“Career-changer” leaves corporate for classroom

With a B.A. in English literature from Elmira College and some time travelling after graduation behind him, Christian Austin was ready for his first job. He set out on an insurance career path. Then, feeling that there was something else in store for him, and remembering how he had enjoyed being a writing tutor while in college, he decided to “leave insurance and go back to school.” To be a teacher.

“I told Dad I was going back to school as a gift for Father’s Day,” Austin said. His Dad was thrilled. “Dad wanted me to go back to school because he wanted me to live in New England for awhile. He went to Williams College,” explained Austin whose parents, now both retired, live in Canandaigua, New York.But there was more to his parents’ pleasure in his decision to switch careers than geography. Austin’s Dad had been a school principal; his Mom, a remedial math teacher. To “go into education was a natural,” Austin said. Even more applauded by his parents was Austin’s decision to enter the Bridges to the Future Secondary Teacher Education pathway to licensure at the College of Education. They knew the pathway well. Austin’s brother, Tim, who currently teaches 3rd grade at Deerfield Elementary School in South Deerfield, Mass., is a Bridges to the Future graduate.

“They were big proponents of me being in Bridges because of Tim’s experience with it,” said Austin. “They knew how he values the experience and the degree he got here.”

Bridges to the Future, a one-year pathway leading to a Master’s degree and licensure, includes working as a micro-teacher or student teacher while taking graduate classes. That made sense to Austin. “I chose Bridges because having had no immersion in educational courses, I wanted a program that put me in the classroom as much as possible,” he said.

Austin’s classroom experience takes place at Mohawk Trail Regional High School in Shelburne, Mass. “I’ve taken over a 10th grade English class. I’ve taught a unit of ‘Death of a Salesman.’ It’s one of my favorites. I’ve read it 5 or 6 times. I wanted to get right in there and ‘Death of Salesman’ was logical and a fun place to start because I have a lot to say about it,” he said. He has also been observing a 9th grade class.

Austin says he is “enjoying” the Bridges challenge. “I watched my mentor teacher for seven weeks. So the day I took over a whole class I wasn’t nervous and the kids didn’t even notice.” Yet, he describes being a high school teacher as “a courageous move. There’s never the same challenge twice in a classroom.”

“I can see how it can get easier as you teach longer. It hasn’t for me yet, but I’ve been told that it will!” he laughed. “I also see how rewarding it is. Some kids come in with little or no value for the education they’re being given. I’ve been subbing for a senior class, I see the difference. I see how their attitudes have changed. They understand the value of the education they’re being given. That’s got to be because for four years they’ve had good experiences with good teachers.”