Career Swap: Kylene Discovers Her Life’s Work in the Classroom

Kylene Young swore she would never become a teacher. 

Her mother was a sixth-grade music teacher, whose class she’d had to take as a schoolgirl in Pennsylvania. “I was so mortified at having my mom as a teacher,” Young says. “She was doing what a teacher was supposed to do, but I was mortified.”

Instead of following in her mother’s footsteps, Young left Pennsylvania and headed south to Columbia International University in South Carolina. She chose youth studies as her major, a program that combines youth psychology with religious studies to prepare adults to work with youth through church ministry or other nonprofit organizations. For her career she picked social work.

“I never wanted to follow the path of my family,” she says. “I always had this inward desire to be different.”

After college, Young worked for the South Carolina Department of Disability and Special Needs as a service coordinator, and she liked it. Initially her clients were developmentally and cognitively impaired adults. Soon, she was helping disabled high school students in their late teens and younger students, which brought her into classrooms.

She found herself enjoying the classroom even more than her office. “Social work was too paperwork heavy,” Young says. “The paperwork felt redundant and meaningless to me, and I spent way too much time behind a desk. I love the physical aspect of teaching, being up and moving, and interacting with people all day long.”

Working at a school not only appealed to Young, but she saw the need for educators who cared, who were prepared to work with students who have disabilities. She saw teachers who were apathetic and possessed a laissez-faire attitude about their jobs. She even witnessed teachers being abusive toward disabled students, to the point that the police had to be called to the school.

Plans were already in the works for Young and her husband to move to Chicago so that he could attend graduate school. Knowing that the couple couldn’t afford two graduate degrees at the same time, Young sought other avenues to complete her teacher certification. For nine months, she worked as a nanny before hearing about the Chicago Teaching Fellows Program.

“What drew me to the program was that they were looking for career-changers and people who wanted to be teachers for the rest of their careers,” she says. Young applied and was accepted to the program for special education.

That was four years ago. Today she is 29 and a special education teacher in Chicago who co-teaches grades six through eight with general education teachers. She can’t imagine wanting another career.

“Something that I love about teaching is the connections that are made with human beings,” Young says. “It is exciting when a student comes to you with a personal problem because they say that ‘You are the only one who I trust,’ or when you break through with a difficult student. Last year I worked with a student who gave me a very hard time, and was difficult for me to love. This year I went in with the attitude that I was going to give her a clean slate, and it has been amazing to see the change in her. Watching kids mature and grow is the best part of teaching for me.”

But switching careers came with a learning curve.

As a social worker, she worked most days independently. Now, she is never alone. Every decision she makes affects other professionals and students in her school. “If I had made poor choices [as a social worker], no one else in my office had anything with it,” she says. “Now, I’m in a group situation and it was something to get used to. But you can learn from other people.”

Young has some words of advice for anyone pondering the shift to teaching. While the Chicago Teaching Fellows Program jump-started her teaching career, she doesn’t think alternative certification is the best way in.

“There was this lack of preparation, and I just wasn’t ready,” she said. “I just had six weeks of training before entering the classroom. I think of how horrifying it must have been for my students that first year. It is more beneficial to your students to have more training.”

Young is currently earning her master’s degree in education at National Louis University, because she wants to give her students the best learning experience possible and she sees herself as a lifelong teacher.

“I can’t really explain what makes me know that I will be doing this forever,” Young says. “I just feel very satisfied with my job and feel lucky that I can tell myself multiple times a day how much I love what I do.”

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Original article from TakePart