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An engineer on an Air Force base. A cop. A financial advisor. Now, they're all teachers in Racine – Journal Times

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RACINE — Lori Nasci was tired of arresting children. So she became a teacher.
Nasci
As a deputy sheriff in New Mexico, Nasci often handcuffed juveniles. After a few years away from law enforcement to raise her children, she decided to work with kids, hoping to keep them away from ever being handcuffed.
Nasci went back to college, earned an education degree and has worked in schools since 2006, including the last two years as principal at Roosevelt Elementary in Racine.
“When you start to get to know (students), how could you do any other job?” Nasci said. “I could tell that this was what I needed to do.”
It’s not uncommon for teachers to be in their second or third career. Here, The Journal Times features four different teachers who, like Nasci, came into teaching after years of doing something else.
At first, she laughed
Freeman
Valerie Freeman initially laughed at the idea of being a teacher.
The mother of a student she was tutoring suggested Freeman teach, but she thought otherwise.
“I thought it was the funniest thing ever,” Freeman said.
But as time went on, more people mentioned it. Freeman, who was trained as an engineer, eventually filled out an application to be a substitute math instructor at middle schools and high schools.
She did that for a few years before starting full-time at Park High School in fall 2017, where she is a manufacturing and robotics pathway teacher; she also coaches Park softball and girls basketball.
Freeman grew up in Pontiac, Michigan, and always liked numbers. She didn’t think about a career in education.
“I was introduced to engineering and wanted to know what it was about and what it was like, and I fell in love,” Freeman said. “Never did I think I would be a teacher. It was never, ever a consideration. I thought that I didn’t have the patience for it.”
Freeman graduated with an electrical and computer engineering degree and then worked as an engineer for two years at an Air Force base in Tennessee. She and her husband moved to Racine in 2010. A new home, plus difficulty finding an engineering job during the Great Recession, led to her being in education.
It was challenging to learn classroom management, but Freeman said she quickly developed empathy for students.
Freeman said the toughest aspect of the job is preparation.
“Teaching the students and making relationships and building bonds, that’s the easy part,” Freeman said. “The harder part is planning and making sure that you are equipped for the job.”
Megan King, a Horlick High School business pathway teacher, previously worked as a family counselor and in human resources. She went into teaching after seeing a job opening and loves working with high-schoolers, who are fun but stressful.
Megan King agreed.
“I feel like I’m in my element when I’m with my kids in the classroom,” King said. “My stress is usually around, ‘Am I giving them what they need? Is the content relevant?’”
King previously worked as a family counselor and in human resources.
She went into teaching after seeing a job opening. King started teaching in February 2021 and is now a Horlick High School business pathway teacher; she also coaches track and field.
King is also a life coach, which often involves her telling clients about the importance of courage. She needed to follow her own advice and apply for the teaching position.
“I felt like it was something that fit,” King said. “I don’t think that I ever wanted to be a teacher, I just wanted to work with people. Then, the older I get, the more aligned we are with what our purpose is, and I think that that’s kids.”
Keith Cruise also said his biggest adjustment was lesson planning. He seems to have adapted well to teaching but is always searching for areas to improve.
“I’m still not comfortable,” Cruise admitted. “When kids aren’t doing as well as I think they could do, or they’re struggling, I look at: ‘Am I not (teaching) them in the right way?’”
Cruise, also a Horlick High School business pathway teacher, was a substitute teacher before going full-time in February 2021. He also coaches wrestling and football. Cruise had several previous jobs, including financial advisor, bank vice president and firefighter.
Keith Cruise, a Horlick High School business pathway teacher, began teaching full-time in February 2021. He had several previous jobs, including as a financial advisor, bank vice president and firefighter. Cruise made a career change because he wanted to help students and said teaching provides him with “a sense of purpose.”
Cruise
Cruise moved to Racine in 1993. He made a career change because he wanted to help students, and teaching was more realistic in 2021 because his children were adults.
“I’ve got a lot of life experience, and I was like, ‘OK, my kids are all out of the house, money’s not such a big deal,’” Cruise said. “I want to make a difference in the lives of some of the kids, be a positive influence.”
Nasci does as well. She has been with Racine Unified for nearly a decade in several roles but always wanted to work at the elementary level so she could reach young students “before they’re completely in trouble.”
“Especially in elementary, they are just a bundle of joy, even the naughty ones,” Nasci continued. “Actually, I kind of like the naughty ones the best, because they remind me of me.”
Cruise said teaching “gives a sense of purpose.” He said it’s rewarding to gain a student’s trust and have conversations about life decisions.
“It’s really nice,” Freeman added, “to watch students grow and become young, successful adults, and to know that maybe you had a hand in that.”
Valerie Freeman, second from left, robotics manufacturing pathway teacher, shows Darianna Boatner, a junior in the culinary pathway at Park High School, how to move a student-programmed robot in December 2019 during the Academies of Racine Showcase at Park. Watching to the right is junior KeiArriea Sims, an academies ambassador. Freeman, who went into teaching after working as an engineer, enjoys seeing students graduate and succeed in the community.
Freeman appreciates being a black teacher in a school that had 73% students of color in 2020-21, but she wishes there were more educators who looked like her.
“It’s nice to be an African American female teacher teaching engineering, but it’s not nice to be the only one in the building,” Freeman said. “I hope that we will hire more, but then I also hope that the next generation of students will go into education, because it’s definitely necessary, and it’s important.”
Cruise shared a similar sentiment, saying he was surprised to be one of the only black male teachers at a school whose student population was 26% black in 2020-21.
RUSD’s teachers have become more diverse in recent years, but slowly.
In the 2018-19 school year, about 85% of Racine Unified teachers were white. About 60% of Unified students are either black, Hispanic or mixed race. In 2010, 92% of RUSD’s teachers were white, according to Wisconsin Policy Forum, a nonpartisan, independent statewide policy research organization.
Freeman said similarities exist between engineering and teaching, mainly that there is a process for growth and development. She “one thousand percent” misses being an engineer but called teaching “the best of both worlds.”
“Though I’m not in the engineering field, I get to still teach it to students,” Freeman said.
King said education is similar to her previous roles, where employees and families needed someone to listen to and challenge them.
Of working with high schoolers, King said “They can have conversations, they have a little bit better understanding of their emotions and their feelings.
“They also are just big kids that need that hug while being told, ‘You got to do better.’ I think that is probably where my strength is.”
Likewise, Nasci said she misses being a deputy sheriff “every day,” but she said education is the right career at this stage of her life.
There are similarities between teaching and law enforcement, including conducting oneself in a controlled, assertive manner.
“A lot of it is just the general attitude you bring forth,” Nasci said. “When you have a super mild-mannered, maybe not as confident air, the kids do not respond very well.”
Similarly, for Cruise, teaching and his prior careers require understanding how best to reach someone.
“Everything is all about the personalities,” Cruise said. “You’re going to have people that rub you the wrong way, even people you’re supposed to be helping … We’re all humans, individuals, and we have to figure out how to relate to somebody in a way that is helpful to them and allows us to do what we need to get done.”
The act of having fun raises levels of dopamine, endorphins, and oxygen in a person’s body: all essential ingredients for learning. 
For educational games to be successful, their creators have to be meticulous about striking a careful balance between education and entertainment. Best Universities compiled a list of how different types of digital games meant for teaching students have evolved over time, ranging from DOS games like Oregon Trail to the latest version of the Scratch programming app for kids.
Twenty years ago, children took computer science classes in school with specific units for programming, typing, and other concepts. Today, students learn these same concepts from playing Minecraft, making their own servers for games, creating and installing “mods” that change the gameplay experience, and learning old-school HTML to create ’90s flashback looks on their itch.io pages.
But with any discussion of video games comes the debate around screen time, which has long been a point of contention between parents and children. While educational games served as a compromise, the pandemic pushed most parents to concede screen time for online learning. And without a physical classroom, many educators seized the opportunity to use video games in unconventional ways to teach history, science, and coding during the height of pandemic-induced distance learning.
The world of educational video games is a rich industry with decades of history. These games directly tie with analog educational technologies like creative worksheets, classroom role-playing projects, and even educational vinyl albums from previous decades. Developers are constantly iterating to make the latest technology more educational.

Before the first Windows operating system brought graphical user interfaces to most computer users, there was the disk operating system, or DOS. This text-based software worked via users inserting floppy disks into computers and running them directly using typed-in command prompts. Text was easy for early home computers to parse, which sparked the creation of text-based games.
The Oregon Trail was first developed in the 1970s as an all-text game: a way for students to interact with and learn about the journey white settlers took along the historic wagon route to the West. In the 1980s, the game received a major facelift when it was adapted into a full game with graphics that left it with the iconic look we still remember today.
The late 1980s ushered in the era of CD-ROMs, which trickled out to home computer users over the next decade. These read-only discs had significantly more storage compared to floppy disks, supporting 500 megabytes or more instead of just 1.44 megabytes on a 3.5-inch floppy disk.
Users were accustomed to up to 10 or more floppy disks to install DOS software like WordPerfect, but now, just one CD-ROM was all that was needed to run new games full of cutting-edge graphics and animations. This ushered in a golden age of educational CD-ROM games in the 1990s, with iconic brands like Math Blaster and Reader Rabbit helping students prep for class time.
Early proto-social networks emerged in the 1990s along with the proliferation of CD-ROM games, such as the girl games website Purple Moon. Purple Moon linked social educational games with early sponsored content from relevant brands.
These games, starting with sites like gURL and extending through massive, multiplayer online games like Neopets and Club Penguin in the 2000s, offered at least partially safe spaces for kids to play games and improve skills like hand-eye coordination and typing. These sites sometimes didn’t have enough moderators and fell victim to trolling, brigading, and hacking: a classic problem experienced as the internet grew.
Popular home gaming consoles gained popularity with the family-friendly Nintendo and Super Nintendo in the 1980s. When it was released in 1989, the Game Boy immediately changed how games could be carried around. A wave of ersatz children’s handheld video game devices followed.
These included single-game Tiger handhelds and educational “children’s computers” like LeapFrog, the first-ever proto tablet designed for children to be portable and durable. Sesame Street, Jump Start, and other licensed children’s properties led the way in educational games for little kids, while games like Minecraft have made their way to the extremely popular Nintendo Switch system.
Today, kids can even use smartphone apps to learn to code.
Mavis Beacon is the most iconic typing software in history, published continuously since 1987, even as technology continues to evolve. But typing in schools dates back to the typewriter days of the 1950s and 1960s—especially for young women.
In the 1990s, companies made software specifically for schools and at special group rates. There are more “fun” typing games made for very young kids, while older children may have more businesslike software. There are also plenty of regular games that use typing as the mechanic.
Early coding languages were very specific and text-only, with obtuse jargon that was often a necessity for code to fit into the space available. But as computers became more powerful, coding evolved as well. This reflects a movement among computer scientists toward programming languages that use whole words, for example, or visual “blocks” of code that click into place together.
The MIT-created programming language Scratch lets people of all ages make “interactive stories” on almost any device using the official app. In Minecraft, people “program” using specialized blocks in sequence. And in schools, teachers can use modified environments for languages like Python and Java to teach coding the old-fashioned way.
Educators can use virtual and augmented reality technologies to help engage people of all ages in innovative ways. Established entities like museums can turn their collections into virtual galleries, allowing remote “visitors” to experience artwork, science displays, and more. On-site, these museums can use AR to transform the traditional “guided tour” into a more immersive experience.
Adding game-like elements to virtual reality or augmented reality experiences, like item collection and achievements, may help students retain the information better. These same ideas have transformed everyday life into richer educational opportunities, such as prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba’s walking history of Black women in Chicago called Lifting As They Climbed.
This story originally appeared on Best Universities and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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Valerie Freeman, second from left, robotics manufacturing pathway teacher, shows Darianna Boatner, a junior in the culinary pathway at Park High School, how to move a student-programmed robot in December 2019 during the Academies of Racine Showcase at Park. Watching to the right is junior KeiArriea Sims, an academies ambassador. Freeman, who went into teaching after working as an engineer, enjoys seeing students graduate and succeed in the community.
Keith Cruise, a Horlick High School business pathway teacher, began teaching full-time in February 2021. He had several previous jobs, including as a financial advisor, bank vice president and firefighter. Cruise made a career change because he wanted to help students and said teaching provides him with “a sense of purpose.”
Cruise
Megan King, a Horlick High School business pathway teacher, previously worked as a family counselor and in human resources. She went into teaching after seeing a job opening and loves working with high-schoolers, who are fun but stressful.
Freeman
Nasci
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