Taking Stock

After surviving 9/11, a Wall Street banker finds a new calling shaping young lives in the classroom

By Amy Biderman

Kevin Laub, MEd ’05, never planned to become a teacher. With an undergraduate degree in English, the native New Yorker decided to pursue a career in investment banking on Wall Street. “In college,” he says, “I had one goal: to make enough money to live in New York City.”

Everything changed on September 11, 2001. Laub was working at Morgan Stanley on the 62nd floor of Tower Two at the World Trade Center. The company lost five employees in the terrorist attacks, but Laub survived, walking down 62 flights of stairs as a plane flew into the tower. Following that horrific experience, Laub says, he had an epiphany, “a single moment of intense, maybe even violent, clarity when I looked at my life and thought, ‘This is not my beautiful life.’”

Laub had already begun to question his career path after seven years on Wall Street, but he admits that he would have maintained the status quo had not the events of September 11 acted as a catalyst.

“I don’t think anything else would have spurred me on,” he says. “I was really comfortable and not motivated to change. But after the terrorist attacks, it seemed that the harder I worked, the emptier everything seemed at the end of the day. My scales were off; issues that I used to sweat over suddenly seemed so pathetically trivial, and everything about my job was a constant reminder of that horrible day. The weight was becoming unbearable.”

The turning point came when his wife asked a simple question: Why don’t you become an English teacher? “In that moment,” he says, “the weight lifted. ‘Oh my god,’ I said. ‘I’m supposed to be a teacher.’”

Laub dreaded the thought of spending years starting over in a new profession. Then he discovered the Career Switcher Program on Mason’s web site. The program prepares experienced professionals for licensure as secondary school teachers with endorsements in biology, chemistry, earth science, English, history and social science, mathematics, or physics. Successful applicants must have at least five years of work experience, pass the Praxis I and II tests, and complete all required endorsement courses. The program consists of six months of course work and fieldwork, followed by a closely mentored year of full-time, paid classroom teaching.

“It was perfect,” Laub says. “I could take my years on Wall Street and start over.”

Laub admits that the decision to change careers and leave New York was difficult. “I felt I was betraying the city by leaving it. But I couldn’t do what I was doing on September 10, 2001; I was constantly reminded of the events of September 11.” He moved to Washington, D.C., in August 2002 and entered the Career Switcher Program in January 2003. He started teaching ninth-grade English at Westfield High School in Chantilly, Virginia, in August 2003 and went on to earn his master’s degree at Mason in 2005.

“What made the Career Switcher Program were the people who supported it,” Laub says. “The faculty accepted us into the world of teaching—we were one of them. They served as advocates for us and even made personal phone calls to school principals to help with our job search.” He notes that everyone in the program with him got a teaching job.

“I’m so thankful the program exists,” he says. “Teaching is the hardest thing I have ever done—and this is from someone who ran down 62 flights of stairs while an airplane flew into his office building. There were some really great people at Mason who prepared me for a job you cannot be prepared for. I’ve found what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m teaching, and I couldn’t be happier.”

This article originally appeared in a slightly different format in the College of Education and Human Development magazine.