An Accountant Makes the Change to an Educator's Path

Jocelyn Smith is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at Louise A. Spencer Middle School in Newark, NJ

The dreaded question we ask candidates in interviews “Why Citizen Schools?”.  Well I am going to get to that question soon.  Let’s first talk about the long journey that brought me here.  My mother was a teacher . . . yeah go figure.  She was great at what she did; I remember being in the grocery store and a student that she had in middle school ran after her just to say a simple hello and thank her for being strict with him when he needed it the most.  It is funny but I can actually name all of the schools where my mother has worked in her career as an educator.  But in my opinion the most significant were Patterson Cooperative, the largest high school in Dayton, Ohio and The Dayton Academy which she founded and built from the ground up.  But with all this success my mother achieved and all of the lives that she touched, I was determined not to be my mother.

I worked many years as an accountant. I have worked with Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, and charter schools. When I think back on my experience, I remember sitting in the office as the teachers would walk by with their classes and I would feel envious.  Mostly because they had the chance to be with the kids all day, inspiring minds to think, finding ways to get the kids excited about things like PEMDAS, and I had to sit in meetings all day with adults talking about boring things such as budget.  While working for a nonprofit in Chinatown that did afterschool programming when we spoke about grants and other accounting issues I was efficient, but I no longer was excited about the work. But when we talked about program, it made me happy; I was inspired and had a lot of great ideas.  I knew then that I needed to change what I was doing for a living.

Since working for Citizen Schools, as a Teaching Fellow, I can honestly say that I am happy to be working in a place where everyone is interested in the betterment of kids.  Everyone is interested in making some kind of change in education and you do not have to debate on the reasons why a person should support education because we all know why we are here and signed up for the work.  Although the hours that I work have increased dramatically, I do not dread getting out of bed in the morning to go to work as I did in the past.  My days are filled with the unknown, like which one of my students will surprise me today by saying something kind or solving a really difficult math problem that I thought would give them problems. I live for these days of the unknown versus the days of budgets, bank reconciliations, and month end close.

Although in the beginning I was trying very hard not to be my mother, it is funny how your destiny always finds you. I can honestly say with pride that I am happy to be following in mothers’ footsteps and hope that someday I will have the enjoyment of walking in a grocery store with my kids and one of my former students will run me down just to say hello.

Have you ever made a career change? What prompted you?