Teachers leave behind previous professions

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From transfusionist to teacher: April Sulze, biology teacher, abandoned her previous profession to pursue education, along with John Fuenfhausen, CACC marketing teacher.

Sam Mitchell

From transfusionist to teacher: April Sulze, biology teacher, abandoned her previous profession to pursue education, along with John Fuenfhausen, CACC marketing teacher.
From transfusionist to teacher: April Sulze, biology teacher, abandoned her previous profession to pursue education, along with John Fuenfhausen, CACC marketing teacher.
Changing careers can be life-altering.  It can open new doors and provide new opportunities, but it can also mean leaving behind everything known and accomplished in a certain field.
For many teachers here and the Columbia Area Career Center (CACC), teaching was not their first career choice.  Each converted teacher comes from a different background with individual experiences pushing them into the field of teaching.
RBHS biology teacher April Sulze worked as a blood transfusionist in a pediatric cancer ward for about a year, administering white blood cell transfusions before deciding to move on.
“It was heartbreaking,” Sulze said.  “I came home crying almost daily and finally decided that this was not the right job for me, so I quit.”
While Sulze’s first job came with emotional baggage that led to sadness in her life, her next would bring happiness that would make her excited to go to work every day.  After a friend suggested she become a permanent substitute teacher for Columbia Public Schools, Sulze decided to make a change and become a teacher.
“I applied, got the position and fell in love with it,” said Sulze, who went on to get her master’s degree in science education.  “It was great; I was teaching a subject that I love and surrounded by healthy kids.  It truly is the best job ever.”
Career Center marketing teacher John Fuenfhausen went through a career change of his own to become a teacher.  Fuenfhausen had worked in the marketing arena in Chicago for 17 years, when he decided it was time to change professions.
“I really enjoyed it,” Fuenfhausen said.  “However, I was beginning to wear down a bit.”  When his last ad agency cut most of its middle managers, Fuenfhausen made a difficult decision – whether to go into another ad agency or pursue a career in teaching.  After about four months, Fuenfhausen decided to become a teacher.
He had always had a passion for teaching and working with students.  In fact, he strongly considered majoring in education at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Fuenfhausen’s passions for teaching and marketing merge in his CACC marketing classes, teaching students about a career field they may one day find themselves employed in.
“I love introducing students to all the opportunities in marketing,” Fuenfhausen said.  “One-third of all jobs in the U.S. are in marketing. So a lot of students, who have no idea what marketing is, find careers in it.”
Fuenfhausen especially enjoys when students participate in DECA, the national high school marketing and business association.  In DECA competitions students are presented with marketing and business related challenges that test their problem solving and communication skills.
“I also love watching my students compete in DECA,” Fuenfhausen said.   “We have really had some great success. It’s really satisfying to watch them succeed.
No matter the differences in their paths to becoming a teacher, those who are passionate about their subject and have working experience in the field can bring excitement and genuine student interest to their classroom.  They improve classes with strong stories, personal anecdotes and projects based on real life situations.
“It makes class really interesting getting the perspective and knowledge of someone who has a lot of experience in the subject they are teaching,” said Earl Salmons, a senior marketing student of Fuenfhausen’s. “It’s like getting inside information on that career field.”
In fact, a teacher’s real life experience is so valuable to career related courses that the Missouri Department of Education requires all career and technical education instructors to have at least 4,000 hours working experience in their related occupational field before they can become certified teachers.
“We believe the experience our instructors bring from industry is most valuable to a student’s education and training,” said Rebecca Wimer-Pisano, assistant director at the CACC. “Our instructors have worked in the field and can share real life experiences with their students.  It makes it real for the students.”
Because of their work experience, these teachers craft a curriculum full of projects and assignments based off of real occurrences in that particular field.  Fuenfhausen, for example, presents his students with assignments that mirror the actual challenges he faced on the job as an advertising executive.
“I try to give them ‘real world’ work,” Fuenfhausen said. “If I didn’t do it in the office when I was working in advertising, I don’t see the point of asking students to do it.”
Teachers who can create assignments that reflect actual challenges and problems faced in a career can be an asset to a student and make the course work more engaging.  For instance, in Fuenfhausen’s marketing class, students create marketing plans for every day products and trying to ‘sell’ the idea in a presentation to the class, a process which mirrors the steps that real ad agencies go through when creating a marketing plan.
“I definitely think I get a lot out of projects knowing that they are designed off of actual work experiences,” Salmons said. “It makes the work that much more interesting knowing that the situations you are facing are the same situations professionals in the field have faced in the past.”
This ability to excite and interest students, as Salmons said, is important when trying to forge a connection and allow true learning to occur.  But just as important can be life experiences that teachers carry with them from place to place. Teachers sharing these life experiences and what they learned from them, can help teach a student important lessons to consider as they go through life, no matter what career field they end up in, or how long it takes them to find their calling.
“One thing I tell kids is that you need to find what your passion is and go with it,” Sulze said.  “If you decide later you don’t like it, then do something else.  Life is too short to not enjoy your work.”
By Sam Mitchell