law school very exciting intellectually. But the practice of law was another matter. "It's big business as opposed to ideals. It's about making money, which I have no patience for."
As she pondered what else she might want to do, she thought of children and how exciting it is to watch them grow and learn. "The light bulb suddenly went on," she says. While Gross admits that it won't be easy to let go of the healthy income that work at a law firm offers, she says it's become clear to her that, "I don't need that much money. I want to do something I love."
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