January-February 2015 | Featured Article

Changing Course

How one local man went from the computer room to the classroom

Ever since he was a teenager, Ray Treacy thought about becoming a teacher. “It was always present,” he recalls. As a high school student in Greenbelt, Treacy coached baseball and worked as a summer camp counselor. He says it “felt good” helping kids learn new skills.

But after seeing a college friend struggle to find a teaching job and then settle for a low-paying position, Treacy changed paths. “I think had I not been afraid of not making a lot of money when I was younger, I probably would have pursued teaching,” he says. “Instead, I chased after more money.”

For 30 years, Treacy, now 53, worked in corporate information technology, rising to a senior technical analyst at Marriott International in Bethesda. “I took care of people’s computer problems. Every day was the same thing,” he says. Two years ago, when Marriott announced it would begin outsourcing IT, the opportunity to do what he long dreamed about presented itself.

Treacy credits his wife, journalist Sara Just, for giving him the nudge he needed. “I’m not somebody who is big into change,” he says. “I was afraid to stray away from something I knew.” Just looked into local universities that offered teaching degrees and found a program at American University, near their home in Bethesda.

In 2013, while still working full time at Marriott, Treacy began taking night classes and using vacation days to student teach. His sons, currently in the sixth and 12th grades, saw a re-energized dad. “To watch me work and study and take it seriously has had a positive impact on them,” he says.

Last January, Treacy was hired to fill in for a first-grade teacher who was on medical leave from Wood Acres Elementary School in Bethesda. Then, this past fall, he landed a permanent position teaching fourth grade at nearby Bradley Hills Elementary School—and found a joy that had long been missing in his professional life.

“What I like most of all,” Treacy says, “is teaching kids different ways to look at things, figuring out ways to teach the kids so they understand.” He says being a parent has made him a more sensitive teacher because he understands that every kid in his classroom is the most important person in someone’s life.

?“When someone makes a career change, they are doing it with a lot more commitment, so you know you have someone with a lot of passion,” Bradley Hills Principal Sandra Reece says. She appreciates Treacy’s maturity and experience: “He’s past the first-year teacher angst in that he is comfortable admitting he needs help with things.” 

Treacy spends the school day with 28 kids who are 9 and 10 years old, exactly the ages he hoped to teach. “At this age, the kids are still respectful, engaging, willing to learn,” he says. “They are entertaining, funny, open. They haven’t become cynical yet.”

The workload has been surprising. “Teaching is way harder than any job I have ever had in my life,” he says. While there were occasional stretches at Marriott when he worked long hours, he now consistently works 10 or 11 hours a day during the week, and puts in time on the weekends. “You have to be prepared, you just can’t wing it,” Treacy says. “I think more about the next day than I ever did at Marriott.”

In a community like Bethesda, where people are often measured by what they do, Treacy says he has experienced only positive feedback about leaving the corporate world in favor of teaching. “I’ve encountered many people who say teaching is what they would like to do,” he says, “but giving up bigger paychecks is hard.”

Treacy, who was expected to complete his master’s degree in elementary education in December, says the past two years have taught him a lot about himself. “I have a strength,” he says. “This makes me realize change isn’t so bad.”

The difference in Treacy is noticeable. “He comes home laughing and totally energized,” Just says.

Treacy recalls a recent conversation with his sister-in-law. “She goes, ‘In the 20 years I have known you, I have never heard you talk about your job. Now you talk about it all the time.’ ”

Jackie Judd, a Chevy Chase resident, is a former journalist and health policy communications director who now works as a consultant. To comment on this story, email comments@bethesdamagazine.com.