Husband and wife Wylie and Katie Schwieder made a life-changing decision when they chose to become teachers. Both had spent their lives working in the business world.“We viewed our life as being in chapters,” explains Wylie. “We had been talking as a couple about what would be the next chapter.”
They wanted that next chapter to be “one of defining character and giving back to the community,” so they decided to become teachers through the Virginia Career Switcher Alternate Route for Teacher Licensure program. “We wanted to do it together so we could share the experience and share the time off,” Wylie says.
Originally geared to professionals transitioning out of the military, today’s Career Switcher Program is open to men and women in other professions who want a career in education.
The Career Switcher Program was created in 1999 through a resolution by the General Assembly. “It originally dealt primarily with folks transitioning out of the military [who were interested in becoming teachers],” explains Dr. James Lanham, director of licensure in the Division of Teacher Education & Licensure at the Virginia Department of Education.
In 2002, the program expanded to include people in other professions who Wanted to pursue a career in education. Lanham explains that people who want to get into the formalized program “have to meet specific criteria.”
Depending on the institution, enrollees may continue working at their full-time jobs during the first phase of the program.
Program applicants must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, five years of work experience, coursework required for the area in which they want to teach and qualifying scores on professional teachers’ exams.
“They must also have a desire to work in public education,” Lanham says.
Once they have met the requirements and been accepted into the program, applicants begin Level One preparation, which includes a minimum of 180 hours of instruction and field experience.
The majority of Career Switcher teachers are placed in middle school and high school classrooms.
Katie Schwieder is currently in the Level I phase. She is excited about teaching sixth-grade English at Fairfield Middle School in Henrico and working with students throughout the school year. “As a corporate trainer, I worked with adults. I would only be with them for a day or two days,” she says. “I didn’t have continuing relationships with students. I wanted to develop relationships with students and help them develop as communicators.”
Most of the teaching institutions certified by the Department of Education to offer the Career Switcher program provide classes for people who will be teaching middle and high school. Each institution has its own set of rules for people in the program. For example, some institutions may allow you to work at your current job while going through Phase I; others may not. Only one institution, Old Dominion University, is certified to offer elementary education, as well.
“We have the largest program in the Commonwealth,” says Francis Puchalski, director of programs for continued learning in Darden College of Education at ODU and also co-director of the school’s Career Switcher program. “On average, two hundred people go through the program each year.”
Career Switcher works not only to develop new teachers but also to keep them in the field for years to come. According to Puchalski, approximately 15 to 20 percent of first-year beginning teachers nationwide, regardless of their training, leave the profession after their first year. Over 50 percent leave within seven years.
Components in the Career Switcher program help newly trained teachers get in the classroom and feel good about staying there.
The Career Switcher Program provides mentors in both Level I and Level II preparation. “In a traditional program, a university doesn’t support you at all after you finish your degree,” observes Julia Tucker-Lloyd, assistant program manager for the Virginia Community College System’s Career Switcher Program.
“This is a different way of doing it. We focus on helping them during Level II [when they are teaching]. It’s not just about giving them the training to get into the classroom but also about making sure that they stay there.”
The Level II phase begins during the first year of teaching and includes a minimum of five seminars focusing on instructional techniques and topics. A mentor is assigned to the new teaching candidate during that first year. After a candidate completes Levels I and II and receives a recommendation from the school, he or she is eligible to apply for a renewable license.
Judy Amos, a retired Central Office administrator for Goochland County Public Schools, has seen the benefits of the program from an administrative viewpoint.
“I always found [teaching candidates from] Career Switchers to be of high caliber,” she says. “They fill a need for the school system in the state.”
She feels their level of maturity sets them apart from peers who have just recently graduated from college. “They can apply the subject to real life and make it relevant for students,” she says.
“A lot of people don’t have that real life experience in their subject area.”
Charles Joyner, now a sixth-grade English teacher at Brookland Middle School in Henrico, was originally hired as a full-time substitute last year. He has almost completed Phase II of the Career Switcher Program. Joyner had always wanted to be a teacher but says he “got sidetracked by life.”
He joined the program when he retired from the Department of Taxation. “I think it was the correct move for me,” he says. “I like being with the kids and sharing my passion for proper English with them.”
Wylie Schwieder, now a math teacher at Henrico High School, feels that he has more control over his time now than he did when he was a business executive. “I don’t need to gain consensus or partner with anybody,” he says. “Also, my peer group in Henrico is every bit as capable and professional as folks in the business environment.”
He’s enjoying every minute of each day in the classroom. “The kids are a blast,” he says. “I never know what they are going to say or do and that has been terrific.”