Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Professionals look for jobs in public schools

National media published reams of coverage last month on the meager job prospects facing this year's wave of college graduates. The job market, to put it mildly, is tight.

Last week, state media published news that South Carolina's unemployment rate has now reached 10 percent again, thanks in part to the elimination of 2,400 educator jobs.

But today's Herald-Journal in Spartanburg features a state-sponsored program that helps mid-career or late-career professions prep for jobs as teachers in public schools. Twenty-three of them, who have already finished one year in classrooms, are participating in a training given by the South Carolina Program of Alternate Certification for Education (PACE) at Fairforest Elementary School this week.

PACE is a three-year program through the South Carolina Department of Education that allows college graduates who have not completed a traditional teacher education program to enter the profession. PACE students walk away with the same certification as any teacher completing a traditional program. Around 800 participants are in some stage of the PACE program.

Participants must have two years of work experience or have a master’s degree, and work toward full certification while teaching in their content area.

I can understand the interest that district administrators exhibit for mid-career professionals; they bring a little maturity and some expertise in particular private-sector fields. On the other hand, they're not the young idealists who choose and plan for a career in education from the beginning.

PACE student Stephanie MacLeod is now teaching elementary Spanish in Spartanburg District 7. MacLeod double-majored in English and Spanish at Columbia College and started a master’s degree at the University of South Carolina but wound up working retail. A friend told her about PACE.

“I was in the position of having all this education and not being able to find a job,” MacLeod said. “I never thought I would be an elementary teacher in my entire life. The job kind of fell into my lap, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

It's not clear how PACE compares to the university programs that education undergraduates experience. But apparently mid-career transfers stay in the classroom longer than brand-new college graduates.

During a combination of training sessions and nine hours of graduate coursework, PACE students learn to apply their professional knowledge to a classroom environment, as well as skills such as classroom management, establishing relationships with parents and making lesson plans. Tuesday’s lesson dealt with questioning techniques.

“It’s not the same training (as traditional teachers receive), but it is intensive training,” said Falicia Harvey, director of PACE. “These teachers perform as well as traditional teachers, and we are able to retain them longer than traditionally trained teachers.”

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