By ADELE UPHAUS-CONNER The Free Lance-Star
If you ask little kids what they want to be when they grow up, many of them will say “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 the extended and distance education program at Shenandoah University.
Many of us move on to different career aspirations as we get older, but sometimes that childhood goal continues to be a calling, even after we’ve gone down the path of doctor, lawyer, or engineer.
The Virginia Career Change Programan alternative route to a teacher’s license, can get these people into a classroom within five months.
“Adult teachers bring life experience into the classroom,” said Keffer, who has spent 45 years in education as a teacher, administrator and program director. “I took the program to doctors and lawyers. People as old as 69 have gone through the program and got jobs in the classrooms.
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Virginia’s career change program was originally developed for people leaving 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 change 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 matters — is eligible to apply for the program after passing a Praxis test or the Virginia Communication and Literacy assessment, Keffer said.
There are two phases in the program, Keffer said. The first consists of classroom instruction in the foundations of education, curriculum and instruction, classroom management, human growth and development, technology, methods and education special, followed by a 40-hour course including 30 hours of teaching.
Upon completion of the first phase, which, via Shenandoah, costs $4,995 (including textbooks and materials), students are eligible for a Provisional Career Change License in Virginia.
This license differs from a regular provisional license in that it is valid for one year, can be renewed three times and remains dormant until the student is hired into a teaching position, Keffer said.
Student successfully completed Phase 2 of the Career Change Program after teaching for 160 days under contract with a Virginia public school district or accredited private school and participating in 4 out of 5 professional development opportunities taught at Shenandoah .
The student is then eligible for a 10-year renewable teaching license.
Keffer said 60 students completed Phase 1 of the Shenandoah program, which is offered in Winchester, Fredericksburg and Leesburg, last year.
In previous years, there were as many as 140 at the three sites, but enrollment is down, as is the case in teacher preparation programs across the country.
Enrollment has been declining for more than a decade, according to information reported by states to the US Department of Education. required by higher education law.
In Virginia, total enrollment in teacher preparation programs increased from 13,548 in the 2008-09 academic year to 8,777 in 2019-20, according to the DOE.
Only two students are enrolled in the Shenandoah career change program at the Fredericksburg site this fall, Keffer said.
“I would hate to see the program die here,” he said.
Keffer said the program lets future teachers know if the profession is for them quickly and without the investment of time and money that a traditional college-level teacher preparation program requires.
And the teachers who go through the program often stay local, he said.
“A lot of times, students are invested in the community,” Keffer said. “Their children go to school here, they go to church here.”
Keffer said teaching is “a great profession” that deserves respect, and it’s a way to contribute to the greater good.
“I asked a hospital CEO to take 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 some community colleges also offer similar programs.