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Charles Carney

Last modified: Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Changing careers, impacting students

Transition to Teaching's continued success at IU

May 9, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- More school teachers from a variety of backgrounds are prepared for the workforce after the conclusion of the latest Indiana University School of Education's "Transition to Teaching" or "T2T" program.

The program is an alternative, quicker path to training and licensure for college graduates who want to teach, but do not have an education degree. Recent grads can enter T2T -- which includes both elementary and secondary education sequences -- but often enrollees are leaving an already-established career path.

The secondary T2T program just graduated its fifth class of students and is preparing for another group who will begin classes next month. A new group of students will begin the elementary program in the fall. Up to 24 students can enroll in the elementary sequence, and around 30 spots are open in the secondary program each year.

Jesse Goodman, professor of curriculum and instruction, co-founded the elementary program at IU 14 years ago as the Elementary Certification Graduate Program (ECGP).

"One of the things that I'm most gratified for is the fact that we've been able to bring some incredibly intelligent, bright, articulate, thoughtful people into the field, which is what I hoped would happen," Goodman said.

The Indiana General Assembly passed a law mandating T2T at public college and university education schools starting in 2002 in an effort to address teacher shortages in key subject areas and to more easily allow those who wanted to make a career change into teaching to do so quickly. ECGP administrators changed the IU program's name to Transition to Teaching when the law passed.

Associate Dean for Teacher Education Diana Lambdin says the fact that these future teachers elect to change professions to enter teaching makes a difference.

"They've chosen a career, not a major," she said.

Lambdin said the elementary program had students from a variety of backgrounds, including Ph.D.s and retired military personnel.

"We have one (student) this year who just came out of Lilly (pharmaceutical)," said David Kinman, assistant dean and head of the T2T program for secondary teachers. "We get them right out of the industry with the early retirements, as well as directly from bachelor degree programs in colleges and universities."

One just-graduated secondary teacher, Rachael Kearney, is a prime example of the path less taken.

Kearney's professional resume is impressive -- 13 years practicing law, service in academic administration in two law schools and head of a trust department at a small bank.

"Every time I changed careers I thought, 'oh, I could go into teaching. Oh, I could be a teacher,'" Kearney said. "But at the time, there were no programs like this. I would have had to go back and take, I don't know how many years of school, which I really couldn't afford to do."

Jeff Kohne, another new grad, said he always wanted to teach, but could never work out the time or the finances.

When Kohne and his wife moved to Bloomington, he left behind a career as a biochemist at Searle and Pharmacia-Pfizer to begin teaching biology and chemistry. Eleven years out of college, several colleagues questioned why he'd leave a lucrative professional career.

"Sometimes I was making really nice money, but I just wasn't happy," Kohne said. "And that comes through in your personal life. You bring that home with you if you're not happy in your job. This makes me happy."

Answering that calling is what Lapel, Ind., teacher Eric Hagen said drove him to complete the master's degree sequence for elementary teaching. After earning a journalism degree, he decided he didn't want to be a reporter. He said he thought, "I'm going back for education. I'm going to do something I think I'm going to enjoy."

Kearney said she left practicing law because she found much of it boring. She will teach middle school English, something she says is anything but dull. In her early 50s, she said the T2T program has changed her life.

"And that's a good thing at my age, to have a life-altering experience," Kearney said. "The Transition to Teaching program is one that the Indiana University School of Education has embraced. They were really required to do this by the legislature. Many other schools were required to do it, so they did it, but not with joy and not with enthusiasm. And here the faculty embraced it and put together one of the premier programs in the country."

Editors: the following mp3 audio soundbites are available for download on the School of Education Web site at .

T2T secondary program graduate Rachael Kearney says classroom experience made the difference:

"But it's just been an absolutely extraordinary experience. It's very heavily field experience-oriented, so we got into the classrooms right away last fall, and then did student teaching in the spring. Honestly, I felt very prepared to do that given the curriculum that we had here."

Kohne says he'll bring his professional experience into the classroom:

"Chemistry in high school was pretty dry, pretty boring. But I was able in my student teaching to bring in some of the chemistry that I did at Searle, or Pharmacia-Pfizer, all the companies I've worked for, and with real-world products like NutraSweet. It just really brought it home for the kids, and they realize there is a connection with their lives with the stuff that they're learning."

Elementary program graduate Jennifer Leagault (pronounced Leh-goh) of Brazil, Ind., said she benefited from pursuing the masters degree option:

"A lot of people don't feel like they should come back right away for the master's. They're worried that they, that the school district, isn't going to want to pay you a master's salary when you have no experience. But I've also done some research on that, and I've talked to some human resource people, and they said, you know what, it's a positive thing."

Goodman speaks about the success of the elementary program:

"One of the things that I'm most gratified for this program is the fact that we've been able to bring in some incredibly intelligent, bright, articulate, thoughtful people into the field, who are working with kids which is what I was hoping would happen."

Lambdin says the elementary program's attracted new teachers from a variety of backgrounds:

"The program's been in existence 14 years, and we've had students from right out of college to retired military, people in their 50s, people with Ph.D.s, to people who have just completed a bachelor's degree, wanting to become elementary teachers."

Lambdin says there's an advantage to bringing experienced students back:

"They've chosen a career, not a major. So these are mature people. They are a delight to work with -- as faculty, we just love teaching these people. And the schools absolutely love hiring these people. They can be hired as teachers with zero years experience -- because that's what they are -- so they're not particularly expensive, but they are people who have life experiences, who are mature and are dedicated to the new job that they've chosen."