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College of Education

Following your heart: Clark moves from corporate job to classroom

Jenny Clark had a good job at an Upstate company, but after more than 20 years, she decided to follow her heart and pursue her dream of teaching. She discovered that the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree offered by the Anderson University College of Education opened doors for her to be a classroom teacher.

How did you discover AU?

I was employed full time at an Upstate business during COVID. One day, I had an epiphany, which of course was God sent. I thought, “This is not what I want to do with my life. I don’t want to sit in this office, answering these phones and doing monotonous work.  I want more meaningful work.” Granted, since it was during COVID and everything was upside down, my duties had changed significantly and business had stopped for most companies; however, I had been unhappy in my profession for a while. 

I did a good bit of praying and God prompted me to pursue teaching, which was actually what I had set out to do when I graduated from high school over 20 years ago. When you’re young, things change abruptly and one major looks promising one semester then you consider something else the next. After a year and a half, I ended up dropping out of school and then 20 years later went back and finished my bachelor’s degree. 

In 2019, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree and just a short year later I was already wanting more out of life. I was 42 when I walked into my first AU class and I recall thinking, “I’m the oldest person here,” yet I never felt out of my element because the program I was entering tailored to adults, and even titled the Adult Studies Program.  

Since business was very slow, I went online and did a bit of searching after I discovered that it was indeed teaching that I needed to get back into. I asked many colleges, “What degree can I do while I’m working full time? I’m an adult and I have adult bills.” I checked into (another university) that didn’t offer any course I could get attend after 5 p.m. Online was not an option, because you eventually have to be in a classroom doing student teaching. Somehow, I came upon the University Center at Greenville. I talked to someone and they referred me to Deanna Burns. After discussing my situation with her, she said, “Oh, then you’re perfect for the MAT program.” I’m like “What’s that?” After that initial conversation, everything just fell into place. 

Since entering the program, are there things that affirmed you had made the right choice?

Absolutely. Every step of the way. 

I’m a very studious person. Obviously, to be going into teaching I think you have to have a certain zeal for learning. Every step of the way, a new professor came along who reiterated that I was made for teaching. When you’re older like me and you’re starting something new, you have a lot of self-doubt. I had so many great professors who were holding my hand every step of the way and breathing life into my dream of teaching by saying things like, “This is what God chose for you to do,” and “You are rocking it.” 

The support factor was huge. The timing of the courses with the eight-week program was ideal because it enables you to cover more courses in less time. Yes, it’s intense; yes, it’s rigorous, but that’s what you’re going to be doing when you become a teacher anyway. God prepares you for that, but I will say it wouldn’t have been nearly that laborious had I not been working full time as well. 

Tell me about your practicum experience.

The first semester I only had to get 25 hours in the classroom. I gave my work a year’s notice to prepare them for me either needing time off or the necessity to resign. During this time, I had a lot of worries. I was worried my work would say, “You can’t do both,” and I would be stuck jobless while trying to complete my degree, but I said, “At this point it’s all in your hands, God, somehow we’ll get through this.” 

My work was willing to work with me as long as I would start training people to be my replacement. They gave me time off in the day to cover the hours needed for practicum. I was placed in a school that was only 15 minutes from my work, so I was able to use my lunch hour to run over and do my 25 hours through the whole semester. Then, when it came to the 40 hours, they kept on granting it. We all knew when I was going to have to do my student the 65 days that it would mean the end of my tenure there, but they were happy to support me through it all. In fact, I even worked with them part-time through last fall and over this summer. I could not ask for a more supportive company!

Tell me about your work prior to teaching.

The company I worked for does water filtration across the Upstate. I started out as a receptionist, was promoted to sales administrator, then Industrial Sales Assistant, and finally Office Manager. We built water treatment systems by working with construction companies to help engineer a custom system to meet that customer’s needs, then building and installing it. We worked closely with the State Department to provide water filtration across the world at the United States Embassy. It is hard to believe a company such as this exists in the Upstate, but they do. The work they do provides access to clean water in all areas of the globe, from small countries of Africa to a home in the Upstate with old pipes and brown water. 

The company is about 20 minutes from my home. We were located fairly close to I-85 so they would let me leave about 15 minutes early so I could beat the crowd to get on I-85 and get to the University Center of Greenville for my classes. This was yet another God sent intervention that kept falling in my lap. 

Was there anything in particular tugging you in the direction of education? 

There was a particularly grueling week of training I was doing and I realized I was truly unhappy, which is not in my character at all. I was overwhelmed at work, I was not feeling like I was going anywhere. Yes, I had made several moves, but to be office manager, that was it for me there. There was no other position for me to go into—I knew that. As I was training, it was like God was saying, “You need to do what you set out to do.” Basically, He set me on this path over 20 years ago and He knew what He was doing then, even if I doubted it.  

I don’t have any children, so it may seem kind of odd to choose this profession. Even my friends are like, “What are you going to do in a classroom with 20 kids? You’ve never babysat before.”

I said, “I don’t ask questions, I just go where He leads.” 

As the semester progressed, I never had an issue where I thought, “Okay this is not what I’m meant to do.” Every single time I stressed, something else would pop up where I just turned my eyes upward and said, “You’re right, God.” 

As you’re preparing to teach, you don’t have all the training. A lot of people think “well anybody can do teaching” and I’m here to tell you that’s so wrong. There’s a lot of science involved in it that you never would have thought about, but the degree prepares you for all that. Really in all aspects, from the Ed Psych classes to Classroom Management… From K5 to sixth grade is a huge span in a child’s life and they change. I’ve noticed a change in my second graders from teaching them as a sub in December to now—cognitively, emotionally—everything. When you’re in the classroom and you get to see that hands-on, it’s amazing, but everything they teach you, you actually see too.” 

So, you feel you’ve been well-prepared?

I’ve been surrounded by a good group of teachers, especially here in the second grade at East End, where they took me under their wings. That’s really how it’s been in every school I was stationed at over the two-year degree. More often than not, you meet a lot of AU graduates. The professors are just an email away if I have an issue, but I have never encountered any issues. Everyone has been very professional and welcoming. 

I will go into classrooms with my cooperating teachers; they have the textbooks that we were given—they’re using them daily. That’s awesome, because how many degrees can you say you can use your textbooks again?

I’m in second grade. My CT from the fall semester works at Forest Acres where I was placed and supposed to be returning for my spring semester, but I was a certified substitute teacher and her husband is employed at East End Elementary. They needed a long-term sub for one of the teachers who was on medical leave. So, they said, “Could you come in December and work through January?” And I said I could work through January 1. As I worked the whole month, around the middle of the semester I got an email from Mr. Al Hiott and the principal here said, “Could you read the email quickly?” Apparently, they had gotten word that the teacher was not coming back through May and they were able to offer me an internship where I could transfer from Forest Acres to East End and come back in January to work through May as an intern. 

I had already signed a contract with Pickens County back in December. By March, they offered me the full-time position.

What advice would you give someone who is considering moving into teaching from another profession? 

Talk to somebody at AU. Somebody in recruiting or someone who could at least give them an idea. 

What appealed to me about AU was the fact that I already had a degree and I could get this done in two years. In the grand scheme of things, two years when you’re an adult, that’s nothing these days. Take the leap of faith. 

My mom says “You’ve got to be so proud. There are not many people your age who would leave one very lucrative career to go into what you’re doing.” That’s what I keep coming back to. Yes, you’ve got to have big faith. You don’t know until you try it. You pray, you do the work, and it works out so long as it’s in God’s plan. He doesn’t put that desire on your heart if He doesn’t intend for something to come of it. I truly believe that. 

Have you had any lightbulb moments with your students?

All the time. One example, I had two readers who were probably on an “F,” which is really low for second grade. Recently, one of them was reading right through the “F,” not even needing assistance or queues. I was able to bump her up to a “G.” One day, I said, “You’re doing really well with reading. How do you feel about it?” She looked at me and said, “I think I really love it.” She had a big smile across her face and that was such a lightbulb moment. Reading unlocks doors to happiness and it was evident in her face. I’ll never forget that conversation. 

Jenny Clark
Jenny Clark
Graduated from Anderson University: 2023
Degree: Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)
Title: Teacher at East End Elementary School, Easley, South Carolina