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Valley Voices: Dream detoured but not denied for Ceres teacher

CERES -- Since he was young, John Christiansen wanted to follow in the footsteps of the coaches and teachers who inspired him.

His career took a turn when he graduated from college just in time to enter a poor job market in education. Christiansen worked finance jobs for six years until he could get into teaching.

After teaching fourth and sixth grade for more than a decade, he climbed the management ladder. Now, as head of child welfare and attendance at Ceres schools, Christiansen, 51, talks about his careers and gives advice to college students who will soon enter a bleak economy and job market.

Q: What is it that you do at the Ceres Unified School District?

A: My official title (means that) I oversee the attendance issues, enrollment issues, discipline issues, school safety issues for the district. Most of my day is dealing with enrolling students, overseeing the enrollment process, overseeing the attendance issues regarding students, whether that student is at one school or another.

Q: Education wasn't your first career. Can you talk a little bit about what you did prior to this?

A: Right out of college, I got into the financial services industry. I worked for Household Finance. I ended up as a branch manager, and then I was a stock broker for a little bit with Dean Witter. And then I sold CDs for what's currently Washington Mutual, but at the time it was American Savings and Loan.

Q: So what attracted you to the financial career market?

A: Actually, right out of college Proposition 13 (1978 ballot initiative that capped property tax rates) had just passed and there were not a lot of jobs in teaching. ... I minored in economics in college, so I was interested in those things -- interested in the markets, interested in how finances work.

Q: You mentioned you wanted to be working with kids. What is it that draws you?

A: Well, when I grew up, I had a lot of good role models. When I went to school, a lot of the role models were coaches, but also teachers. I just thought that was a great way to have a career.

Q: Going back to when you were about to graduate from college, and you realized the job market for teachers wasn't that great, what advice would you give to those students who are nearing their college graduation?

A: Whatever you choose, don't feel that that's going to be the road you always have to end up on. In today's market for people, the salability of a person is really crucial in what experience they've had, what type of attitude they have, what type of flexibility they have, what type of thinking skills they have. ... Don't worry about (it) if you don't get a job in one area. Try something else. ... You can always come back to wherever you feel comfortable. I chose education after six years of being in business, and I haven't regretted that at all.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at or 578-2339.