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

Dennis Bruno grew up in Santa Rosa, went to Santa Rosa High School,  Santa Rosa Junior College and, on a football scholarship, the University of the Pacific. He obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from UOP. He returned to Santa Rosa to take over the family retail meat business in 1975, and was married in 1977. In 1983 he began teaching chemistry and coaching football at Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa — two roles he still performs today. He played rugby with the Santa Rosa Rugby Club, and now coaches the Rosa Rugby high school team.

This interview first ran on Oct. 12, 2010.

What was the best part of working in your family’s business?
I can’t really think of anything I liked about being in business for (my)self.

Why did you want to make the switch to teaching?
I liked my educational background. I had fun in school. I’ve always been competitive, and that was true in the classroom also. I found working hard, physically and mentally, to be fun. Also, I’ve been around some great teachers and coaches. Seeing the growth of students was exhilarating. After college I kept in contact with my master’s professor. Through discussions with her and the people at CN (Cardinal Newman) I thought I could be a fit for the school.

What was the hardest part about changing careers?
Taking a 55% cut in pay from being the owner of a business to being a first-year teacher.

Did you ever wonder if you had made the right decision? If so, tell us about it and what enabled you to persevere?
I have a blast doing what I do. Other than the first couple of weeks of school, I look forward to going to class. Working with teens makes you keep sharp. If not, they’ll work you to death. My wife has been very supportive through the lean years. She doesn’t see me much for the first four months of the year with teaching and FB (football). It doesn’t get much better in the spring coaching rugby after school; I get two afternoons a week off.

What skills or lessons did you bring from your previous career to help you as a teacher?
Interpersonal relations. I learned I was NOT good at relating with the general public. It became something I’ve worked to improve. Dealing with administrators, teachers, parents, and students is a juggling act that requires great communication skills and social tact.

What was the biggest surprise once you started teaching?
How much time and effort is required to do the job well. I frequently hear, mostly from my friends, how easy my job is. What went on in the classroom 10 years ago is totally different that what’s happening today. Changes in technology have completely changed how I teach, evaluate, and prepare for class. I’ve spent years learning how to best integrate computers and other technology into my curriculum. The process is ever changing and requires a lot more long term preparation. When coaching, I’m frequently at the computer at home working until 10 o’clock 3 or 4 nights a week.

What lessons did you learn from making the switch in careers?
You won’t do something well if you don’t enjoy it.