Life before teaching

Teachers share stories of careers before becoming educators


Believe it or not, some teachers in the high school haven’t always been teachers.  They had different jobs/careers until a detour in the road changed their path. These teachers had very different lives before landing at Shaler Area High School.

Mr. Eric Schott, English and Journalism teacher, did not always have his heart set on teaching. His goal was to become a journalist. He attended Ohio University, one of the top schools for journalism in the country, and after graduation, he was hired to work for the North Hills News Record. While he wanted to write, he was originally hired to work the “desk” where he did layout and copy editing.

After several unsuccessful attempts to get try to get writing assignments or having his free-lance articles ignored, Mr. Schott quit his job.

“Part of it was not writing, but even if I got to do that I don’t know how long I would have kept doing it,” he said. “I was starting to realize it probably wasn’t what I wanted to do as a career.”

He had been a basketball coach since he was in high school and he thought that teaching might be a better fit for him. He went to Duquesne University and got his Masters degree in Secondary Education focused on English and Journalism. After completing his course work, he was hired at Northgate High School as a full-time substitute. The following year, he was hired at Shaler Area.

“I often get asked if I regret (getting out of journalism) and the answer is no,” Mr. Schott said. “I enjoy teaching more than I ever enjoyed working in journalism. Now with The Oracle and Journalism class I am still involved in that world too. It’s a cool combination of my old job and my current job.”

I enjoy teaching more than I ever enjoyed working in journalism. Now with The Oracle and Journalism class I am still involved in that world too. It’s a cool combination of my old job and my current job.

— Mr. Eric Schott

Mr. Schott isn’t the only Ohio University alumnus at Shaler Area. Mr. Jeff Ward, chemistry teacher, pursued chemical engineering before he became a teacher.

“I oversaw four areas within our chemical plant that worked on emulsions – the magic of getting oil and water to mix without separating.  My daily job was to make sure we had enough raw materials for the reactions to occur, order raw materials if we did not, and troubleshoot any problems the equipment or products had,” Ward said.

Once he got into the real world of chemical engineering, he realized it was going to be very different than sitting in the classroom.

“Being a chemical engineer was not what I had expected, based on what I learned in school. I thought I would be spending a good amount of time doing calculation after calculation on a daily basis…..since that was really what I did in my chemical engineering classes at Ohio University.  I spent little time doing calculations like I thought and more time learning the equipment, what areas typically would fail, and how to correct for those failures,” Ward said.

Mr. Ward worked at a chemical plant that operated 24/7, so he could get a call on  his pager or landline phone at any time because of a problem with the product or some type of equipment failure. He said that was a challenge, especially at 4 a.m., and was one of his dislikes about this job.

While working at the chemical plant, Mr. Ward picked up a side teaching job where he taught an “introduction to math” class at a local community college, mainly for adult learners. It did not take him long to realize he loved and had a passion for teaching. Mr. Ward admits to love teaching more than he did his chemical engineering job.

“I found that as the weeks went by, I enjoyed teaching the material to this group of people more than I liked going into my engineering job.  I wondered if I should really consider teaching. I applied to the University of Pittsburgh and was accepted – and ultimately went into their teaching program,” Ward explained.

I enjoyed teaching the material to this group of people more than I liked going into my engineering job.  I wondered if I should really consider teaching.

— Mr. Jeff Ward

Ward was also a little surprised because whenever he went to get his teaching degree he thought he would end up as a math teacher because of all the calculations behind engineering. But while attending Pitt he was told that he had more of a background in chemistry, so he went into the area of teaching chemistry instead. That is how he got where he is today, teaching chemistry to many students at Shaler Area.

Another Chemistry teacher at Shaler Area also had a career switch. Mrs. Rena Murphy was a circulating nurse in the operating room before coming to Shaler Area.

She attended the University of Pittsburgh and her undergraduate degree is a bachelor of science in nursing. Mrs. Murphy enjoyed the atmosphere of the hospital and the interactions with the patients; her only complaint was the early morning start time.

“Nursing is a really rewarding career and I enjoyed supporting my patients. Working as a nurse in the operating room was nonstop. The days went quickly, though, because you were always on the go and needed to be very organized and aware. Every day was a new adventure,” Mrs. Murphy said.

She realized her passion for teaching whenever she helped out in her son’s kindergarten class, so she went to earn her master’s degree in education.

“I think teaching is in my blood…both my parents were educators,” Mrs. Murphy said.

Mrs. Murphy is very happy with her decision to become a teacher. She loves the interactions with the students and getting to teach chemistry as it was her favorite subject throughout her own schooling.

Just like Mrs. Murphy, Mrs. Mary Beth Miller also graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s of science in nursing. Before being a counselor at Shaler Area High School, Mrs. Miller was a psychiatric nurse at Western Psychiatric Hospital in Oakland.

She enjoyed the challenges of this job, the work she was able to do, the people she worked with, and the different experiences she had. But it did not seem to click for her as being a school counselor does. She said she did not enjoy working on weekends because a lot of the clients were returning.

The returning clients were at a higher risk and lots of changes in the healthcare system were occurring while she was employed there. Mrs. Miller realized this job was not for her when she no longer enjoyed going to work, and she would receive calls at every hour of the day while in administration.

Interestingly enough, Mrs. Miller did not choose education right away whenever she stopped being a psychiatric nurse.

I knew I liked education because I  did some hospital wide-training and I worked with the student nurses…Finally a professor suggested I look into becoming a school counselor…and found that I loved it.

— Mrs. Mary Beth Miller

“I went back to school and tried a couple of different classes. I tried another nursing class to maybe become a nurse practitioner. I tried an economics class thinking maybe the business side of the hospital.  Then I tried a counseling class, thinking I might go into private practice. I knew I liked education because I  did some hospital wide-training and I worked with the student nurses, and I enjoyed that, but I couldn’t decide what to do next. Finally a professor suggested I look into becoming a school counselor. I was permitted to start my practicum early because of my background and found that I loved it,” Miller said.

Miller is very happy she made the switch. She said it can be challenging just like her nursing job was, but whenever she received this role it felt like all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place.

Another Pitt graduate among Shaler teachers is Mrs. Nikki Cleary. She graduated from University of Pittsburgh Johnstown with a degree in mathematics with a minor in computer science. She worked as a consultant at Deloitte Consulting in downtown Pittsburgh after college, and enjoyed this job because of all the travel benefits that came with it.

“Travel was a major perk and I was able to train and work in several cities around the US (Cincinnati, Houston, Flagstaff, and Orlando). I was even able to live in Sydney, Australia for about 4 months while working on a project,” Cleary said.

After about two years she wanted to settle down and be home more, instead of traveling all over the place all the time. Mrs. Clearly then took a position at Odyssey Software which was also located in Pittsburgh. She had the responsibilities such as being customer support if a program was not working properly, installation at new clients, writing customer reports, and training.

After working there for five years, she realized she enjoyed working with people and showing them how to use software for their business. Mrs. Cleary loved the feeling of teaching people who to do something and watch them be successful.

She is very happy with her switch to teaching because it allows her to combine skills from her old job and her love for math.

“Math was the subject I liked the most while I was in school and I hope that I can help my students enjoy it as well,” Mrs. Cleary said.

Mr. Tom Anke, an Economics teacher, was another teacher who had a journey before coming to Shaler Area. He was an executive recruiter or, as some may say, a headhunter for Fortune 500 companies in industries such as contraction, engineering, design, and architecture. His job was to find executive-level candidates for positions like director, vice president, CEO, CFO, and more. One of his favorite parts of this job were the five-figure bonus checks, but he did not love the 60-70 hour work weeks.

Unlike the other teachers, Mr. Anke’s original plan was to pursue teaching.

“I had always intended to be a teacher, but I got married while I was in college and had to skip going to graduate school so I could make money to pay the bills. I ended up getting sucked in by big paychecks and before I knew it, I was going down a path that I had never intended to be on,” Mr. Anke said.

Becoming a teacher is not for everyone, but it was the right decision for me and my family.

— Mr. Tom Anke

This was an unexpected path for Mr. Anke and he knew that it was not the job for him. His dreams of still being a teacher were still very much alive while being an executive recruiter. The only thing holding him back was trying to complete graduate school while working 60-70 hours a week.

Once he finally did complete graduate school and officially became a teacher, he was not surprised one bit when he realized he loved teaching. Mr. Anke knew where his passion lied and was very happy with changing his career.

“Becoming a teacher is not for everyone, but it was the right decision for me and my family,” Mr. Anke said.

The final teacher to share his story is Mr. Damian Landolina, a Special Education teacher. He was an electrician before pursuing education. He was not the type of electrician who worked in residential houses but rather in the industrial and commercial parts of the job.

“I worked in many of the big buildings in downtown Pittsburgh and also worked in new construction coming out of the ground. I pulled branch circuit wiring, feeder wire and data wire. I also had to design and bend conduit as a route for the wires to be pulled in. Some days I worked outside in the beautiful weather and sometimes I worked outside in the crappy weather. Some days I worked inside on carpeting and other times inside on gravel. It seems that each job is a little different from the other even though I often did the same type of work,” he said.

He loved the comradery of this job as it felt like a team, but he did not enjoy the lack of stability. He was not always able to work and was sometimes laid off due to the absence of jobs. Mr. Landolina said he thought this job was a good fit for him, but the instability of it worried him when he had a family to provide for.

Mr. Landolina chose teaching because in some jobs during his electrician career he was a foreman, and he was good at directing without coming off as being bossy. He also has always had a love for science which he agreed to share with the world.

“I found out I was good at telling people what to do without them thinking I just told them what to do. Teaching is very similar. If students buy in to what you do, then they will normally follow your lead. I have always been a science nerd and wanted to spread my science nerdiness around,” Mr. Landolina said.

All of these teachers came from many different paths, but they all share the same passion in wanting to educate young minds. Shaler Area is lucky to have these wonderful teachers. As the saying goes, all roads lead to Shaler. Or is it Rome?