As K-12 schools across the country and Virginia continue to face significant teacher shortages, Virginia’s Community Colleges’ Career Switcher Program, EducateVA, is helping fill the vacancies with new teachers who have previously worked careers as doctors, lawyers, pharmacists and everything in between. To better understand how to take advantage of EducateVA’s 18-week credential program, we sat down with Dr. Stephanie Moore, assistant director of EducateVA.
EducateVA is one of five Virginia Department of Education-approved Career Switcher Programs, and it falls under the FastForward umbrella. The program is centered around helping people make a move from a non-teaching career to the classroom, without having to go back to school full time and accumulate large amounts of debt.
“This is a fast-tracked route for people who have done something else and then decided that teaching is for them,” Moore said. “They are allowed to harness their work experience and content knowledge, so that they can get in a classroom without having to go a traditional route, like two years for a master’s degree. Instead, it’s one, 18-week semester, and then they can get into the classroom and have support during their first year of teaching.”
To qualify for the program, students must have a college degree and at least three years of work experience.
“We have people that come from a variety of backgrounds and a variety of amounts of work experience. Some people are right at that three-year mark and others have had a full career, retired and then decided that they want to teach,” Moore added.
Short-term training for all types of needs
The Career Switcher Program takes a similar approach to what a four-year degree offers but in a much shorter timeframe, giving students the flexibility to keep their full-time job or have quality family time at home. EducateVA’s program is unique in its flexibility for students wanting a hybrid approach of both in-person and virtual class options.
“A majority of the work is done online, but it varies by the school. Students will read information online, watch videos and engage with content on their own time. We also have seven Saturday sessions that students must attend in some form. Five are in-person and two are online,” Moore said.
Students can also expect to spend one week in a classroom as part of the field experience requirement where they get a real taste of the classroom environment, work directly with a teacher and teach a full lesson to the class.
Starting strong and staying connected
You’re not alone when you sign up for the Career Switcher Program. With online apps and virtual meeting platforms, it has never been easier to build relationships in the program.
“We hear from people five or six years later who still meet with their original groups and get together to share resources and pump each other up. A lot of them have gotten very accustomed to using GroupMe or Google Docs, and we even have a group that meets by Zoom once a week just to connect,” Moore said.
To ensure every teacher feels supported during their first year of teaching, Moore shared that she and her team make trips into each first-year teacher’s classroom to observe and provide feedback on lessons and classroom management.
“We want to make sure we are supporting teachers. We want them to be successful as much as they want to be successful,” Moore said. “A lot of students are emailing us saying it’s hard, but that they love it and are so glad they made the move to the classroom.”
Industry experience shines in the classroom
Career Switchers bring a unique skillset to the classroom, rooted in lived experiences. Bringing industry knowledge to lesson plans and daily activities helps their own students see the practical outcomes of school.
“Real-world experiences are great for kids. Research will tell you that if you can connect kids to what they are learning, they are much more likely to be engaged and learn. We have one teacher who was a medical examiner. I mean, imagine how cool that is to talk about in their classroom. It’s completely different.” Moore said.
90% of teachers who go through the Career Switcher Program say they plan to teach for more than five years, which is significantly higher than the national average. If you have always dreamed of teaching or just want to dip your toes in the classroom, EducateVA makes it easy to get started. To learn more visit EducateVA’s website.