In my last job, I helped to raise over fifty children from infancy through school age. I was a family child care provider for 12 years. That was a very satisfying job – exhausting, rewarding, and fun.
My two children grew up and left home for college and the rest of their lives. My husband Stephen loved the little kids and helped with the business. Still, he finally asked, “If our kids are grown, why is there still a high chair in our kitchen?” I took it to mean it was time to consider finding another job. It’s hard to enjoy an empty nest when it’s repopulated with little ones every morning at 7:30.
Ideally I would have liked to work from home but without the toys, equipment, client issues, and legal liabilities that a home-based childcare business involves. I could do freelance or consulting work: but, like most of us, I needed to earn a steady income to contribute to the household.
So when the newspaper announced a “Career Changers” night at the county’s Board of Education, I decided to go. I listened to Board administrators, who basically said that in order to teach, one had to have a degree in education. Since mine is in anthropology, I was getting ready to leave – when someone else mentioned that the county had a new program to recruit special education teachers. The need was great, and the funding was in place to provide intensive training and master’s degree-level college classes, so my “wrong degree” was less of a problem. I went home with a name and email address to send a resume to.
The Resident Teacher Certification (RTC) program is an opportunity for non-education professionals to become teachers. This program recognizes that many people have the skills and desire to become teachers, but lack the credentials required by most systems. Under this program, which I joined in June 2004, new teachers take three classes over the summer while working in the extended school year program as instructional aides. My cohort of 16 included people who had some experience with education, like me. It also included a financial advisor/pizza delivery person, a publisher’s rep, a restaurant server, a retired computer programmer, and a social worker among the group. People with very different knowledge and skills. After our intense summer, we began teaching in Fall 04, while continuing to participate in seminars and college classes.
This program succeeded – all but three of our cohort have continued, and successfully survived the first year in the school system. The RTC members have received great reviews from principals, and the county started an RTC-II cohort this year. Why did this program succeed? First of all, those who joined the program were highly motivated to becoming special education teachers. Secondly, the program’s director, Dr. Tom Conner, was highly committed to giving his teachers the support needed to become successful. This included not only training in educational methodology and theory; but mentoring, seminars, frequent visits to our schools, and a lot of hand-holding. Most especially, he offered praise to encourage us, and passed on the praise he heard from our administrators. When we were successful, we knew it, and that provided motivation to push through the exhaustion. It would have been very difficult to succeed as a career changer without this kind of guidance, and I am grateful for it.
In Year 2 of this program, I am still taking college classes, but will finish my master’s Degree in Spring 06. I am teaching secondary special education, and hold certification in English and Social Studies content areas. I have taken four Praxis exams, and passed all. In return for the help I’ve gotten from the RTC program, I have committed contractually to teaching four years in Special Education for the State of Maryland.
I have taught students new information and strategies for success, usually only a day or so after learning content and methods myself. I am part of an education team at Arundel High School that includes both young and older “new” teachers. I hope in another year or so no one will know that I started teaching later in life.
As a second year educator I am confident. I am excited every morning when I walk into the school, and I hope to spend the rest of my working days in the classroom.
I enjoyed my previous career in child care. Now I’m enjoying my new position as a public school teacher. This career, too, is exhausting, rewarding, and fun. Perhaps even more so.
The opinions expressed in Ready or Not are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.