Published: July 11, 2022 By

Mark Whelan and his students At the age of 54, Mark Whelan (Hist’87; MEdu’18) quit his corporate job of 15 years to pursue teaching. After earning a master’s degree in urban education at CU Denver, he began as a seventh-grade social studies and language arts teacher at Aurora Quest K-8 in Aurora, Colorado. Here, Mark offers insight into what it’s like starting a new career in your fifties. 

What was your favorite part about your time at CU? 

CU is where I met all my best friends in life. I remember my time there very fondly. I was part of a team that won the Trivia Bowl in 1988, and that’s still one of my favorite accomplishments. I still have very strong ties to CU, and both my kids, Tavish (EnvSt’19) and Maddie (Psych’19), graduated from CU, too. 

What pushed you to change careers recently?

I worked a corporate job for 15 years. It wasn’t the best job, but as a single dad, it allowed me to be a better father to my children. Then, my kids graduated and I met this really wonderful woman. I had talked about becoming a teacher often, and one day she said, “Why don’t you move in with me and go for it?” It was just one of those moments of clarity. I didn’t want to be one of those people who woke up in my 70s and thought, “What if I had done this?” 

Why teaching? 

When my parents got divorced, the people who influenced me most were my teachers. That really drove this urge, and finally I had to see it through. Watching my kids grow up, and the kids I met through them, also contributed to my desire to get into teaching. I believe there are a lot of great kids in this generation. 

What’s the most rewarding part of your job? 

It’s definitely helping students. Seventh grade is a really awkward and tough year in life. Being able to guide someone in their early teens and help steer their ship towards the right path has been really rewarding for me. And my students make me a better person, too. There will be days where I am dead tired or distracted by something, but every time I come in and feel like I don’t have anything to offer, my students always lift me up — always. 

Do you have any advice for someone considering a new career? 

Taking this chance on myself allowed me to have a better life. I think you have to call your own bluff in life, and you have to work hard to make things happen. God forbid, if I keeled over today, I would know that I went out doing what I was meant to do on this Earth. There’s this quote by Teddy Roosevelt. It’s a little corny but it says, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

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Photo courtesy Mark Whelan