Why we teach: How four teachers found their way into the profession

February 9, 2018 — by Jackson Green and Jeffrey Xu

Even as the 3:45 bell rings to signal the end of drama and English teacher Sarah Thermond’s seventh-period class, her school day is long from over. Instead, after answering all of her students’ questions about homework, she rushes to the Thermond Drama Center to oversee the rehearsal of two shows and auditions for a third.

Though her workload may seem overwhelming to onlookers, to Thermond, her job is the perfect way for her to balance her two favorite passions: teaching and theater.

However, in a community like Saratoga, parents often try to deter their children from pursuing a teaching career because they perceive it to be low paying compared fields such as engineering, medicine, computer science and law.

As an alumnus for Saratoga High School herself, Thermond said that she was lucky to have both of her parents be supportive of all her career decisions.

However, one of Thermond’s undergraduate professors was not the same way.

“One of my college professors very actively dissuaded from going straight after undergrad to get my credentials in teaching,” Thermond said. “She felt strongly that I should be trying to make a career for myself as an actor, which was a really nice vote of confidence, but caused me a lot of stress.”

Following college at USC, she actually worked as a professional actor for a year for a children's theater company, and one of her favorite parts of the job was working with children.

“So I was like, I tried, all roads lead to Rome, I’m going to go get that credential now,” Thermond said.

In the meantime, she has also managed to continue acting in local shows when she can find the time.

In being able to balance both drama and teaching, Thermond thinks she has chosen the perfect career option for herself.

“I’m the kind of person who, if I’m going to do something, I want to be doing it with all of my effort and heart,” Thermond said, “and one of the only things that can motivate me to that level of energy is working with students. To me, that balances out an awful lot of money.”

 

Erick Rector: finding the right career in the classroom

As an Asian-American student who attended Saratoga High School, Erick Rector admits a career in education was the last thing on his mind while he was in high school.

Rather, Rector’s parents wanted him to find a high-paying job. Following his graduation from UC Irvine with a degree in English, Rector got a job in finance.

“I was at my financial job for five months, making a very good salary,” Rector said. “But I hated it every day. And that’s why I quit.”

Shortly afterwards, Rector got his substitute teaching credential, and began working as a substitute teacher. Within the first two weeks of substitute teaching, he realized the career he wanted to pursuer.

However, not everyone was supportive of Rector’s decision to become a teacher.

“I was warned [by my parents] about the poverty that comes with being a teacher,” Rector said. “Financial arguments were made about how limiting a teacher’s salary is.”

In the end, despite entering a lower-paying field, Rector believes he made the right career decision.

“When it comes to considering any career, it really does benefit you to find something that you really enjoy doing and that is going to be personally rewarding for you,” Rector said. “Have that be your primary motivation in terms of finding a career. What is going to make you happiest? If you have a job that you hate, then what’s the point?”

Chemistry teacher Kathy Nakamatsu:

AP Chemistry teacher Kathy Nakamatsu decided she wanted to be a teacher in her sophomore year of high school. She attributes this desire to her favorite teacher in high school, a Chemistry teacher named Mrs. Hardy.

“She really made Chemistry a lot of fun,” Nakamatsu said. “I can’t say I immediately knew at that time that I wanted to be a teacher, but I was pretty certain.”

Her desire to teach solidified when Nakamatsu started doing office jobs while in college. Although her parents, especially her father, tried to dissuade her from a career in teaching, Nakamatsu stuck to her gut in the end.

“I hated doing the same thing every day,” Nakamatsu said. “My father wanted me to be a chemical engineer, and his primary reason was money. I told him that wasn’t what I wanted to do. Teaching fits my personality. I get bored really easily, and teaching can never be boring.”

Nakamatsu urges students to think about why they want to pursue their career.

“I understand there’s a need to make money, especially in Silicon Valley, but you really have to enjoy what you’re doing,” Nakamatsu said. “If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you will hate going to work. And at the end of the day, I love my job.”

Ten years ago, Nakamatsu tracked down Mrs. Hardy, and thanked her.

“She was really happy I became a teacher, and so if there’s a teacher that was influential in your life, you should thank them, because it really means a lot to us teachers,” Nakamatsu said.   

 

Engineering/physics teacher Matthew Welander:

Engineering/physics teacher Matthew Welander, while updating his resume in order to apply for summer jobs and internships during his junior year at Washington University in St. Louis, realized that all of his work experience in the previous three years had come from some form of tutoring or mentoring.

At this point, Welander was pursuing a major in physics, “without really knowing what I wanted to do with that degree.”

But even when he was just a teenager, Welander had a natural aptitude for teaching.

“Back in high school I remember getting together with friends to study for tests or complete the calculus homework, but I spent most of the time explaining how to do problems that I already knew how to do,” Welander said.

It finally clicked for him that day, and he started considering going into teaching as a career.

As a STEM major, Welander had career options other than teaching, and he could have easily gone into a much higher-paying mechanical engineering job at a big company.

Even so, he knows teaching has been the right choice for him.

“The job never feels monotonous, and I feel like there is always room to grow and improve,” Welander said. “There are definitely higher-paying positions for people with a physics degree, but I can't think of another job I'd rather be doing.”

 

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