This month Chris Buechner began his student teaching assignment. After he graduates with a master’s degree in teaching from Mercer University in May he’ll be looking for his first full-time job as an English teacher at a middle or high school. His dream career has been a long time in the making.
“Starting in seventh grade I had really interesting English teachers and I always thought teaching would be a great thing to do, but it took a while to get there,” said Buechner, 44.
When he was in high school Buechner began working part time at an older brother’s furniture store, the Home Store Futon Gallery in Little Five Points. After he graduated from St. Pius X High School Buechner attended the University of Georgia but admits that he wasn’t ready for college.
“The business took off, so I abandoned school and became the store manager. I learned a lot and really enjoyed the social aspect of running a business,” he said.
When his family closed the store in 2005, Buechner became a stay-at-home father to his two sons and decided to finish his undergraduate degree. He graduated from Georgia State University in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in English and a creative writing concentration.
“I had such a different mindset going back to school as an adult. Except in math class, I wouldn’t accept anything less than an A,” he said.
Buechner put out some feelers for teaching jobs but soon realized he wasn’t qualified.
“It would have been a struggle not knowing how to run a classroom. I had a degree, but I didn’t have the credentials. I didn’t know anything, really, about education,” he said.
Buechner did some research and discovered that job applicants who have master’s degrees are preferred. He found the program that he needed close to home at Mercer University. Since he already had a baccalaureate degree, he could complete a Master of Arts in teaching, secondary English, in two years if he took two or three classes per semester.
That’s when the juggling routine began. Buechner went from being the house and child manager to a full-time student.
“If I wasn’t studying, I knew I needed to be,” he said. “Fortunately, I had a very supportive wife and kids. I was lucky that everyone was on the same page, because once I made the decision, I wanted to do well. I wasn’t going to accept anything but my best effort.”
His Introduction to Teaching class was a roller coaster ride.
“We had this great professor, Dr. Bush, who introduced us to the complexities of the profession,” Buechner said. “She would discuss all the great things about teaching — the kids, the creativity and the rewards of sharing what you love. Then she’d talk about the negatives, like the bureaucracy, paperwork and bad principals. My feelings would fluctuate from 'I can’t wait,’ to 'Oh my, what am I doing?’ She helped back me off the ledge a couple of times.”
As he got deeper into the program he discovered that teaching was and wasn’t what he had envisioned.
“I can still say that. Every day is a new adventure, but I feel like it’s a good career choice for me,” Buechner said.
Many of his fellow students at Mercer are also older career-changers. They call themselves “the band of teachers.” Buechner advises people who are thinking about returning to school to make friends with their classmates.
“We do things together and support each other. It’s good to have a group of like-minded individuals who can commiserate and celebrate with you,” he said.
Buechner believes that being older and having had more life experiences will make him a better teacher.
“I think people who decide to teach later (in life) will realize that they have a lot to offer students,” he said. “They can be a benefit to the education system and to themselves.
“I know it’s what I want to do, and I’m just starting to see the impact I can have. I’m excited by the people I’ve met who are going into the teaching profession; I believe they will strengthen it.”
Ideally, Buechner would like to teach high school juniors or seniors.
“I enjoy that age. Those kids have developed their own opinions and know the basics of grammar,” he said.
He will be certified to teach grades 6-12 and will go where he finds a teaching position. Whatever the grade, Buechner plans to begin each class by reading a poem.
“Most students are scared of poetry and think it’s some other realm. I want to make it a part of their everyday lives,” he said.
Buechner is glad that he thought it through and talked it over with his family before jumping into graduate school.
“Becoming a teacher has been a big investment in time and money, but it’s also fulfilling,” he said.