The Association of U S West Retirees



One woman turned her interest in teaching into a second career

Des Moines Register

Patt Johnson

January 8, 2010


Barb Harrington took advantage of a company benefit during her 34-year tenure at Qwest, the metro's telephone company. And it paid off in the form of a new career for the 59-year-old Pleasant Hill woman.

Harrington left Qwest in 2004 and now teaches English as a Second Language and Spanish classes at Des Moines Area Community College and through the Des Moines Public School's adult education program.

"I always wanted to be a teacher," she says. "I have control over what I do every day. Teaching is a very brain-draining job, but really a challenge. It's a different kind of challenge from my other job and it's very rewarding."


She enjoys teaching mostly adults. "There's a difference between students who have to be in class and those who want to be in class," she says.

And she is learning from her students, too.

"I have students from Africa, Afghanistan, Thailand, Burma, Ecuador, Mexico, Sudan, Bosnia, Iran and Rwanda," she says. Meeting them she has given her a chance to "see the world through other people's eyes."

Harrington started her career with Qwest (which went by several other names over the years) as a central office and customer service technician. "We built trunk and translation (lines) for 14 states," she says.

One of the benefits the telephone company offered workers was subsidized education. Harrington began taking night classes at Drake University, eventually earning an undergraduate degree in history and Spanish. Then she started on a master's degree. When Qwest offered a voluntary separation package six years ago, Harrington did some soul searching. She was already teaching some continuing education classes for DMACC and was financially able to retire.

"There was also the threat that at any time you could be laid off," she says. She left the telephone company with plans to enjoy retirement with her husband Merrill.

She was teaching Spanish when the opportunity arose to teach the ESL classes.

"It doesn't really feel like a job," she says. "It doesn't pay as much as I used to make but I am just really enjoying it."

She works about 25 hours a week at DMACC and six hours at the public schools. That leaves time for her other passions - being a grandmother and gardening, genealogy and traveling. She also works a travel agent, and dabbles in writing and photography.

Her advice to others considering career changes: Explore jobs and careers you're interested in.

"I volunteered years ago at a Spanish clinic at Guadalupe Chapel to see if I would like it and could do it," she says. "It's always better to find jobs that incorporate what you like to do."