Second Career a New Chance to Make a Difference

By Mark McGowan, '92

Erin MacDonald just wanted to find some joy.

Since graduating from college in Iowa, she had worked in marketing, first at a law practice and later for a private consulting firm. Eventually, the job no longer fulfilled her.

“I was doing internal and external communications, a lot of website development and things like that,” MacDonald said. “In the midst of that, I wasn’t happy – and I wanted to change my career to something where, if I left, someone would miss me; where I would be making an impact on the greater good of the community.”

Christine Glomb just wanted to find some direction.

Holding a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in pre-law, she enrolled in law school. During her first and only semester, she knew it was the wrong choice.

“When I went to law school, I disliked it,” Glomb said. “My mother – she used to be a teacher – she said, ‘You know, Christine, you love kids. You worked at a preschool for a few years. Why not do teaching?’ ”

teaching, second career

Students in NIU’s Master of Arts in Teaching program practice hands-on activities they can incorporate into a classroom.

Both MacDonald and Glomb are enrolled in different cohorts of the NIU College of Education’s Master of Arts in Teaching program, designed for college graduates ready to trade their current careers for the noble profession of teaching future generations.

“Career-changers bring expertise and experiences that enhance the instruction they’re able to provide,” said Anne Gregory, chair of the program’s home Department of Literacy and Elementary Education. “They tend to be older. They tend to have experienced some of life’s ups and downs. Those backgrounds they bring to the classroom are very rich, and that helps them to make connections between the real world – the world outside school – and the classroom.”

NIU’s MAT program satisfies the requirements for an Illinois Professional Educator License with an endorsement in elementary education. Students complete 44 credits over approximately seven semesters.

The coursework includes the historical foundations of education, assessment and data-driven decision-making, methods of instruction and curricular development, exceptionality and difference, and human growth and development.

Financial aid and scholarships are available.

“My friends who are currently undecided in college are leaning toward transferring to NIU because of all the good things that I’ve raved about,” Glomb said. “I’ve really enjoyed all the professors; they’re very caring about the students. They want you to succeed. They want you to have takeaways you can use in the classroom.”

“The teachers in the program are phenomenal, and some of the best teachers I’ve ever encountered,” MacDonald agreed. “They weren’t easy teachers – they had high expectations and demands of their students – but they went above and beyond. …They have been such great examples of how to be a teacher.”

Students in NIU’s Master of Arts in Teaching program practice hands-on activities they can incorporate into a classroom.

The week before Halloween, Portia Downey spread paper tablecloths with a print of blood splatters atop the tables in her second-floor classroom at NIU-Rockford. Each table was scattered with an assortment of small toys, candies, bottles of corn syrup and bags of mini marshmallows.

Downey, coordinator of Professional Development in the NIU College of Education and a former teacher at Machesney Elementary School, was demonstrating spooky science lessons to her future teachers.

Hard-coated candies were submerged in water to see the chemical reaction. Pixy Stix were emptied into cups of water to examine change in temperature. The rest of the supplies went into a sticky mixture similar in consistency and color to blood.

Although the adult students seem to enjoy the experiments as much as children would, the purpose was not fun.

“We’re trying to teach the students really to think on their own. It’s all about inquiry, and getting the students to explore and figure things out,” Downey told the class. “Ask your students to make some predictions. Get them to make more-detailed predictions, and challenge them to come up with at least three.”

Later, Downey stated a critical rule for teachers.

“The kids ask you questions, don’t they?” she said. “And the hardest thing as a teacher is to not give them the answers. Your job is not to tell them, as of yet, what is going on. Ask them questions: ‘What is going on? What do you think is going on?’ Make them discover it.”

When Erin MacDonald started her MAT cohort at NIU-Naperville, she was almost 30 and not yet a mother. She and her husband owned a condominium then; today, they live in a house with their 1-year-old daughter.

Through it all, she says, her husband has “always been supportive. He’s a big believer in, ‘If you don’t like it, change.’ He honors the fact that I wasn’t happy.”

MacDonald graduated Dec. 10. She hopes to work as a substitute during the spring while she seeks a full-time position for next fall.

“I really like first grade. They’re so independent yet they still need so much guidance. They want the freedom, but they teeter on, ‘Am I doing it right?’ ” she said. “What drove me to elementary education is that you really have the opportunity to make students lifetime learners, which I think is so huge. We have such an increase in dropouts and people not wanting to go to school.”

Instructor Portia Downey talks to her class about ways to engage students in a science lesson.

Christine Glomb, who is currently a substitute teacher in Naperville and Geneva, is aiming toward teaching fourth- and fifth-graders after she completes the MAT program in May.

“I’m open to any grade, but fourth- or fifth-grade would be my preference,” she says. “The kids are young, but they’re becoming independent.”
Like MacDonald, Glomb has enjoyed the encouragement of family and friends.

“They think it’s a perfect fit more me, and they’re really glad I’ve found my niche,” she says. “This is exactly what I want to do.”

Downey’s haunted science lessons incorporate “The Five E’s” – engagement, exploration, explanation, elaboration and evaluation. When students move through that instructional model, Downey tells the future teachers, “they own it. They really own that knowledge because they did it.”

“Kids demonstrate mastery when they can teach something,” she said, “when they can explain it to someone else.”

That idea clearly resonates with MacDonald.

“I think teachers have such power,” she said. “That might sound cliché, but when you invest the time into your students, they invest the time in your curriculum and their learning. Teachers really can control the engagement in their classrooms to drive the love of learning.”


Are you considering advancing your career or making a career switch? NIU has a variety of flexible programs to help you meet your goal.