Archive for Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Two professionals teaching in schools

September 15, 2004

Russell Shields and Michael Bush have never met.

But the two new teachers in the Tonganoxie school district have much in common.

Shields teaches business and computer classes at Tonganoxie High School. Bush is a sixth-grade teacher at Tonganoxie Elementary School.

Both Shields, who is 48, and Bush, who is 53, are new to the classroom. For both men, teaching is a second career.

Shields is an attorney who worked in the banking industry for more than 20 years. Bush is a former military man who in 1998 retired from a career in the U.S. Army.

Though both men are equally new to their classrooms, they already seem like pros.

On Monday morning, Shields talked to his high school Web journalism students casually and yet informatively.

And Bush led his students through a lively discussion about the comparative strengths of men and women.

When talking to Shields and Bush, it quickly becomes apparent that to them, teaching is more than a vocation -- it's an avocation.

"I've had so much fun already that I just know this is the right thing for me to do at this time in my life," Shields said. "I feel very strongly about values in education. And part of the reason I feel like this is it's what I'm meant to do. I feel like I have something positive to help young kids form good values as part of their educational process."

And Bush was equally enthusiastic.

"I love it, I absolutely love it," Bush said. "A sixth grade class is why I retired from the Army. ... I think, at the sixth grade level, this is where you can really make a difference in children's lives -- before they go to the middle school. ... I want them to go there and know what they're getting in to. It's hard work, it's self-management, it's self-discipline that I'm trying to instill."

Growing trend

Kathy Toelkes, director of communications for the Kansas Department of Education, said an increased number of people are entering the teaching profession later in life.

"This is becoming a trend in our state for mid-career or second-career folks to pursue teaching," Toelkes said.

To help relieve the state's reported teacher shortage, as well as to make it easier for teachers to enter the field, the state last year adopted the Transition to Teaching program.

This program offers restricted certification to teachers who do not yet have teaching certificates. The teachers enrolled in the program have three years to complete required courses.

Currently, there are 24 teachers participating in the Transition to Teaching program.

"Our numbers are up from the previous years in terms of those with restricted certification or who are going through the Transition to Teaching program," Toelkes said.

She said last year -- the first year of the Transition to Teaching program in Kansas -- 12 teachers participated.

"We only had one that didn't stay in it, so really their attrition rate is very small, and they're seeing the number of teachers growing," Toelkes said.

Small town start

One teacher participating in the Transition to Teaching program is Russell Shields.

Shields, who grew up in St. John, graduated from high school in 1974, and went on to play basketball at Emporia State University.

After graduating from ESU, Shields, whose father is an attorney in St. John, earned a law degree, and a master's in business administration, at Kansas University.

"But I never practiced law," Shields said. "I went straight into banking."

He ran a small trust department at a bank in Hiawatha for eight years, then was head of a trust department at a Ponca City, Okla., bank for nine years.

"Then I took about two years off to become an investment manager," Shields said. "I was going to hang out my own shingle. But I happened to hit the market in 1999, right before the big crash."

So after that, he took a job with United Missouri Bank.

"But I just felt like I really wanted to do something different," Shields said.

He said he's always enjoyed working with young people, especially teenagers. He's always been interested in journalism, as well as computers and business. And his wife, Nancy, teaches at Monticello Trails Middle School in Shawnee, where their 13-year-old son, Patrick, attends school.

And, said Shields, who lives in western Shawnee, he immediately liked the Tonganoxie school.

"At Tonganoxie, it feels like a small town school, and yet it's very close to the Kansas City area," Shields said, noting THS is a 4A school. "It's big enough that you can have all the activities and yet it's small enough that you can get to know the students and their parents, too."

Teaching bound

Michael Bush was raised in Belleville, Ill., a large town (population 45,000) compared to Tonganoxie.

In July 1974 his father-in-law talked him into joining the U.S. Army.

Bush's job skill was listed as an engineer.

"Not the type that builds highways," he said. "I was a combat engineer. They build bridges, roadways and airfields and things like that -- military type construction."

In his later years, Bush was promoted to administrative positions.

While in the Army, he was stationed on forts in Texas, Missouri and at Fort Riley in Kansas. During this time, he and his family also lived in Germany for a total of eight years when Bush was stationed at Karisruhe.

While in the service, he began taking college courses. By the time he retired from the Army, Bush had already earned an associate's degree.

"No sooner than I retired, in July 1998, I was already taking courses on campus at K-State," Bush said.

He graduated from K-State in December 2000.

That spring he worked as a substitute teacher in Wamego and Manhattan. And the following summer he began working with Kansas Starbase, an organization that provides math, science and technology enrichment for elementary school children.

And finally, this year, he applied for a full-time teaching position in Tonganoxie.

"Which is really kind of where I wanted to be all along," Bush said.

He praised the Tonganoxie school district for how the hiring took place. Immediately after the meeting in which school board members approved his hiring, TES principal Jerry Daskoski called to let him know.

Bush had also interviewed for a similar job in a school district near Topeka, and that school board voted to approve his hiring on that same Monday night.

It took the principal of that district five days to call him and officially offer the job.

"I think that says a lot for this district," Bush said. "When they see an educator that they want or if they want to get something done they go after it. Jerry Daskoski was courteous enough to call me Monday night. It was a no-brainer. And this was my first choice. I'm glad it worked out."

Bush lives in Lawrence with his wife, Linda, who is a food service worker at West Junior High. They have two children, Joseph, 17, a senior at Lawrence High School, and Erinn, 27, who also lives and works in Lawrence.

Bush stressed that he wants to teach and doesn't plan to step into administrative work.

"I'm doing exactly what I'm going to do and I'm happy," Bush said. "I love this district. I think there's a lot of terrific things going on there, the future is nothing but bright. The population of the community is growing by leaps and bounds, the district is going to grow and I'd like to be just a part of that."

Well worth it

Both Bush and Shields realize they could be making more money in other professions for which they are equally qualified.

TES principal Jerry Daskoski said the starting salary for a teacher with no experience and a bachelor's degree is $27,850.

But Bush said his salary was not a hindrance to teaching. Shields agreed.

"My view is salary is not the critical issue," Shields said. "Doing what you enjoy and are passionate about is the critical issue. I'm just extremely excited about the actual process of teaching. ... My view has always been if you are doing what you are enjoying and when you are passionate about it the money will be taken care of. Life is too short to not do what you were meant to do."

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