A 50-year-old geophysicist walked away from the oil fields. A 42-year-old human resource specialist quit her job with a defense technology company. A man in his 40s resigned from a Wall Street job two years after he saw the Twin Towers go down.
They come from all walks of work to an Old Dominion University [Norfolk, Va.] classroom in search of the same thing:
A new start.
It's become a rite of passage for many baby boomers, this search for change. According to Matt Thornhill, founder of The Boomer Project, a research firm in Richmond, Va., people of the boomer generation are living life differently than the post-World War II generation.
The generation previous to the boomers lived a linear life, Thornhill said. You went to college, got a job, got married, had kids, worked at a job for 40 years, got the kids through college, retired and moved to Florida.
Boomers, though, are more likely to live in cycles, trying different careers -- three in a lifetime by some estimates. They're more likely to divorce, sending them in new directions. Workplaces, too, are less stable, so boomers are more apt to be downsized out of jobs, or have their specialty automated or outsourced.
The boomers also are better known for a sense of idealism and self-fulfillment than a lifetime commitment to an employer.
According to a survey The Boomer Project released of people ages 50 to 58, nearly 20 percent were embarking on a new career. One-third of the 26 percent who said they had retired were also starting a new career.The students in this class provide a window on that leap of faith.Ted Forte stands before the class at the Virginia Beach Higher Education Center in mid-September. He's an instructor with ODUs Career Switcher program, which began in 2000 when the state Department of Education developed fast-track, alternative methods for career people to become teachers. Forte has been in education for 47 years, as a teacher, a consultant and a principal.Before him this day are a group of people from their 20s through 60s whose fields range from computer programming to chiropractic. Some started careers they later realized didn't fit. Others were laid off. Still others are looking for something new.Kim Nichter, 42, began her path here more than a year ago when a thought kept running through her mind as she got ready for work: "This is not what I want to do anymore."She had worked for defense contractors for 13 years, most recently Lockheed Martin Corp. During those years, she saw her field of human resources constantly evolve; more automation, more outsourcing, until finally, some of thing things that brought her into the field were gone. There was less contact with people, longer hours and more stress about how long her job was going to last.
"I felt like the exhilaration had left," she said. "If you don't feel that anymore, it's time to move on."Nichter quit her job in September 2003, not knowing what to do next. "It was scary," she said. Many times she thought, "What the heck was I thinking?"The six-figure annual income she and her husband lived on was cut in half, so she did substitute teaching to fill the gap. She found she enjoyed the classroom."I liked getting up and going to work and being with the kids."She knows it won't be easy, and that teachers are subject to burnout as well, if not more so.But she thinks the change to the classroom where she plans to teach business education will revitalize her work life."This is an awesome responsibility," Forte tells the class. "I don't know why anyone would be crazy enough to do it. That's how awesome it is. It takes every ounce of energy, every day. You have to be there every day, for every kid."Several days later, the students break up into groups to design lesson plans.They gather according to the subject they hope to teach: Elementary school. Science. Business. A foursome -- a geophysicist, a computer technologist, a marketer and a retired Navy weather forecaster -- huddle together with Earth Science in mind.
They discuss a lesson on weather and climate. What's the objective of the lesson? The steps leading to that? How can they bring the ideas alive with a hands-on activity?"We need to be sure the activity leads to the objective," Dirk Van Vort says.Van Vort is in his 40s. He grew up in New York City and has a degree in geology. He worked in direct marketing for magazines for a while, then landed a job with what is now the JPMorgan Chase & Co. financial firm. He worked there 14 years, toward the end as a technology officer.Ask what led him to the classroom and he relates a story from Sept. 11, 2001.He was working four blocks away when the Twin Towers were hit. He walked four hours that day to get home, losing touch with his wife during that time.The next year, his wife became pregnant with their son, who is now 18 months old.They couldn't see raising a child in New York.They had vacationed in Virginia's Outer Banks and decided to give Hampton Roads a try. His wife, who works for a mutual funds company, was able to relocate without losing her job. They moved to Chesapeake, Va., in September 2003, and Van Vort decided to put his geology degree to use in the classroom."It was a cutthroat atmosphere up there," Van Vort said. "I wanted to try something completely different."
The subject matter of the topic they're teaching is familiar for these students, since they used it in their first careers, but they soon find out how much more is involved in teaching.During the next few weeks, they learn how to recognize child abuse; how to teach children with special needs; how to manage a classroom of boisterous students.The last three days of the nine-week course, they each present a lesson in their area of certification, to be critiqued by Forte and fellow students.Van Vort uses hurricane tracking maps to teach a lesson on weather. Nichter walks students through the steps of introducing a new product for a marketing class. Mark Foster uses a steaming cup of coffee and a paper cup of cold Pepsi to demonstrate condensation and evaporation."Evaporation is a cooling process," he tells the students. "That's why we sweat. The water moves heat away."The 50-year-old Portsmouth, Va., native strides confidently across the classroom, throwing out questions, and encouraging students who call out responses.Foster's first education from ODU dates back more than two decades when he received a master's degree to become a geophysicist. To follow were more than 20 years in the oilfields, working for Texaco, Amerada Hess and BP Oil in Houston, Dallas and Denver. Three years ago, he decided to quit. He was divorced by then, and wanted to come home.
While he liked the field work, he increasingly felt that people with his level of experience were moving into management, and says, "I didn't want to be a suit."Once back in Portsmouth, a friend of his recruited him for the classroom. He worked with a provisional license for a while, and went through Career Switcher to gain his certification in science.The end of each lesson presentation in Career Switcher brings a similar look to these would-be teachers:Relief.Next up: the real thing.The course wrapped up on Nov. 13. Nichter now substitute-teaches at Chesapeake's Oscar Smith Middle School, where she'll begin a permanent position on Wednesday. Van Vort started sending out resumes for a job he hopes will be more rewarding than juggling numbers on Wall Street. And Foster started a job teaching at New Directions Center, an alternative school in the Portsmouth school division, last week. He figures he'll make the same salary he made his first year in the oil business 25 years ago."It's not about the money," he said. "The bottom line is, you have to like kids to get into teaching. That's why you do it."Source: The Virginian-Pilot. Powered by YellowBrix, Inc.