Joanne Newfield, CPA, CGMA

Director of Accounting, Chester Community Charter School, Chester, Pa.

February 1, 2013

When I was little, and other kids would read storybooks and my mom wanted to buy us storybooks, I begged and pleaded with her because I wanted math workbooks. My mother, who is an avid reader, just did not understand it, until I cried and cried and said, “I really want math workbooks.” That was my summer reading. Even though I did read storybooks, I loved doing math workbooks. I always felt math was logical, because there was a definite answer to the problem.

In my junior year of high school, I was going to be a fashion designer. I applied to Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, and I was pretty much set that that’s what I wanted to do. I enjoyed clothes, especially creating my own clothing. Then, as a senior, I started taking business classes; when I took accounting, I fell in love with it. I found out I had such a passion and such a talent for it that I changed my career choice.

When I took the CPA exam, we were not allowed calculators, and it was not computerized. That was really hard because we had to take all four parts within prescribed time limits. Even though I enjoyed doing manual calculations, I felt that speed under pressure could affect accuracy. I remember those days when financial statements were done on green sheets and we sat there with pencils and added everything up. Now, we have technology that is just fascinating.

Accounting to me is kind of like being a detective. You’re finding mistakes, ensuring that supporting schedules tie out, reconciling accounts. I feel like I’m the FBI agent of the books. I look at the numbers that way, and I try to find the fun in it. That’s what the passion is all about. If somebody doesn’t have a passion for what they do, then it’s a chore, and it shouldn’t be. We should do what we like.

I find working for a nonprofit school really rewarding. The success of our children depends on a good educational system. The next generation, they have to step up and act like they’re leaders. I tell colleagues: “They’re not students; they’re leaders who need to be built up,  motivated, and challenged.” It feels good that we’re contributing to the success of our nation and our economy for the future.

I started teaching fitness classes when my daughter was 2 years old. I went back to the gym with 40 extra pounds and ripped zippers on every pair of jeans I owned, from trying to squeeze into them. I started a diet and exercise program and lost the weight in three months. When the manager of the club needed a class filled, she offered to train me to teach the class. The first time I taught, I was petrified. I taught a 40-minute class in 20 minutes. The students looked up and thought, “OK, now what.” I always said when it stops being fun, I will quit; that was 23 years ago.

To me, teaching classes is just exhilarating. It’s so much fun being on stage. It’s like it’s my alter ego, when I’m up there animated and motivating others. It’s such an ego boost, having people come up and say, “Hey, great class.”

I teach a cycling class on Friday night, and right next to the gym is a movie theater. My favorite indulgence is teaching on a Friday night and then splurging at the movies with a bucket of popcorn. My husband and I go every Friday night. Going to movies—that’s kind of our thing.

When you’re teaching the classes, it’s really all about the numbers. The music is in eights, and the choreography has to be balanced in eights and 32s. That’s very similar to accounting, where everything has to be balanced; otherwise your scale is tipped. If you’re teaching exercise, your students are confused if you’re off the beat. If you’re doing a balance sheet, your users are confused if the numbers are off.

Teaching exercise has made me a much better speaker and presenter. When I speak in front of people or present financial statements, I can simplify instructions so anyone can understand. If I can’t simply break down the choreography, my class is just all over the place; people get upset and leave.

As told to Neil Amato, namato@aicpa.org ,
a
JofA senior editor.

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