“I was flying on C-130 military jets, conducting cargo airdrop missions and air-to-air refueling.” Brittany Ray, a teacher resident in the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency, describes what she calls a “windy path” to find her way to teaching. Brittany is studying to become a middle school social studies teacher in the Syracuse City School District.
Brittany always had a plan to attend college, but after graduating high school she felt the urge to do something different. “I joined the US Marine Corps,” she explains. “And I was supposed to be a reservist for two years. But once I got in, I stayed on active orders for [an additional] four years.”
In her role, the only way to move up the ranks was to train other marines on how to do her job. After showing promise and a diligent work ethic, Brittany was nominated to be an instructor and mentor. She coached and trained fellow service members, often times using this as an opportunity to improve systems and processes. “I liked this better than doing my actual job. I had a chance to fix things that didn’t work when I was learning.”
Shortly after leaving the Marine Corps, Brittany attended college to obtain her bachelor of arts in history. While reflecting on her military experience, a light bulb went off. “I loved teaching other marines, so why don’t I teach?” Rather than refocusing her bachelor’s on teacher education, she determined that getting her master’s degree would be a quicker way to the classroom. The wheels started to turn for Brittany.
After completing her undergraduate studies, she secured a job helping people with disabilities find employment. “I spent a lot of time online on different career sites and such, and I just stumbled across an ad for the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency.” The deadline was just one day later, but Brittany knew she had to go for it. “I don’t typically make quick decisions. I spend a lot of time thinking through scenarios, playing through the ‘what ifs’.” But this time it was different. Brittany knew she had to take the leap.
“It is certainly tough to change careers after you feel established. For example, I have a home and all of these adult expenses that can get in the way of a true calling.” Yet, as Brittany explains, those are just hurdles that make people think they can’t follow their dreams.
Brittany now appreciates how her life and job prior to teaching works to her advantage. She says that “there’s much to be gained from having a career — or multiple careers — before going into teaching.” For one, Brittany taps into her military experience for her leadership skills: “As the only female in my unit in the Marine Corps, I was always trying to find my place. It taught me to have a voice and be confident, which are really useful traits as a teacher. I am not afraid to speak up for my students.”
Brittany’s exposure to many different people and cultures while in the military also proves useful. “We have a lot of refugee children in Syracuse. I’ve been able to navigate those cultural differences and teach other students about acceptance and tolerance. Much of that is because of my past experience.”
She finds that her students love hearing about her work before teaching. “For the career changer, I can see how once you are in the classroom your past experiences are extremely valuable. Your kids want to hear about this. It’s a tool to build relationships with students. They become so much more engaged when you have a story — whether it’s about a success or a failure.”
When asked how the Teacher Residency prepares her for the shift to a new career, Brittany emphasizes the ability to learn on the job: “I didn’t realize initially how unique the residency experience would be. Instead of only a short time in the classroom, in this extended period of time, I’ve learned so much more; I’ve changed my opinions and become more flexible in my understanding of what students need. For example, my emergent bilinguals may require extra support. I feel that I have the tools and resources to figure that out.”
Brittany also notes how her immersive year in the classroom provides an opportunity to form deep relationships with colleagues. “I assumed that other teachers would be so preoccupied with their own work that they wouldn’t have time to support me. I’ve been blown away with how invested other teachers are in each other’s success. We all know how serious and important this work is.”
Learn more about how the Teacher Residency can launch your new career in teaching.