We hired a new business and technology teacher this summer to replace a retiring veteran. I've been working with her as she prepares to take over my web design and general computing courses (I'm all math and physics this year!). While she is remarkably enthusiastic, she is a bit nervous. Like me, she left private industry to teach, not because of the old adage ("thems that can, do; thems that can't, teach"), but because she really wanted to.
Her background is business and her direct experience with computer technology is as an end user, albeit a power user in the banking industry. So what can she bring to a web design class or a general computing class? An awful lot, as it turns out. Sure, she needs to be able to communicate technology fundamentals, but what our students really want to know is how these fundamentals get used in the real world.
Web 2.0 is a great thing to talk about, but how much more interesting is it to demonstrate the latest web-based applications used in banking? We can teach Word, Excel, and Access all we want, but it's far more useful for students to understand how they actually get used in a business setting.
While state departments of education tend to penalize folks like us without traditional educational backgrounds in subjects like "pedagogy," and require expensive additional coursework and licensure, career switchers can bring a great deal of real world experience and relevant background to the classroom. Bill Gates, in his work to improve the competitiveness of US schools, stresses the importance of relevance; is a book-based exercise in writing HTML code really relevant or is a mock business (with a website, bookkeeping in Excel, collaboration via email, and documentation in Word) relevant to students' future success? Better yet, shouldn't the mock business be supervised by someone who has actually run a business, helped fund a startup, or actually handled financial transactions for small businesses?
Particularly in the fields of business and technology, people from the world outside of education have a lot of value to students and their schools. If we teach what we know, our students will benefit when they head for that same outside world.