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Career switch the right choice for SHS teacher

Adam Lykens discusses the states of matter duringhis Integrated Chemistry and Physics class on Friday. Lykens switched to teaching after six years as a nurse.

By ROSS FLINT - rflint@shelbynews.com

Adam Lykens is enthusiastic in the classroom.

His passion for science is on full display when he has a group of Shelbyville High School underclassmen sitting in front of him. He’s playful with them, sometimes teasing them, but always quick to get back on point.

To the untrained eye, it may look like Lykens has been in this setting for years.

In actuality, Lykens is learning on the fly.

Previously a nurse, Lykens decided to make a career switch and is now teaching Integrated Chemistry and Physics (an introductory course for undergraduate students), anatomy and physiology. No doubt, the paycheck is a bit lighter – he readily acknowledged that with a laugh on Friday – but the decision to switch was the right one, he said.

He decided to make a third career change for the benefit of his family. He previously worked at Eli Lilly before entering the nursing profession, where he worked for six years.

With three young daughters and a wife, the time away from being on-call and working in Level 1 trauma at IU Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis became too much.

“I kind of thought to myself I only get to see them grow up one time,” he said, adding that he’s maintained his nursing license and can go back if, for whatever reason, he needs to.

The thought of switching to a teaching career was on his mind for the last three years. He initially didn’t take the leap because he knew there would be a pay cut, and he and his wife, who is a first grade teacher at Knightstown Elementary School, had just bought a house.

They started saving money and making the necessary budget cuts.

Lykens knew his daughters and wife missed him at home. He knew he was missing youth soccer games, and he found himself struggling to arrive home in time to spend a few minutes with his children before they were tucked into bed.

He and his wife talked about it, and she supported his decision. She said she didn’t care about the money and encouraged him to do what would make him happy.

“It just kind of took its toll to where it was time,” he said. “There’s times I look back at nursing or (I’m) watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ or some other medical show where I’ll think, ‘Man, that was fun.’ There were some cool things that happened, and I really enjoyed it, but to say I don’t enjoy teaching would be a lie. I really enjoy teaching these kids.”

He fondly remembers his days as a high school student and thinks he relates well to students of that age.

“Maybe it’s because I’m kind of a kid at heart sometimes,” he said. “I feel like I get along well with kids, especially teenagers, particularly at the junior (and) senior level.”

When he told other nurses and doctors at Methodist of his intentions, they playfully asked if he was crazy. Some questioned why he would spend as much as money as he did getting a nursing license, only to switch careers.

His response, he said, was to point out he remains up-to-date on that license. If he needs to go back, he will.

In the meantime, he’s found a passion for teaching, a career he admitted to being intrigued by when he was younger. And at this point, he’s not sure he wants to go back into the medical field.

Switching careers has also provided a lesson for his students.

While they like to tease him about the money he left behind, he agreed that it’s a good lesson about setting priorities in life. His students appreciate his reasoning for why he made the decision.

“I never tell them that I left nursing because it was terrible, because it wasn’t,” he said, adding some students are interested in entering the medical field. “I want them to keep that passion. I think it’s a great, great career and I support them wanting to do that. I have some who want to go into teaching and I support them in that, (or) in any career.”

The one thing he hopes for his students is that they don’t make multiple career changes like he did.

Money aside, it was the right decision, he said.

He’s able to coach his daughter’s youth soccer team, and he’s the Knightstown High School boys’ varsity soccer coach for the second year. He arrives home earlier and is able to spend more time with his children.

“The whole family is much happier,” he said. “Myself, the kids, my wife enjoys seeing me more. They say money can’t buy happiness. It’s very true in my situation.”

Educational Experiences

This is the fourth and final installment in a series of feature stories looking at both first-year teachers in Shelby County classrooms as well as the most experienced.

Today, meet Andy Lykens, who stepped into teaching at Shelbyville High School, after leaving two other career options behind. 

The first three installments on Triton Central’s Cole Van Dyke, Southwestern’s Cathy Macaluso and Karen Parmer, and Shelby Eastern Schools system’s Pat Kohne and Deborah Stafford can be found online at www.shelbynews.com.