THEN I BECAME A TEACHER: Changing Careers, Figuring Out Life

This interview first ran Sept. 28, 2010

Michal Buchmann spent 15 years as a carpenter, cabinetmaker and contractor before going back to school. I have watched him on a job site and can attest that he is one hard worker and a skilled craftsman. In his younger days, I also enjoyed watching him do crazy science experiments involving flame and a can filled with natural gas. (Don’t try that at home!) Michal graduated from Sonoma State’s teaching program and started teaching in 1995. For the last 7 years he has been a chemistry/science teacher at Casa Grande High School in Petaluma, CA.


What did you like best about the construction business?

I have always liked to build things, and being outdoors creating things with your own hands is the best part of construction.  The business part: money, contracts, building department, usually felt like a chore.

Why did you want to make the switch to teaching?

Changing careers for me was caused by a series of unrelated situations. After working construction for a number of years, I found myself between carpentry jobs. We had a new baby in the house. My wife’s business was earning enough money to support us. And I was interested in continuing my education. I’ve always like to learn new things, and I’ve been interested in nature all my life. My wife Susie’s aunt and uncle were teachers. Being around them and listening to them is what first got me interested in teaching.

What was the hardest part about changing careers?

Going back to school and studying and taking tests was really difficult.  I have always been a good reader and interested in new ideas and challenges, but English 1A and writing an expository essay on Milan Kundera’s book “Laughable Loves” was really rough.

Did you ever wonder if you had made the right decision? If so, tell us about it and what enabled you to persevere?

I had just been laid off, “we no longer need your services” pinked slipped, from my third high school and felt that I should have stayed a contractor. All this time and energy and I am unemployed.  I couldn’t find a teaching job, so I built a small house on my property as a rental and worked construction for a friend of mine for the remainder of the year.  The next school year, I applied for another teaching job at Calistoga High and was hired.  I was really excited – new students, new staff and new challenges.

What skills or lessons did you bring from building to help you as a teacher?

I am a science teacher, so my first few years of teaching I would incorporate my building skills — use of a block and tackle, building measurements, power tools — into my classroom.   Also as a builder and teacher, you need to be self sufficient, creative and work long hours.

What was the biggest surprise for you once you started teaching?

There are so many surprises, the diversity of student abilities and interests, the funny things students would do and say to not do their homework, the total dedications of teachers and administrators, the massive difference in maturity of a freshman to the same graduating senior.  I recently read a book by Rafe Esquith,  a sixth grade teacher in the Los Angeles school district. It’s called “There Are No Shortcuts.” Read this short book and be inspired to become a teacher in the classroom or among your peers.

What lessons did you learn from making the switch in careers?

Life is short, and to make it worth living, challenge yourself with new things, and feel the joy of helping others.