Magazine article Techniques

In Search of Meaning.Not Money

Magazine article Techniques

In Search of Meaning.Not Money

Article excerpt

U.S. colleges turned out about 50,000 fewer teachers than schools needed last year. But a recent career trend may help alleviate that as more professionals turn to teaching in search of rewarding work.

Four years ago Mary Wolfe was living the hectic life of an NBC news producer. She remembers writing scripts for Tom Brokaw, lining up guests for news shows and just making sure everything ran smoothly.

But her office isn't at New York City's 30 Rockefeller Center anymore. She left that prestigious and lucrative life for something more rewarding, something that has brought more meaning to her life-teaching.

"I did thousands of stories for millions of viewers hoping it would make a difference, but you could never tell if it did," Wolfe reflects. "Here I know instantaneously with a smile or a hug from a child that I am making a difference."

A slight woman with a friendly smile, Wolfe has traded NBC for Martha's Table-a Washington, D.C., communitybased organization that provides a bevy of services to those in need. Wolfe coordinates the computer learning center there and works with children of all ages on a wide range of educational projects. Her students are from low-income families, and many come to Martha's Table just to do their homework in a safe and nurturing environment.

Wolfe's story exemplifies a move occurring throughout the nation. "One of the more powerful trends in America today is people chucking corporate and professional careers to seek spiritual growth in their families and communities," says Gerald Celente, director of Trends Research Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. "Many are unhappy with what they are doing and are searching for a truer meaning in their lives."

Professionals are leaving successful careers in one field to enter another that can provide them with what they feel is more meaningful and rewarding work. Fortunately for education, many of them have found fulfillment in America's classrooms.

The public school system will need 2 million new teachers by the year 2000 to cope with the record number of students descending upon the nation's schools. During the 1996-97 school year the student population swelled by 805,000, according to Market Data Retrieval. U.S. colleges of education are graduating fewer than 150,000 new teachers each year while the current annual need is 200,000, says a U.S. News and World Report issue on education.

Wolfe left NBC in 1993 after a 19-year stint as a producer and reporter. She remembers feeling frustrated and unsatisfied with her career even several years prior to leaving NBC, feeling as though she'd exhausted all there was to learn and accomplish. She took an extended leave of absence and moved back to D.C., where she had attended George Washington University, and started volunteering in the kitchen at Martha's Table. She wanted to make a difference in the community.

Soon Veronica Park, director of Martha's Table, asked Wolfe to join the staff. Her assignment: to develop and coordinate a computer learning center for the children who come to Martha's Table, many of whom had never worked on a computer. Wolfe eagerly took the job, which pays considerably less than did her NBC job.

With some financial help from Microsoft, the children of Martha's Table now have assigned time slots to work on one of 17 computers hooked up to the Internet. Wolfe teaches her students how to operate a computer and use different software programs.

A tough rookie

Charlynn Sanford can identify with Wolfe's career change. "After a 22-year career in engineering I still felt a void and wanted more," Sanford recalls. "I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children and teaching was the best way I knew how."

A recent graduate of the College of Notre Dame's master of teaching program, Sanford has gone from mechanical engineer to seventh-grade math teacher. Her students at Calverton Middle School in Baltimore, Maryland, know her as "the tough math teacher. …

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