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EKU Students Changed Careers to Become Teachers

EKU Teacher Education Students Deanna Barnes and Michael Thomas

EKU non-traditional students Deanna Barnes and Michael Thomas both decided to start a new career and become teachers.

Deanna Barnes, from Mount Vernon, KY, originally earned her degree in computer applications and worked at Renfro Valley Entertainment for thirteen years. Her experience working with Girl Scouts made her realize she wanted to work with children instead. She became a Girl Scout leader several years ago when her daughter was in kindergarten.

“I planned activities, taught life skills, social skills, and planned field trips, many of the same things that teachers do, for our weekly Girl Scout meetings,” said Barnes. That experience made her realize how much she enjoyed making a difference in children’s lives. “My daughter and her friends in the troop are in middle school now and when I substitute teach I see them. They give me hugs and ask if I remember our fun activities. Those lasting relationships matter and teachers can do that every day.”

Barnes is currently a junior in EKU’s teacher education program, majoring in elementary education and special education. “I have learned SO much since I’ve been at EKU. If I had this knowledge then, our Girl Scout experiences would have been unlimited. We could have done even more amazing activities.”

“The most powerful lessons I’ve developed in my EKU teacher education lessons are related to social behavior,  communication skills, and how to teach students to interact with each other. I’m also learning classroom management skills. It is so important and many aspects of getting students to behave and learn aren't typically considered by people outside of education,” said Barnes.

Barnes noted this year she is learning new skills for teaching online in her public school classroom placements. She will be planning lessons and teaching students live but online via Zoom. “I’m grateful I’m getting experience teaching online for the future but at the same time, it is very stressful.”

Barnes, a single mom of an 8th-grade daughter and 2nd-grade son, works hard to juggle family, school, and work responsibilities. In addition to being a full-time student at EKU, she works as a substitute teacher and a part-time hospital emergency room registration clerk. Barnes depends upon her great support system to help manage everything. She’s grateful for the encouragement and support from the people who made her career change possible, especially her mother and boyfriend.

“I was in my 30s when I started my teacher education program at EKU. I see a dramatic change in myself between the first time I went to college and this time. I’ve been a lot more grown-up and take it more seriously. I have a better motivation to succeed - my motivation is my kids.”

Michael Thomas, from Harlan, KY, worked nineteen years in law enforcement before deciding to become a middle school math and science teacher. He served as a city of Harlan police officer for eight years and was the chief of Harlan Police for eleven years. His unpaid work as a school resource officer during his free time made him realize how much he enjoyed the school setting and working with middle school age students. “I sat in some classes and decided to be a middle school teacher,” said Thomas.

Thomas was in his 40s when he decided to change careers. He noted, “Don’t ever think it is too late to change careers. If you are unhappy in your career, it is time to make a change and restart your education. I was ready for a new career and I wanted a more normal life for my family. Work in law enforcement in a small town can negatively impact the whole family,” said Thomas.  Thomas is married and has 8-year-old and 3-year-old sons.

Thomas chose to focus on teaching math and science because of the high need for teachers in those areas and his previous work as an accident reconstructionist. “I can certainly demonstrate a real-world application for math with examples of how I used it in law enforcement,” he said.

Like Barnes, Thomas is “zooming” into K-12 classrooms for his field experiences this semester. “I thought I had a good grasp on technology until the online-virus world,” said Thomas.

Thomas noted, “A lot of people think teachers just walk in and teach but there is so much more to it. In our classes, we learn the developmental stages of students and all the work that goes into lesson planning. I’m learning the new skills I need as a teacher in my experiences at EKU and the opportunity to be a positive role model for students inspires me.”

To learn more about EKU College of Education undergraduate and graduate teacher education programs, visit

Published on November 05, 2020

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