Turning to teaching as a midlife

Published: May 20, 2011 11:18 AM
By ARLENE GROSS Special to Newsday

Photo credit: Heather Walsh | Ed Moloney, who spent 20 years in IT, now is a technology teacher at P.J. Gelinas Junior High
School in East Setauket. He says his new career has rejuvenated him. (April 15, 2011)
In recent years, Ed Moloney had met many retired teachers through his membership in the Long Island
Woodworkers Club. The former instructors seemed to have one thing in common: They had loved their
"You don't hear that a lot" from people in other professions, said Moloney, 47, of Lake Grove.
Although he had harbored a desire to teach shop for some time, Moloney thought the course was no
longer offered. Inspired by his woodworker pals who had spent decades teaching, and after a bit of
digging, he discovered that school districts not only include shop classes in their curriculum, but
mandate it under the umbrella of "technology education."
After taking some classes, he was ready to lead his own class of students and found that his age and
experience work in his favor. "Due to the fact that I was older, more mature, had more life experiences .
. . I think I had a leg up on classroom management," Moloney said.
While many start teaching right out of college, some, like Moloney, move to the classroom when they're
more mature, after forging careers in other fields. There are positives and negatives to that, said Carl
Korn, spokesman for New York State United Teachers union. If these career-changers have worked in
jobs that use mathematics or science, they would bring their wealth of applied knowledge in that area.
"However," Korn said, "people entering teaching as a second or third career often find it difficult to
transcribe their theoretic knowledge and applied academics to the classroom."
Before retiring, Moloney had a 20-year career in information technology. He is now in his second year
as a teacher at P.J. Gelinas Junior High School in the Three Village School District. His salary is about
one-third what he used to make, but his new career has rejuvenated him, he said. Moloney looks
forward to going to work, and even enjoys the extra hours he puts in with various school clubs.
"I love seeing the students' ingenuity in solving problems," he said.
Beverly Robinson followed a slow-and-steady course to her teaching career. With a master's degree in
English and 20 years of experience in publishing, the 50-something Hempstead resident took time off
from work for health reasons. When she returned, she was hired as a secretary in the Hempstead
school district.
Her boss, Rebecca Skinner, who was the assistant superintendent for funded programs, was impressed
with Robinson. "What she sparked in me is her love for children -- her love for educating," Skinner said.
Robinson heeded her mentor's advice, took a few education courses, and found that special ed seemed
the right fit for her. "I sort of eased my way into it," said Robinson, whose four-day workweek as a
secretary allowed her to substitute-teach each Friday and complete her state certification in 31/2 years.
Since September, Robinson has worked at the Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School in Hempstead.
She teaches two classes that include a few students with special needs, gives one-on-one instruction in
the resource room and helps with after-school reading enrichment. Robinson earns about $60,000 a
year -- starting salary for a teacher with a master's degree in that district.
Robinson said her experience as a mother has proved invaluable in her second career. "The more
seasoned you are in life, the more patience you have," she explained. "I think I bring a lot of different
things to the table, more so maybe than the person who just came out of school."
She's quick to admit the switch has not been seamless. "It's very intimidating," she said, "and middle
school is a challenge in itself." But, she added, "I love working with students. I love helping students
who really need a lot of help. That was natural for me . . . I really enjoy it and I wish I'd done it a long
time ago."
For Tim Pillion, 51, the choice to become a teacher later in life was spurred by a choice between
transferring to Pittsburgh or retiring. He opted for the latter. After 23 years in the finance industry,
Pillion, of Huntington, became a stay-at-home dad with time on his hands. Soon he decided to take
classes to earn a master's in education, so he could work in his local school district.
In 2007, he was a student teacher in Huntington. The next year at Washington Primary, he filled in for a
third-grade teacher who was on leave. Last year, he taught sixth grade at Woodhull Intermediate. This
year, he was back in the third grade at Washington until the end of March, when the teacher he was
subbing for returned from maternity leave. Now he works as a substitute teacher for all the elementary
While he is keenly aware that full-time teaching positions are limited due to belt tightening throughout
Long Island school districts, he hopes someday to have a permanent post in a Huntington classroom.
Pillion describes teaching as enjoyable but demanding. "You never stop thinking about it," he said. "You
have to figure out the different ways [to teach] so that each child succeeds."
His wife's career as an attorney makes his job a matter of choice, rather than need. "I don't have to do
this," he said, "and to me, that is a benefit. I spent the first half of my life taking, and I'm going to spend
the second half of my life giving it all back. This, to me, is part of what I have to give back."
And yet, he said he's still receiving. "I learn as much from the kids as they do from me."