How One Teacher Tweaked Her Lesson Plan For A New Career Liz Stepansky decided to become teacher to follow in the footsteps of her parents. But the profession was not what she had expected based on their experiences a generation earlier.

How One Teacher Tweaked Her Lesson Plan For A New Career

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now it's time for another installment in our series Brave New Workers - stories of people adapting to a changing economy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I need a job, and I don't have a skillset other than flying.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: One day, you might be cleaning the toilet. The next day, you might be doing some potentially Nobel Prize-winning science.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: In 1979, I started my trucking career. And I wanted to have the American dream.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Today, we're going to hear about how sometimes the expectations for a new job don't always live up to the reality.

LIZ STEPANSKY: So I first thought about being a teacher in high school.

MARTIN: That's Liz Stepansky. She says that, growing up in a family full of teachers, she always thought of the profession as a means to a stable, yet meaningful life.

STEPANSKY: My dad actually was my teacher in high school. Both of my parents were teachers, and that's how they had originally met.

MARTIN: Stepansky says she loved seeing the warm, lasting relationships her father built with his students, many of whom were her own classmates.

STEPANSKY: They would come up to me when I was in the hall and say, Liz, I love your dad. I love his class so much. You know, my dad would have students that would come back and visit him even years after they graduated high school.

MARTIN: So when it came time for Stepansky to choose her own career, she decided to follow in her parents' footsteps. And after college, she landed her first job as a middle school teacher.

STEPANSKY: I couldn't wait. In my mind, I had ordered all the books and planned out my classroom and how I was going to have things organized. And I was ready. I was ready to begin my teaching career. But I had no idea what I was in for.

A student dialed 911 in my classroom. Students started bringing in water balloons. Then the students decided that water wasn't exciting enough, and so they started filling balloons with more interesting substances like bleach and ink and started throwing those.

One day, we walked through a hallway, and there were all these raw eggs on the lockers. Another teacher had a dead mouse put on her chair. I had a student put a dead frog in my coffee. And probably sometime from February to May, we almost constantly every day had a fire alarm pulled. And four of those occasions were actual fires started by students.

At that point, I was just thinking this is way different than I thought it was going to be. This is so much harder. And you really do work a lot of hours. It's not an 8 to 3:30 job and then you just skate home. You're there calling parents. You they're doing lesson preps. And I go home, and sometimes I'd spend an hour grading papers. And then I go back and do it all over again the next day. And after taxes, I remember my paycheck being 800 and something every two weeks. And I started thinking, well, maybe, maybe I don't just need a different teaching job. Maybe I need a different career.

So we're going up to the second floor, which is a stroke recovery unit. So I've been working at National Rehabilitation Hospital in D.C. as a speech language pathologist now for just over a year. And what I would start off making as a first year speech language pathologists was well over what I would be making as a teacher.

So I'm taking the patient in his wheelchair for a patient therapy.

I forget when - I think I got a friend request from someone that I was best friends in fifth grade. And I noticed that she was a speech pathologist. And I knew about speech pathology because growing up as a child, I went to a speech pathologist at our school. I couldn't pronounce my R's or my S's. And I loved speech pathology as a kid. We would play fun games. We'd play card games. We would do these funny, silly songs that would warm up our lips and our tongue.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Singing) I'm going to let it shine.

STEPANSKY: (Singing) I'm going to let it shine.

And I started thinking, maybe that would be an option to consider.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Singing) I'm going to let it shine.

STEPANSKY: And actually, as we're singing this, I want you to look at my lips.

I've made a change in the people that I see, but at kind of at the heart of it, I'm doing the same thing. I'm showing someone how to do something and eventually do it without me.

How about this? It's still in the wrapper. That's why it's making that noise.

You realize that being able to communicate is this key essential part to your quality of life.

Yeah. You use it every single day. You know what it is. You're just having a hard time accessing that word.

And we don't give a second thought to the fact that I can go to a restaurant and order exactly what I want. You know, I can call up someone I love and tell them that I love them.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: You brush your teeth with...

STEPANSKY: You brush your teeth with a - you brush your teeth with a...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: ...A toothbrush.

STEPANSKY: ...A toothbrush.

When I see a patient who's had a stroke that's affected a language area, they're so much more appreciative because they know the difference.

You want to start with "Amazing Grace"? OK. (Singing) Amazing grace...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Singing) Amazing grace...

STEPANSKY: I think as I was teaching, I kind of was looking at my friends who had a established career and knew what they wanted to do, thinking, gosh, I wish that were true for me. And through all of this, I'm almost more thankful because I'm more grateful. I know what it is like to have a job that I hate every day. And so to be in a job where I love what I'm doing is kind of a gift, actually. And it makes going through this whole process and this whole transition more than worth it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Singing) But now...

STEPANSKY: (Singing) But now I see. Let me hear you say see.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: See.

STEPANSKY: Good.

MARTIN: Liz Stepansky is a former school teacher. She now works as a speech pathologist. And she spoke to us for our series Brave New Workers on people adapting to the changing economy.

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