by James C. Sherlock
Teaching is an honorable and irreplaceable profession.
We have a major shortage of teachers.
One of the ways to deal with that long term is to open up the pathways to teaching. One of the programs that has been around forever in Virginia is Troops to Teachers.
Bringing people with voluntary, disciplined, well trained and well-traveled military service careers into teaching as a separate pipeline to the traditional undergraduate teachers college route has worked for a long time.
I have friends who took that path. Some stayed with it, some did not. For different reasons in both cases. But to my knowledge, none of those who left did so because they felt or were judged to be inadequate to the task.
Now the Department of Education wants to expand that career switcher path. There is opposition, which we will examine below.
WTKR in Norfolk has published an excellent report on that initiative. I urge you to read it.
From that article, quoting Charles Pyle, VDOE press officer:
VDOE’s career switcher program offers an alternative route to teaching, allowing professionals to take on a second career in the classroom. The program allows future teachers to take their career knowledge, along with one year accelerated course, and teach Virginia students.
“It allows them the means to enter the classroom and begin a second career without having to go back to college,” said Pyle. “They have a broad array of experiences. The places they’ve been, the people they’ve met, they’ve explored the world, and they bring that to the classroom.”
Once the career switcher enters the classroom, they continue their coursework for one year before receiving full licensure. If necessary, they may undergo a second year of preparation. The career switcher license is limited to a total of three years before receiving full licensure.
Readers might think there would be little opposition.
I checked in with a few of the ed schools.
ODU in military-rich Hampton Roads has been offering a career switcher program since 1999, the first year the Virginia General Assembly asked that such programs be established. VCU in Richmond launched a program in 2019. Regent University in Hampton Roads, Shenandoah University in Winchester, Leesburg, Fredericksburg and the Virginia Community College system at eight locations also offer the program.
Yet, within the teacher community, there is some disagreement as to the wisdom of the program.
While content knowledge is critical, one Norfolk teacher says the real learning happens hands-on, and some educators worry career switchers don’t have the experience operating a classroom.
“It all comes down to the experience that you get before you come into the classroom and your background knowledge on how to educate students,” said Shelby Pepmeyer, a Norfolk elementary teacher.
Another teacher, an ODU ed school lecturer, agreed, believing student teaching and classroom experience are the most important preparation for a future educator.
OK, that is fair, but it is impossible not to notice that the teacher interviewed in opposition teaches in Norfolk.
The other person quoted is a lecturer at the Darden College of Education at ODU, which has the oldest career switcher program in the state. That appears to represent an internal issue at ODU.
I have no doubt that the Norfolk teacher interviewed is skilled and successful. I will stipulate that for purposes of this discussion.
But it is somewhat hard to understand how a teacher in Norfolk schools could be aware of the measured and major quality shortfalls of that system and still believe that the traditional teacher preparation system is working for those kids. Indeed to believe that is the only one that is capable of producing teachers who can teach those children.
Urban schools want more male Black and Hispanic teachers. I want Virginia urban schools to have more male Black and Hispanic teachers. Career switcher should be a rich source of such candidates.
There is an old saying: “Ducks vote for ducks.” It means that some people believe that only people like them, with their characteristics and background, can be good at what needs to be done in a profession.
In the case of Norfolk schools, such an attitude among the incumbent teachers appears to be a coping mechanism: denial.
If teachers find fault with the career switchers program, then I encourage them to contact the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV), VDOE and the Virginia colleges and universities that train career switchers and offer suggestions for improvement.
But Virginia schools need help.
Fix the pipes, don’t tighten the faucet.
Note: VDOE’s School Quality Profiles page is down this morning. For an update on Norfolk schools’ performance, check it later.