After 23 years in television weather-forecasting, Green Bay meteorologist Doug Higgins sensed a change in the climate of the newsroom.
“I kind of hit my own ‘glass ceiling’” he recalls. “I loved what I was doing and the people I worked with, but I could tell the news business was changing and I could not see a long-term future for me. I decided it was time to change careers.”
That was in 2015. With an air of confidence, Higgins tried his hand at sales, a career path several others in his family had navigated successfully.
“I failed miserably, twice!” he said with a sly smile, “so I decided to pursue something I had tried and enjoyed many years earlier: teaching. Carol and I decided it would be a good time for me to go back to school…literally.”
Higgins chose UW-Green Bay for three reasons: The University is conveniently close to his home in Green Bay, almost within walking distance; his wife and step-daughter are both graduates (Carol, ’08, Biology) and (Sarah ’18, Nursing), respectively, and the UW-Green Bay Education team impressed him from the first interview.
“When I met with the advisers here, they were welcoming, knowledgeable and encouraging,” he said. “Coming in as a non-traditional student, holding a bachelor’s degree in both Geography and Design, and lots of graduate credits in Meteorology, I was not sure where to start. They laid out a complete program for me to follow and pointed me in the right direction. All I had to do was set ‘em up and knock ‘em down.”
Higgins started that journey in fall of 2017. He found it somewhat challenging to be back in the classroom again, but says his life experiences are making him a better student this time around.
“I was not really a good student in high school,” said the Libertyville, Ill., native. “My attitude was not what it should have been and I have a learning disability. I have to study something three times before I can really grasp it. Having lived the life I have, I now realize how to manage that disability and the lessons from my earlier ‘failures’ fuels my focus in the classroom.”
Higgins is making steady progress on his new path and learning new ‘life lessons’ along the way.
“My favorite course so far has been Reading in the Content Area, taught by Prof. Tim Kaufman,” said Higgins. “He challenged us to develop creative and innovative ways to present information to middle school students. We could use technology or hands-on techniques or other approaches, which was not only fun, it was practical at any level.
“I’ve been able to apply those university classroom experiences to my high school classrooms at East High School,” he continued. “You know you need to adjust your approach when you look at the students and don’t see the engagement you’re looking for. It’s a little like leading an orchestra. Every student ‘plays their instrument’ in their own way and you need to keep them learning together as the semester progresses. It’s important to understand how each of them learns and make adjustments for that.”
Higgins is student-teaching three courses at Green Bay East: two freshman courses in Civics and Economics, and Contemporary World Issues for upperclassmen. He said the transition from student to teacher has been challenging, so he’s grateful for the support UW-Green Bay provides him.
“My biggest challenge has been managing the classroom,” he acknowledged. “I’m very comfortable being in front of the students and delivering the course content, but it’s a little intimidating to look out at those 30 students and figure out how to keep their attention. There are a lot of distractions at this level that get in the way of learning.
“I’m fortunate to have a veteran UW-Green Bay educator (teaching supervisor) Patricia Derozier, available to me as a resource,” he said. “Between my in-class teaching supervisors and her, I’m learning the tricks they have used over the years. Nothing about it is cookie-cutter, either; you have to know your students to know which approach to use. Sometimes just rearranging the seating chart makes a world of difference.”
Higgins knows Social Studies is the area in which he wants to land his permanent teaching role. Once certified, he will be eligible to teach middle school students, freshmen and sophomores. He completes his student-teaching in June 2019 and will submit his professional portfolio this summer. If all goes as he plans, he will enter full-time teaching in the fall, somewhere in the greater Green Bay area. His college work isn’t over yet, though, as he plans to complete his master’s in Earth Science Education.
“This feels so right to me,” said Higgins. “I love being in the classroom with the students and helping them learn. I am very open with them about my own experiences in school and in my career. In some way, I hope it helps them see that here’s a guy who worked through his own difficulties and made it out the other end, and if I can do it, they can do it.”
Mid-career professionals making a career change to teaching is a trend that began decades ago and continues to expand in popularity, according to Scott Ashmann, associate dean of the UW-Green Bay College of Health, Education and Social Welfare.
“Many school districts like to hire individuals who have had career experiences outside of education,” said Ashmann. “They bring a wealth of knowledge, experiences, and perspective with them that enhance the teaching and learning processes in the classroom.”
“If I were to offer advise to anyone considering a career change,” Higgins said thoughtfully, “I’d recommend they do something they like and that they know they are good at. I have worked with people who don’t have that combination and they are just frustrated all the time, even if the job pays well. It’s important that you enjoy what you’re doing and have self-confidence that you are doing it well.”
Higgins’ new career path exemplifies the power of personal responsibility in the old weather adage, “You can’t prevent a thunderstorm, but you can use the electricity.”
Story by freelance writer Jim Streed ’05
Photos by Dan Moore, Marketing and University Communication