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Ideas We Should Steal: Educate Adults For Teaching as a Second Career

Philadelphia’s teacher shortage keeps getting worse. A long-time university president finds solutions from her own past, and from the UK, where a program has trained 850 professionals for new jobs as teachers

Ideas We Should Steal: Educate Adults For Teaching as a Second Career

Philadelphia’s teacher shortage keeps getting worse. A long-time university president finds solutions from her own past, and from the UK, where a program has trained 850 professionals for new jobs as teachers

On February 19, The Inquirer published yet another article about teachers leaving city schools at an alarming rate and the resulting teacher shortages. As Kristen Graham noted:

Teacher attrition reached its highest level in 2022, with 13 percent of Philadelphia School District teachers leaving and 23 percent of charter teachers. That’s up from 2018, when 16 percent of charter teachers and 7 percent of district teachers quit.

Teachers are leaving at a higher rate than university programs are preparing replacements.

If ever there was an idea we should steal and steal immediately, it’s Now Teach, founded in England in 2016 by Lucy Kellaway and Katie Waldegrave. Now Teach recruits mature professionals in search of a second career — “doing something that has a purpose,” as their promotional literature says.

So far, Now Teach, which is supported by government funding and corporate donors, has prepared 850 career changers. The average age of these mature teacher-trainees is 49 and reaches as high as 70. They come from a full range of professions — business, law, banking, journalism, you name it. Successful in their first careers, they sought something more.

As Now Teach CEO Graehagh Crawshaw-Sadler says in a Reasons To Be Cheerful (RTBC) article: “People are living and working longer, and they reach a point where they’ve given a lot to a particular profession, and they want to kind of make the next five to 15 years really count.”

Now Teach has had success in attracting ethnic minorities (21 percent compared to 19 percent nationally) and men (44 percent compared to 30 percent nationally) — both demographics much in demand locally. And so far, Now Teachers have a higher retention rate than the national average.

The program partners with British teacher-education programs to assist mature adults in attaining a Postgraduate Certificate in Education over the course of one to two years, depending on if it’s full-time or part-time study. Now Teach provides essential services, starting with the assignment of a “Programme Manager” as a first point of contact. The Programme Manager helps participants access opportunities and engage in regular discussions with other Now Teach novices.

Once Early Career Teachers (ECT) are certified, Now Teach provides mentoring through the first year. Mentoring during that crucial first year is an essential element in retention.

One Now Teacher, 55-year-old Deepak Swaroop, worked as a senior partner at a global accounting firm before he decided to trade in his office for a classroom. “I don’t have an objective of becoming a head of school. Previously, I would actively try to move up the ladder. That is being replaced by my desire to be more committed to my teaching,” he told RTBC. “I have had students write to me that I have helped them realize their potential and what path to take in the future. That is more valuable to me than money.”

Can we do this here?

The Now Teach model is similar to Urban Teachers Philadelphia, a four-year teacher apprenticeship program that aims to create a diverse, well-trained, capable and long-lasting educator pipeline in Philly public schools. Like Now Teach, Urban Teachers — which launched here in 2022 — provides would-be teachers with training, mentorship and community support throughout their education and first few years of teaching.

Urban Teachers’ trainees are of various ages, and some 20 percent are entering their second careers. But the group does not particularly target older workers, a cohort that has more to offer than just classroom training. With age comes maturity and experience — attributes that are particularly valuable in classrooms. Staying calm in the face of students’ antics and drawing on hard-won life lessons can make the difference between connecting with learners or not.

I speak from experience. As the president of public universities in Arizona and Alaska, I encouraged outreach to mature adults seeking a second career in education. In Arizona, we launched a Substitute Teacher Academy to prepare interested individuals for short-term classroom service. With extensive mentoring and follow-up, adults could dip their toes into the classroom, get paid for doing it, and decide if they wanted more.

We specifically targeted military officers, many of whom had experience in teaching enlisted personnel, to bring their maturity and commitment to service to public school classrooms. The commanding officers of Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage encouraged soon-to-retire officers to participate in teacher training programs. The unfortunate low pay for teachers was not a deterrent because military retirement benefits would supplement their salaries. The Luke Commander with whom I worked 25 years ago has entered education himself, albeit at the university level.

Retiring military personnel, whether officers or not, were supported by Troops to Teachers (TTT), which provided advice to members of the military and veterans on becoming certified in K-12 schools. Most important, the program built confidence in participants’ skills, discipline and dedication. It’s disappointing to note that TTT, although reauthorized on December 27, 2021, has not received federal funding to restart the program and is operating with minimum staff and resources in a few states — but not in Pennsylvania.

Here is what is needed for colleges and universities to launch Now Teach — or something similar — in Philadelphia:

  • Actively recruit mature adults to teacher preparation programs by assigning recruiters to reach out to business, industry, government, and the military. Work with AARP and other retirement organizations — for retired military, the insurance company USAA — to encourage members’ exploration of a second career in education.
  • In social media and in the press, highlight current graduates of teacher preparation programs who have launched second careers in the classroom. If you look hard enough, you may find one or two.
  • Provide program managers to assist and mentor applicants from first contact through the initial year of teaching. (Let me hasten to add that all first-year teachers need mentors. Universities should provide adequate compensation to veteran teachers to provide this mentoring. That in and of itself would help with teacher retention.)
  • Assist financially with scholarships and internships.

What can we do to bring adults into the teaching profession?

  • Encourage colleges and universities to recruit adults into teacher preparation programs.
  • Lobby Congress to support Troops to Teachers.
  • Consider a second career in teaching.

Scott Fitzgerald said, “There are no second acts in American lives.” He was wrong. Challenging and rewarding, teaching can be life-changing for teacher and student.

Elaine Maimon, Ph.D., is an Advisor at the American Council on Education. She is the author of Leading Academic Change: Vision, Strategy, Transformation. Her long career in higher education has encompassed top executive positions at public universities as well as distinction as a scholar in rhetoric/composition. Her co-authored book, Writing In The Arts and Sciences, has been designated as a landmark text. She is a Distinguished Fellow of the Association for Writing Across the Curriculum. Follow @epmaimon on X.


A Now Teach teacher, courtesy of Now Teach's Facebook page.

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