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Jamie Peters '96, MAT'08Jamie Peters '96, MAT'08

Jamie Peters (right), working with a studentJamie Peters (right), working with a student

Dan Dougherty MAT'08Dan Dougherty MAT'08

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Dan Dougherty graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, served in the Marines during the first Gulf War, and went on to run chemical plants that created plastics. Jamie Peters studied business at Willamette before moving to North Carolina and working in technology for Bank of America.

These two men have lived vastly different lives, but both recently found themselves in the same place: a Willamette classroom, studying to become teachers.

Dougherty MAT'08 and Peters '96, MAT'08 both initially gravitated toward jobs that would pay well so they could live comfortably -- an understandable goal. But they found themselves unhappy, wanting to spend more time with their families, and searching for a career that was more fulfilling. They enrolled last year in Willamette's master of arts in teaching (MAT) program, and this spring they tested their newfound skills by working as student teachers in Salem classrooms -- Peters at an elementary school and Dougherty at a high school.

"Maybe it sounds cliche but I think about Willamette's motto, Not unto ourselves alone are we born," Peters says. "I have a desire to find some way to give back to a community that's given so much to me. I enjoy the classroom setting. I have nothing but fond memories of my own time in school, and it's nice to get back into a classroom."

Older students with a wealth of life experience are more common in the MAT program than many might expect. Of the 117 students enrolled this past year, 36 were non-traditional. Many of these students tried a different career but decided teaching was their true calling, or they took time off to raise a family and wanted to get back into the working world.

Education is a good choice as they explore their future options. According to data from state employment security agencies, Oregon will average 1,176 K-12 teacher job openings annually until 2012. For Washington, that number is 2,677. Nationally, the U.S. Department of Labor says that job opportunities for teachers over the next decade are good, with many openings resulting from the need to replace the large number of teachers expected to retire.

But the positive job outlook isn't what brings many of these students to the classroom, although it does help. Their reasons are much more personal. Peters majored in business economics at Willamette because he thought, "If I have a major with the word 'business' in the title, I am guaranteed a job." And when he went to North Carolina after graduation, he was indeed guaranteed work in Bank of America's corporate office. Eventually he and his wife, Maija (Osterholme) Peters '98, MAT'99, had a son together and decided to move back to Oregon.

"I got into the corporate world looking for a living wage, but I just wasn't enjoying what I was doing," Peters says. "I wanted to do things that mattered to me, things that impacted the community."

His wife already was a teacher, and Peters' corporate job allowed him paid volunteer time, which he used to tutor students in a low-income school near his office. "They became my little buddies. Those two hours a week I spent volunteering became the hours that I looked forward to the most."

Going from banking to running an elementary school classroom was quite a change. Peters' former office didn't have any color on the walls; now he's building eye-catching bulletin boards for his students. "One of the things that really struck me about coming back from the corporate world was the overwhelming energy and enthusiasm from both my fellow students and the Willamette staff. You can't help but get excited. These people really care about kids."

Dougherty had similar revelations when he entered the MAT program. "I didn't know what to expect," he says. "I had been to a lot of academic institutions, and I've even taught at some military institutions. Willamette models very clearly what a teacher should be. They talk the talk and they walk the walk. The professors are passionate about producing effective teachers. They're teaching students to be good teachers because they want to make the schools better."

After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy, Dougherty was an officer in the Marines for six years before going back to college for a master's degree in engineering. Then he spent 12 years running chemical plants, a job that often kept him on the road and away from his wife and children.

"I originally went for the job that would pay me the most money," he says. "I found out money didn't make me happy. All the things I've done successfully in my life have involved teaching someone. I love seeing that light in someone's eyes when they do something they thought they couldn't do."

Peters and Dougherty both appreciate the way Willamette's program gives them so much hands-on time in the classroom. Students spend three weeks gaining practicum experience in a local classroom, followed by an entire semester as a student teacher.

"When you're actually in front of the kids, it's kind of a trial by fire," Peters says. "It's invaluable to go out there and actually try all the things we've been learning in the classroom."