Saturday, March 02, 2002

New career beckons

Mature workers discover they want to teach

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A number of mid-career professionals in the Tristate are considering new careers in teaching, citing the watershed events of Sept. 11, a troubled economy and a so-called “crisis in education.”

[photo] Alan Solomon, who tutors at Dater Montessori, has decided to be a teacher.
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
        It's a way to make a difference, they're saying.

        School officials say they're getting more inquiries from professionals wanting to teach. A job fair targeting career-changers who want to teach drew about 400 people this week.

        At the same time, school districts, colleges and universities here and around the nation are making it easier for them — whether they are respiratory therapists, biochemists or other professionals — to become teachers. Such programs here are proliferating.

        “What happened Sept. 11 rattled my cage,” said 48-year-old Alan Solomon, of the terrorist attacks. Mr. Solomon is a mechanical engineer who is tutoring part time at Dater Montessori school in Westwood to get teaching experience.

        “It sure made me think life's pretty short and precious and we're only passing through.”

        A product of public schools, the Hyde Park resident said he had influential teachers along the way who had an impact on his life. Though he enjoyed his job for 25 years, he's now willing to take a pay cut of half to go into teaching.

        “If you stay in a position for the wrong reason, you may have missed out,” he said. “I want to give something back.”

        The interest in teaching comes at a good time, personnel directors say.

        An estimated 2.4 million public school teachers will be needed in the next decade because of attrition, retirement and increasing enrollment. The shortage of teachers is acute in math, science and special education, leaving many classrooms without teachers certified in those subjects.

Programs to answer need

        A half-dozen new programs have popped up in the past year to help professionals make the transition to teaching.

        Xavier University, the College of Mount St. Joseph, University of Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky University and Thomas More College have all begun or are launching teacher licensure and certification programs for professionals like Mr. Solomon.

        “Even though we aggressively recruit teachers who already have licensure, we are experiencing this shortage that is happening nationwide,” said Deb Heater, director of human resources at Cincinnati Public Schools. “There is definitely a need.”

        They also want to use the program to recruit more minority teachers, she said.

        Cincinnati Public Schools and the University of Cincinnati are taking advantage of the state's fast-track secondary school teacher licensure program.

        Beginning March 25, about 30 science and math professionals with bachelor's degrees in those areas will obtain an Ohio Alternative Educator License for free if they commit to work in Cincinnati Public Schools.

        Course work can be completed in as few as 10 weeks, including 60 hours of supervised classroom teaching. Candidates then must successfully teach for two years in the district and complete professional courses to earn a standard license. The program is being paid for through a $600,000 federal grant.

        The school district has received 70 applications for the Transition to Teaching program with UC. About 400 people turned out for a career fair this week that was targeted to teachers in shortage areas, such as math, science and special education, as well as professionals who want to switch to teaching.

        Bruce Downs, a 49-year-old early retiree who worked in information technology at Procter & Gamble, was one of the hundreds who attended the job fair.

        “I don't know if I could be a role model, but I'd like to try,” he said. “I came from a school that had a lot of black male teachers. I'm surprised not to see black males in those roles anymore.”

Catching on

        Fast-track teacher certification programs have been launched in the past three years in New York City, Kansas City, Mo., Washington D.C., Baton Rouge, La. and San Jose, Calif., mostly to recruit in shortage areas.

        Some teachers' unions caution that fast-track programs are useful to fill the teaching needs, but the programs must include intensive classroom management instruction and mentoring from more experienced teachers, in addition to education methodology courses.

        “Our position is decidedly mixed,” said Jamie Horwitz, spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second-largest teachers union. Mr. Horwitz said that the AFT has assisted in developing some of the programs. Many are very good, he said.

        “What we have a problem with is a very short-term program,” he said. “We have a very big problem with lowering standards for teachers at the same time as raising standards for students. It requires more than desire and a pep talk to be a good teacher.”

        But mid-career professionals wanting to make the transition say they're ready to try their hand at teaching, even if it means some stumbling in the beginning. It's worth it, they say.

Nowhere else

        On Friday, Mr. Solomon reviewed reciprocal numbers and other math problems with a sixth-grade class. Students raised their hands, with the accompanying refrain of “I don't get it.”

        Mr. Solomon reviewed the problems again and switched from a calculator being projected on a screen to good old-fashioned writing on the board.

        “Let's try it one more time.”

        Later he said: “I'm learning patience. In the high-tech industry, you're trained not to have patience, but kids run at a different speed. I'm learning more than they are.”

        Ricardo McGill, 31, a respiratory therapist, said he, too, feels an urgent need to work with children, even though his job is rewarding and pays well.

        The Sharonville resident and former Cincinnati Public school student is applying to the UC program so he can become a teacher in his old school district. If he gets the job, his pay could drop $10,000-$15,000.

        “You can look at people with a lot of money and they're not satisfied,” he said. “But sometimes if you teach people in a special way, that lasts a lot longer than money.”

        He sees a need for better teachers. Like Mr. Solomon, he remembers teachers who made an impact in his life and he wants to do that for the next generation.

        “I believe what we put in our children is what we get out of the future.”

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