High school graduates

Former hotel manager fulfills dream of working with kids

After a stressful and demanding 22 years of working in the hotel industry, Nena Carpenter knew it was time for a change. The former Las Vegas hotel and casino manager changed courses and is now a high school educator who spends her days supporting at-risk students as an on-time graduation specialist at Issaquah High School.

“I love my job, and I’m not sure which part is the best because it’s all pretty awesome,” Nena said. “One of the best parts is when you see a kid who has been at school for three years and hasn’t been successful, and something clicks in that kid and they’re able to turn it around.”

The role Carpenter is in now is not one she couldn’t have initially envisioned for herself, but previous experiences and encouragement from colleagues helped lead her to the opportunity. After leaving the hotel industry, she worked at the YMCA, then Seattle Children’s Home, and through that began working at an on-campus mini school run by Seattle Public Schools. When her campus closed, she transitioned to McClure Middle School in Queen Anne.

“I wasn’t convinced I wanted to be certified as a teacher because I felt like I wouldn’t be happy being a traditional teacher in a classroom five days a week,” Carpenter said. “As I worked in McClure Middle School, people were validating for me that I was good at it.”

She ultimately decided to earn her teacher certification through CityU’s alternative routes to teacher certification program. This opened the door to her current position, which required teacher certification.

“Throughout my teacher certification process, I kept saying, ‘I don’t want to be a traditional teacher,’ and up until the last minute I was so anxious,” Nena said. “I didn’t want to be in a classroom all day long because I wanted to do something more creative, and I got exactly what I wanted. It hasn’t been what I thought it’d be, it’s been more.”

In her role, Nena leads a teacher prep class one day per week, and spends the rest of her time counseling students who are at risk of not graduating on time. She reviews the students’ academic histories, talks with them about what roadblocks might exist, and helps them create plans that support their success.

“It’s not just me, it’s a combination of things,” Nena said. “We create plans that haven’t been thought of before and get other people to buy into those plans. When kids get close to graduation, a lot of them step up to that challenge and then you have a team of teachers and other professionals who have renewed faith and can support them.”

Earning teacher certification

Nena Carpenter

Nena Carpenter

Nena’s decision to study in CityU’s alternative routes to teacher certification program was a big one for her because she was also pursuing a master’s degree at another institution and working full time.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but I’ve been really fortunate,” Nena said. “I feel like if something is really your true heart’s desire, things just kind of fall into place. I have a belief that it happens for people when they’re pursuing what they love.”

While she thankfully found that the program was a good fit for her, she also found it rigorous and demanding.

“It’s challenging, and you have to be somebody who can really manage your time well and balance,” Nena said. “You have to really want to do it… But I would say that it was an amazingly valuable experience, especially for working adults who are changing careers. It’s convenient because you get to keep your job while doing it.”

Since CityU’s alt routes program attracts many people who are already working in schools but are not yet certified teachers, Nena found the opportunity to learn from her peers a valuable addition.

“Most of the other students in my cohort had been working in the field for many years and had a lot of knowledge about education, Nena said. “You get to hear so many perspectives and approaches that you can incorporate into your own practice. The bonding experience when you’re in a program like this is great because you connect with peers who are on the same level of understanding and experience. The whole cohort model is excellent. It helps you get through the intense program, and provides professional networking that will be helpful in the future.”

Learn more about alternative routes to teacher certification

If you’re interested in learning more about City University of Seattle’s Alternative Routes to Teacher Certification program, we invite you to chat with an advisor or request more information.