Patrick Jensen, 41, took a 50 percent pay cut to teach chemistry and web development in the Fresno Unified School District.
After working for 20 years as a fiscal analyst, mutual fund accountant and school district business chief, he decided a great career isn’t always about money.
“In my old job, I felt like I was pushing a lot of paperwork around but not making much of a difference.” He said. “I wanted to do something more directly connected to kids, have more of an impact on my community.”
Last year, Jensen quit his job and enrolled in a teacher intern credential program at Fresno State. After taking an intense summer course, he started at Patino High School, a newly-opened, business-themed school in Fresno. Weekends and nights he takes teacher preparation classes, and works closely with colleagues and mentor teachers.
He had never volunteered in a classroom, and his mastery of chemistry dated from his years as an undergraduate. But overall, his first months in the classroom went very smoothly, thanks to colleagues’ support. He has no regrets.
The toughest part, he said, was getting used to teenagers. Until he started teaching, most of his experience with kids was from raising his own. Understanding teenagers and keeping them engaged was a little more challenging than he expected.
“If you’re not used to teenagers, it’s hard to know how much freedom to give them, where to draw the line, when are you being too strict,” he said. “You can have a great career and be an expert in something, but you might not know how to teach. You have to have the humility and openness to ask for help.”
He encourages other mid-career professionals in science and math to consider teaching if they’re looking for a change, have the support of their families and don’t mind a few years of sacrifice in exchange for long-term job stability, summers off and the rewards of educating young people.
“When you’re teaching, you see these moments of growth with the kids, when they suddenly grasp a concept they previously didn’t understand …. Those moments make it all worth it,” he said. “And if it turns out you don’t like teaching, you can always go back to that boring office job. Those jobs will always be there.”