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

Tina Anima grew up in Vallejo, California, graduated from UCLA and spent more than five years working as an education reporter at The Press Democrat. She was known for being friendly and sensitive. Even so, she was determined enough to dig out the story about principals gathering privately to write a joint letter of concern about their superintendent. She also was tough enough to meet one on one with an upset principal and refuse to tell him her source for a story on the large number of failing grades that had been handed out to his school’s students.

Tina left the newspaper in 1996, moved to Seattle, got her teaching degree at the University of Washington, and found out what it was like to be in education rather than to write about it. For the last 10 years, she has been a Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at McClure Middle School, preparing students who advance to high schools throughout the Seattle Public Schools district.

This interview first appeared Nov. 9, 2010.

THE INTERVIEW

What was the best part about being a newspaper reporter?

I love to learn new things, so the best part was having a new experience/learning something new every single day. Journalism opened the doors for me to do things I don’t think I would have otherwise experienced. Chasing butterflies with a group of 50-something enthusiasts in Yosemite, interviewing horror film director Wes Craven…you get the idea. I also liked the thrill of being on deadline, the quirky reporters I worked with, and the fact that I actually got paid to do something else I love…write!

You left newspapers before the industry went through the painful upheaval of the last decade. Did you have some premonition it was time to get out (and why didn’t you tell me)?

I had no premonitions about the state of the newspaper industry! A part of me always knew I would become a teacher. I just had to take a little side trip in journalism before I found the path to teaching.

Why did you want to make the switch to teaching?

When I was covering K-12 education in Sonoma County, the times I was the happiest and most fulfilled were when I was in the classroom with teachers and students, seeing firsthand the power of education. I would come back to the office inspired and excited about what I’d seen, and I finally decided I wanted to do more than stand in the background with my notebook and pen. I wanted to be a part of the action. I wanted to teach.

What was the hardest part about changing careers?

The hardest part was that interim year-and-a-half when I was going to graduate school to obtain my teaching certificate and master’s degree. I’d gone from the heady feeling of being financially independent right out of college (journalism was my first career) to suddenly feeling like I was right back where I started in terms of having no income again. I tried at first to work while I was going to grad school, but figured out pretty quickly that I couldn’t put my all into student-teaching and still hold down a job.

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

As a journalist, I often wondered if I made the right career choice. Whenever I would get that feeling of angst after having to challenge a source on a difficult breaking news story, I would often go home and feel like I was doing something that wasn’t in my nature. Those were the days that didn’t feel right to me.

Teaching is an entirely different story. Yes, I’m working the hardest I have ever worked in my life, and there are days when even after 10 years, I still cry over some of my students’ lives, but I know this is the right path for me.

I was happy as a journalist, and I’m glad to have explored that career, but I feel so blessed to have found teaching. It’s important for me to feel like I’m spending my time giving back, and teaching is my way of doing that. I tell my students to nurture their gifts and that I can’t wait to see how they share those gifts with the world. My gift is teaching. My spirit is rich as a teacher, and I feel like this is what I’m meant to do with my life.

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

On the interpersonal level, the listening skills I honed as a reporter help me a lot with my students. By the end of the school year, we have become a family, and I feel like I truly know them. On an academic level, the writing and editing skills I gained help me every day. My passion for writing spreads to my students, and I often draw on the writing skills I learned at the Press Democrat…writing tightly, providing context, sprinkling in specific details, etc.

What was the biggest surprise once you started teaching?

Yikes, the biggest surprise? Not having the freedom to take a quick break when I need one. As a journalist, I could grab a cup of tea, walk around the office or around the block, or eat lunch pretty much when I got hungry.

No such thing as a teacher. From 8-2:30, I am surrounded by at least 30 young adults who rely on me. Lunch is usually 15 minutes by the time I finish talking with a student or helping another one. And I’m surrounded by the buzz and excitement of middle school, so it caught my husband by surprise when I eschewed invitations to loud restaurants when I first started teaching.

But the biggest shocker of all is that I willingly wake up at 5:45 a.m. every day, and I am NOT a morning person.

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

I learned to stay true to what feels right for me. Keeping this clear focus helped me make the switch.