When Catherine Dysinger reminisces about her former career, she speaks longingly of silence.
"As a chemist, I was used to a very quiet atmosphere where you just have the hum of a machine in the background," she said. "Now I'm in a place where I'm hit with 18 million questions at once and it is never quiet!"
The sans silence place she refers to is Coronado Middle School, 3401 E. Wilds Road, where Dysinger teaches seventh-grade science. Her collegue, Don Dickinson nodded appreciatively as she described life as a second-career middle school teacher. He misses the silence of his prior occupation, but even more so misses the freedom to come and go as he pleased.
"I basically ran my own life as a tennis professional," said Don Dickinson, 58. "And I was outside a lot. In school, you are essentially in a box with 30 to 40 kids. I went from a fairly unstructured environment to a totally structured one. I love it, but it is hard."
Dickinson, Dysinger, Ernie Lang and George Subiti are part of a growing number of people choosing to leave behind established, interesting and sometimes lucrative careers to teach in public schools.
According to the National Education Association, more than 75 percent of the traditional teaching pool have college education degrees, are white, female and expecting to teach close to their homes.
However, more and more older men and women who have had careers "on the outside" - as teachers refer to non-teaching jobs - are examining their lives at mid-mark and deciding education is exactly where they need to be.
"I absolutely love these kids," said Lang, 57, a seventh-grade math and science teacher. "This age group is in the awakening stages, especially where science is concerned. We have the chance to light that spark of interest and it is absolutely a great feeling. At the end of the day I'm exhausted from them, but I also think I've done something good for these kids' future."
Coronado Assistant Principal David Berry said second career teachers bring a degree of life experience to the classroom that greatly benefits students.
"And not only are these teachers as in touch with kids as our younger teachers are, but since many of them have already raised families, they bring first-hand knowledge about children to the classroom that is terrific for our students," he said.
Before Subiti, 52, was hired to teach science at Coronado, he spent 26 years as a computer engineer, as well as two years as the mayor of Lakeland Shores, Minn. He retired to Tucson at age 50 and "when I started wallpapering the garage, I realized maybe I needed to do something more productive with my time." Someone suggested Subiti try substitute teaching and after a few months of substituting, he realized he'd found his calling. He is teaching at Coronado this year under state emergency certification while he finishes his teaching credential classes at the University of Arizona. Like his colleagues, Subiti could be making more money - and having quieter days - doing consulting work in his prior field.
"I've been there and done that," Subiti explained. "I basically was at the top of the food chain in the professional world, but I love teaching. And another reason I felt drawn to this is that I wanted to combat the misconception that 'Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.' Obviously, second-career teachers have proven they can 'do' in their other careers and we still decided to teach because it is important."
Dickinson became an eighth-grade social studies and language arts teacher after spending 20 years as a tennis pro, the last 16 of which were at Sheraton El Conquistador Resort, 10000 N. Oracle Road.
Thirty years ago, Dickinson wanted to be a high school teacher and coach, but got waylaid when he accepted an assistant basketball coach position at Principia College in Illinois. During his six years at the job, he became interested in tennis.
"I played like a maniac, learned all I could about the game and set out to be a tennis pro," Dickinson said. "About four years ago, I started thinking I wanted to go back to my original plan to teach."
After taking some education leveling courses at Pima Community College, Dickinson got his state teaching certification through the University of Phoenix, student taught at Coronado and then received his master's degree in education from Northern Arizona University. He was hired at Coronado this fall and said "it is absolutely the right place for me."
Dysinger came through the UA's Teach for Tucson program, a fast-track education course leading to a master's in education degree and teacher certification in one calendar year.
"I'd worked as a chemist with the mining companies for 10 years, then stayed home to raise my family," she said. "As my kids grew up and all their friends were always over, I realized I really liked being around them. I started volunteering in classrooms and found I loved it - then decided to pursue Teach for Tucson.
"I love the variety of kids (at Coronado) and I especially like helping kids that are in troubled situations," Dysinger said. "I like getting them excited about science and providing, I hope, someplace they can be happy."
All four teachers said the public has misconceptions about teaching, the biggest one concerning hours involved.
"Everyone seems to think this is an easy job with few hours; they are always saying, 'You get out at 3 p.m. and you have summers off'," Dysinger said. "I can tell you that no matter how early I come in to school, there's a car out in that parking lot and no matter how late I stay, there is someone else (still in their classroom) working. I honestly believe some teachers sleep here!"
Dickinson said the public wrongly blames societal ills on teachers.
"Being from the outside coming in, I thought a lot of the same things (you hear in the press), that teacher's have an easy job, that they are lazy, that the kids in school are all basically out of control," he said. "Then I started doing this and I think it is absolutely comical that teachers get the abuse they do from the public. Teachers are singled out as the problem for (society's problems) and yet schools are literally the last depository of hope for many kids. I've never been around such hard working people and I think (the hours) were the biggest shock coming into this job."
Lang spent 30 years working in management for Sears before retiring a few years ago from his job as director of logistical operations for the company. He had degrees in history and political science and once thought about going into teaching before being pulled into the more lucrative field of management. As a seventh-grade math and science teacher, Lang, 57, is on emergency teacher certification while he completes his master's in education at the University of Phoenix. He said he works longer and harder at Coronado than he ever did in his prior career.
"When you work in the outside professional world you may have short projects that require long hours for a few months," he said. "But in education, long hours are every day. Every kid is important, every project critical. I spend more time prepping for my lessons - four or five hours a day - than I ever spent working on anything at Sears. There is a huge misconception on the part of the public - and I had it too - concerning the amount of work involved in teaching. There is simply way more work than what one would think.
"I can tell you, having been in middle and upper management of a major company, that most people in middle and upper management do not put in the time hour for hour as teachers do," Lang said. "They don't work on weekends every weekend, they don't work nights, they don't go to games to support kids who need someone there or to build up the community. I know, because I've been on the other side."
Lang also said schools have not done a good job of telling the public "what a good job they are doing."
"We let (a state or federal) rating label us when few people actually know the success we are having with the students," he said. "I see teachers all the time spending their free period getting special materials ready for students who are having trouble. Or they come in early to do tutoring or stay late. You've got kids in your class who understand the concept immediately and others who need much more help. As a teacher you are asked to reach both of those groups and to do that takes lots of extra effort and time.
"These teachers don't go bragging about what they are doing on their own time, how they are helping the kids keep up, but they do it because they truly don't want to leave any child behind, he said. "For me, teaching is a chance to give something back. I came from Germany as a child and didn't speak English. I had a first grade teacher who spent every lunch teaching me the alphabet. Now I have a chance to make a difference with kids in the same way."