If you ask little kids what they want to be when they grow up, many of them will answer “a teacher.”
Teaching is often the first career a child is introduced to and “teachers are often the people who have the most influence on your life,” said Dennis Keffer, director of Shenandoah University’s extended and distance education program.
A lot of us move on to different career aspirations as we grow older, but sometimes that childhood goal continues to be a calling, even after we’ve gone the doctor, lawyer or engineer route.
Virginia’s career-switcher program—an alternative route to teacher licensure—can get those people into a classroom within five months.
“Mature teachers bring life experience into the classroom,” said Keffer, who has spent 45 years in education as a teacher, administrator and program director. “I’ve had doctors and lawyers go through the program. People as old as 69 have gone through the program and gotten jobs in classrooms.”
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Virginia’s career-switcher program was developed initially for people exiting the military, but was opened up to everyone in the early 2000s as a teacher shortage began to loom, Keffer said.
Shenandoah University offers a career-switcher program in Fredericksburg, with classes meeting twice a week at James Monroe High School.
Anyone with a bachelor’s degree and three years of work experience—stay-at-home parenting counts—is eligible to apply for the program after passing either a Praxis test or the Virginia Communication and Literacy assessment, Keffer said.
There are two phases to the program, Keffer said. The first consists of classroom instruction on foundations of education, curriculum and instruction, classroom management, human growth and development, technology, methods and special education, followed by a 40-hour practicum that includes 30 hours of teaching.
Upon completion of the first phase—which through Shenandoah costs $4,995, including textbooks and materials—students are eligible for a Virginia career-switcher provisional license.
This license differs from a regular provisional license in that it is good for one year, can be renewed three times and goes dormant until the student is hired to a teaching position, Keffer said.
The student has successfully completed Phase 2 of the career-switcher program after he or she has taught for 160 days under contract with a Virginia public school district or accredited private school and attended four out of five professional development opportunities taught at Shenandoah.
The career switcher is then eligible for a 10-year renewable teaching license.
Keffer said 60 students went through Phase 1 of Shenadnoah’s program—which is offered in Winchester, Fredericksburg and Leesburg—last year.
In previous years, there have been as many as 140 across the three locations, but enrollment is down, as it is in teacher preparation programs across the country.
Enrollment has been declining for over a decade, according to information reported by the states to the US Department of Education as required by the Higher Education Act.
In Virginia, total enrollment in teacher prep programs has declined from 13,548 in academic year 2008–09 to 8,777 in 2019–20, according to the DOE.
Only two students are enrolled in Shenandoah’s career switcher program at the Fredericksburg location this fall, Keffer said.
“I’d hate to see the program die here,” he said.
Keffer said the career-switcher program allows prospective teachers to find out if the profession is for them quickly and without the investment of time and money that a traditional college teacher preparation program requires.
And teachers who go through the career switcher program often stay local, he said.
“Very often, students are invested in the community,” Keffer said. “Their kids go to school here, they go to church here.”
Keffer said that not only is teaching “a great profession” that deserves respect, but it’s a way to contribute to the greater good.
“I had a hospital CEO go through the program,” he said. “He told me, ‘Life has been good to me, and I want to give back.’ You can make a difference.”
Old Dominion University, Regent University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and several community colleges—though not Germanna—also offer VDOE-certified career-switcher programs.