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Michael Arrieta-Walden: Writing a New Chapter

February 05, 2010

  • News Image
    Then: Michael Arrieta-Walden as an editor at the Pulitzer Prize–winning Albuquerque Tribune in the mid-1990s
  • News Image
    Now: Arrieta-Walden as a student intern at Alder Elementary School in the Reynolds School District.

Words have been Michael Arrieta-Walden’s life. For three decades, he’s worked as a journalist and editor. At his last job, he was a managing editor at the Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper, in charge of all online content, breaking news, and arts coverage. It was a big job that he loved, and it compensated him well.

Last year, he took a buyout package from the paper and began pursuing a master of arts in teaching at Lewis & Clark. “I believe in the power of education to change lives and give people opportunities,” he says. At age 51, with a generous mustache and shaggy hair streaked with gray, he looks a bit like Richard Gere playing a teacher in a movie. “I wanted the last chapter of my career to be focused on individual lives. I didn’t want to be 70 and say I wish I’d been a teacher.”

That choice hasn’t come without cost or sacrifice. “There will be a sizable cut in income this year and in the coming years,” he says. “The demands of school are a sacrifice for my wife and daughter, but they want me to follow my heart and do what I want to do.”

His decision brought up doubts and anxieties. “Changing careers can be disconcerting,” says Arrieta-Walden. “I knew I was a fairly good editor. Now I wonder if I can be a good teacher. Can I be compelling and engaging enough to hold students’ attention and inspire and motivate them? Do I have the drive, the energy, the ability to learn all this new stuff?”

In addition, he knows the job market for new teachers in the Portland area is grim. He takes solace from the fact that experts predict there won’t be enough teachers to fill the nation’s schools in the coming years. He’s also buoyed that Portland educators have told him they like to hire Lewis & Clark graduates. He still worries that his family may have to move for his work. He’s put his concerns and thoughts into a blog (blog.oregonlive. com/new-teacher/about.html), which he hopes will help other career changers.

In the classroom where he’s student teaching, all his worries dissipate. The children joke and call him the Old Man, but it’s all in good fun. In his June 17 blog, he wrote, “For months, I longed to return to the newsroom. I thought I’d ruined my professional life, but then I met the students, who helped me see what rich opportunities await.”

Arrieta-Walden would like to teach fifth grade. “These kids are on the cusp of going in directions that could be positive or negative,” he explains. “They’re still young and excited about learning, but they’re old enough to grapple with bigger ideas and bigger thinking, and that’s really appealing.”

He wants to teach low-income, nonnative English speakers, which is why he’ll pursue an ESOL/bilingual education endorsement, in addition to his teaching license. “I’m drawn to teaching non-native speakers,” he says. “I don’t know if I can change the world, but I want to impact the lives of students from low-income backgrounds, and English language learners who may not have opportunities. I want
to change their world.”

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